A quick reference section for terms and acronyms are used in this guide.

Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC)
Organization serving informal science education professionals and institutions, particularly science museums, and the industries they do business with.

A term used by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to denote the particular format of a resume or curriculum vitae required from a prospective principal investigator.

Broader Impacts Criterion (BIC)
One of the two chief criteria the National Science Foundation uses to assess proposals to all of its science and education directorates (the other being “Intellectual Merit”).  Proposals can address the BIC by including one or more of the following types of components that address the larger societal context of the research; such as graduate, undergraduate and K-12 education and outreach to public audiences; diversity recruitment; dissemination of research findings to the field; efforts to open pathways from research to commercialization; efforts to address potential long-term benefits and societal implications of the research. The BIC helps to remind program officers, review panelists, and researchers that the funds they steward are from the nation’s taxpayers and are meant to be an investment for the benefit our all our citizens and our future.

Collaborative Proposal
A proposal process that can involve several organizations separately filing coordinated proposals that are linked in the system, or a single proposal including PIs and sub-awards from several organizations along with the lead organization.

Current and Pending (C&P)
A list of a current grants, sources, award amounts, and start and end dates that must be submitted by prospective PIs (Principal Investigators) in their proposals for new research funding.  Used by NSF and some other granting agencies.

Curriculum Vitae (CV)
A term for a type of resume often employed in academic and scientific circles that emphasizes publications and academic honors as much as employment positions.
Communication of Research to Public Audiences (CRPA)
A small supplemental funding program available to principal investigators already conducting NSF-funded STEM research.  Administered through the Informal Science Education program of the Division of Research and Learning and meant to be used for education and outreach.

Direct Cost Recovery or Direct Costs (DC)
The portions of grant funding for which a grant recipient may bill the granting agency, in order to reimburse for costs like staff time, benefits, travel, equipment, materials, supplies, and other distinct resources associated solely with the particular research project award. Awardees may bill the granting agency for both direct costs and indirect costs (see below).

Division of Learning and Research (DRL)
Part of the Education and Human Resources Directorate of NSF, DRL administers grant programs in the areas of formal and informal STEM education, education research, and education technologies development.

Education and Human Resources Directorate (EHR)
Large NSF directorate overseeing NSF’s STEM education and workforce development program initiatives.

Education and Outreach (E&O)
A common term used to describe efforts by science and engineering researchers and research centers to disseminate STEM knowledge and engage K-12 and informal science education audiences in programs and activities.  E&O efforts are often developed or undertaken in conjunction with grant-funded research when such activities are expected of awardees.

Education and Public Outreach (EP/O)
Same as above; this variation is used by some organizations, particularly NASA. eRA

The electronic research administration site for the National Institutes of Health, used for submission of grant proposals and internet assisted review.

An interactive real-time system used to conduct NSF business over the internet, including proposal submittal, notice of awards, and assisted internet review website.

Form 1030
An NSF budget declaration form included in research proposals.

Free-Choice Education / Free-Choice Learning
A term coined by John Falk and Lynn Dierking to refer to out-of-school, life-long learning opportunities.  Often used interchangeably with “informal science education,” when referring to STEM-focused programs.

Grants Administrator
A staff person who manages administrative, financial, and legal compliance with the rules and protocols of granting agencies.

Hands-on Learning
A form of pedagogy prevalent in informal science education that supports inquiry-based learning through exploration and experimentation with materials, tools and devices.

Human Subject Research (HSR)
Any anthropological, attitudinal, behaviorial, biological, cultural, medical, psychological, sociological and education research in which individuals or groups are the subject of the research.

Indirect Cost Recovery or Indirect Costs (IDC)
The percentage of grant funding for which a grant recipient has been certified to bill the granting agency, to cover overhead type expenses reflecting the cost of maintaining and operating the facilities and systems that provide the necessary infrastructure for research.  Awardees may bill the granting agency for both indirect costs and direct costs.

Institutional Review Board (IRB)
A semi-autonomous committee of experts that reviews plans for conducting research involving human subjects, with the power to approve, disapprove, or order specified alterations to the research protocols. Review may include assessments of potential risks and benefits to human subjects, materials provided for obtaining informed consent, research instruments including surveys and permission forms, descriptive language, and protocols, and protection of personal data.  Minors (18 and under) are provided enhanced protection under IRB guidelines.  In recent years, it has become necessary to submit most informal science education research and evaluation plans for IRB review before federal grant funding can be awarded.

Informal Science Education (ISE)
A term, originally coined by NSF, that is now broadly used to apply to all forms of STEM education conducted outside of “formal education” venues (schools, universities).    Informal science education encompasses lifelong learning experiences that can take place in science museums, zoo, aquaria, libraries, camps, after-school settings, boys and girls clubs, community organizations and minority-serving organizations or in the field as well as through television, radio, internet, and other media.  Also sometimes referred to as “free-choice” education, since it is not required by any governmental or institutional entity.

Informal Science Education Program (NSF ISE)
The most important source of funding for advancing innovation, research, practice, and full-scale development in informal science education.  Strong emphasis on addressing underserved communities with innovative but theoretically-sound and evidence-based approaches.  Well-grounded research and evaluation plans are required.
Informal Science Education Institution (ISEI) or Organization (ISEO)
Organizations such as science museums and science media producers that develop and carry out informal science education initiatives.  Most are non-profits.

Inquiry-Based Learning
A form of pedagogy common to ISE that seeks to structure experiences that stimulate learners to generate their own questions and to design or engage in activities to answer those questions and often, to generate new questions.

Acronym for an NSF program entitled Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship.  IGERT awards are meant to advance interdisciplinary research and some science museums have been involved with university-based IGERT efforts in providing, for example, innovative science communication professional development programs.

Acronym for an NSF program entitled Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers.  ITEST awards are meant to support research studies designed to test new approaches to building and educating a growing STEM workforce.  Some science museums collaborate with university partners on ITEST-funded projects.

Letter of Agreement (LOA)
Not quite a contract, but a written statement of agreed-upon terms of a relationship or collaboration between two institutional partners, signed by authorized representatives.

Letter of Intent (LOI)
An expression of firm commitment by an authorized organizational representative, that confirms that the organization intends to do what is stated in the letter or in a proposal.  LOI’s are often supplied by consulting or sub-awardee institutions to the lead institution to include in their proposal or pre-proposal documents.

Materials Research Society (MRS)
Organization serving materials science and engineering research professionals, research organizations, and the industries they do business with.  MRS has a dedicated education and outreach staff.

Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC)
University-based research centers funded by NSF for six-year, renewable terms. All are required to have dedicated education and outreach staff and programs.
A directory of MRSECs can be found at

Materials-Rich Learning
A form of pedagogy common in informal science education that emphasizes hands-on, inquiry-based activities with real or analogous materials.

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
A written statement signed by authorized representatives of two or more organizations, providing a broad framework for an ongoing set of collaborative, or partnership activities that may or may not involve exchange of funds, goods, and services.

Measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter.  Nanoscale research generally concerns natural and manmade materials and devices with features from 1 to several hundred nanometers in at least one dimension.

Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net)
A national community of researchers and informal science educators dedicated to fostering public awareness, engagement, and understanding of nanoscale science, engineering, and technology.   The NISE Net was established by a cooperative agreement between NSF and a consortium of science museums, research centers and professional organizations led by the Museum  of Science (MOS), Boston. Launched with NSF funding to MOS and about a dozen sub-awardees in October 2005, the Network has been awarded continuing funding through 2015.

Nanoscale Science and Engineering (NSE)
The term used by NSF to refer to a spectrum of research programs dedicated to exploring, understanding, and harnessing the unique properties of matter that emerge at the scale of atoms and molecules.

Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC)
University-based research centers funded by NSF for five-year, one-time renewable terms.  Many NSECs include teams from more than one university.

Nanoscale Science and Engineering Education (NSEE)
The term used by NSF to refer to a spectrum of programs funding formal and informal education activities and research in areas of nanoscale science and engineering.

The harnessing of nanoscale materials, properties, and forces prevalent at the nanoscale, to engineer new materials and devices with special properties and capabilities.

National Center for Research Resources (NCRR)
An division of the National Institutes of Health, which administers Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSAs) as well as the Science Education Partnership Awards (SEPA), and also programs for development of research facilities, instrumentation, informatics, and management.

National Institutes of Health
The largest federal science research funding agency, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

National Nanotechnology Initiative
A top-down plan, authorized by Congress and the executive Office of Science and Technology Policy for guiding federal investment in nanoscale science and engineering research and education.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
The nation’s leading federal science agency funding basic STEM research and education.

Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net)
A network of science museums, research centers and professional organizations funded by NSF to inform, educate, and engage public audiences in nanoscale science and engineering.  Led by the Museum  of Science, Boston, with the Exploratorium, the Science Museum of Minnesota and about a dozen partners and subawardees.  Funded through 2015.

Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)
The highest office for science and technology policy-making in the Executive Branch.

A particular philosophy or approach to educational practices.

Peer Review
A system for evaluating and assessing the merit of a funding proposal, involving a panel of experts familiar with research in the targeted subject area.  Peer reviewers are often PIs who have already received grant awards under the same program.  Peer review is also used to review papers submitted to scientific journals.

Preliminary Proposal
An initial, less detailed proposal, required by some funding agencies for some programs, either to make a selection of the most promising research initiatives to be invited to submit full proposals, or to provide information to the funding agency as to the types of reviewers and review procedures they should plan for.

Principal Investigator (PI)
The term used to designate the lead researcher on a grant-funded science research project. The PI provides intellectual and organizational guidance to the research effort.

Program Officer
An individual at a granting agency responsible for shepherding grantees and potential grantees as well as peer reviewers, ensuring compliance, and maintaining the integrity of a funding program.

Public Engagement
A term often used by informal science educators to refer to ISE activities or programs that are designed to foster active participation, dialog and feedback.

Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)
NSF-funded programs that support undergraduates for one to three-month often residential research opportunities in the laboratories of NSF-funded investigators.  The intent of the REU program is primarily to recruit undergraduates to graduate programs in STEM.  Some science museums have partnered with universities to provide ISE and science communication workshops for REU and RET students.

Research Experience for Teachers (RET)
Similar to the REU, but targeting middle school, high school, and 2-year college instructors.

Research Center
A group of researchers, laboratories, students and support staff collaborating, often somewhat loosely, in a defined area of research, frequently interdisciplinary in nature.  May include research groups from different universities or organizations. Has a governance and administrative structure.

Research Network
A collaboration of multiple PIs and research institutions with common goals with at least a minimal governance and communication structure and some shared programs.

Reverse Site Visit (RSV)
A visit by the PI and other key personnel of a research center or network to the funding agency, generally after the submittal of a detailed annual report, to present progress-to-date and plans for future research, before a panel of program officers and/or peer reviewers. Continued funding, even of a multi-year project, is usually contingent on approval of such plans with guidance offered by the panel.

Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA)
A funding program offered by the NIH NCRR that supports both formal and informal science education efforts organized as partnerships health science researchers, formal and informal educators and organizations and community-serving organizations. SEPA has a strong emphasis on addressing underserved communities with innovative but theoretically-sound and evidence-based approaches.  As with NSF ISE proposals, strong well-grounded research and evaluation plans are required.

Science Museum or Science Center
An institution focused on engaging public and school field trip audiences in scientific knowledge, the scientific process, and often the engineering design process, and industrial and technological innovation.  These can include natural history museums, children’s museums, and discovery centers.

Scientific Review Panel
A committee of peers convened to assess the strengths and weaknesses of scientific research proposals and often to monitor ongoing work.

Site Visit (SV)
A visit to a funded research center conducted by program officers and/or scientific review panels.  During the visit, the hosting organization presents the research and findings-to-date financed by the program grant.

Acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  Used as a noun or as an adjective modifying ‘research’ and ‘education.’

Sponsored Research
Research conducted with funding from a federal or state agency or a foundation, corporation, or individual.

Sponsored Research Office (SRO) or Office of Sponsored Research
Commonly found in research universities, the SRO manages the business and accounting side of grant funding, ensuring compliance and reporting, and regulating internal university procedures related to grant funding.

Similar to a subcontract, in that there is a legal and binding agreement between a lead organization and a sub-awardee organization which bills the lead organization for portions of grant funding allocated to services performed by the sub-awardee organization in collaboration with the lead organization on the overall research project.  For instance, a science museum carrying out informal science education activities in association with a university-based research center may be a sub-awardee of the university.

Supplemental Award
A grant given for specific activities related to the originally-funded plan of research.

top | next: About…