Alum Helps Administer New Act Putting U.S. Science and Tech at Forefront

Orange blocks and lines representing a microchip

(Illustration by Emily Faith Morgan, University Communications)

The chips were down.

The pandemic created a supply chain kink that resulted in a number of shortages, including a scarcity of microchips for computers, which have been largely produced offshore in recent years.

The problem was just one of many that have been facing the U.S. related to scientific competitiveness and advancement. To help resolve the issues, Congress passed the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act in late July, and President Joe Biden signed it into law Aug. 9.

Now Erwin Gianchandani, a University of Virginia graduate and assistant director at the National Science Foundation, will help administer about $450 million aimed at pushing technological development.

Gianchandani leads the NSF’s Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, or TIP, which was created in March.

Erwin Gianchandani smiles at the camera

Erwin Gianchandani is a “triple Hoo” who earned his doctorate in 2008. (National Science Foundation photo)

“Our economic and national security depends on our ability to significantly invest in the technologies of today and tomorrow … and quickly develop our domestic talent across every demographic and geographic background,” he said.

TIP is the foundation’s first new directorate in more than 30 years. Its focus is on “use-inspired research,” Gianchandani said, meaning technology that translates into people’s everyday lives, as well as developing workforces and seeding research coalitions.

He said the possibilities for collaboration aren’t just limited to the NSF’s recently announced semiconductor partnerships that will aid domestic microelectronics development. TIP will also be integral in facilitating artificial intelligence, biotechnology, quantum information science and next-generation communications.

The partnerships will fall under what the foundation calls “regional innovation engines.” The goal of the engines is to advance critical technologies, while making sure diverse stakeholders play a pivotal role in their success.

In order for partnerships to receive funding, he said, strategic plans will have to demonstrate diversity in not only the leadership teams, but in the distribution of funds among partners and the execution. 

For educational settings, that will mean more inclusion for smaller schools.

“NSF Engines must engage the range of institution types in its region, including those dedicated to communities underserved in STEM, such as historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and Tribal colleges and universities, as well as two-year colleges, community colleges, vocational and technical colleges and others,” he said.

“NSF recognizes the need for capacity-building and technical assistance for certain organizations to fully engage and encourages proposals to incorporate such needs within their budgets and activities.”

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Gianchandani has worked at NSF since 2012. He was previously the deputy assistant director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering, where he led the Smart and Connected Communities program, among other efforts.

He is a “triple Hoo.” Gianchandani earned his bachelor’s in computer science at UVA in 2004, with a minor in biomedical engineering. He then earned his master’s and doctorate in biomedical engineering in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

“I always say that my graduate experience provided me with a set of skills and tools that have helped me ever since,” he said.

Gianchandani spoke in greater depth about the new directorate and his formative experiences at UVA in a recent Q&A with the School of Engineering.

So will we Americans see the fruits of the NSF’s new collaborations within the next 10 years?

“Absolutely!” Gianchandani said.

He added, “TIP will ensure the nation remains in the vanguard of competitiveness for decades to come.”

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Eric Williamson

University News Senior Associate University Communications