Public Release: 

U of Minnesota, Science Museum among partners in $19.3 million NSF grant

University of Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL--The University of Minnesota's St. Anthony Falls Laboratory (SAFL) and the Science Museum of Minnesota, along with four partner institutions, have received a five-year, $19.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation for a new National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED). The grant will fund research on the processes that sculpt the Earth's surface. The university's share of the grant is $14.06 million, the Science Museum's $2.47 million. The award is among the largest ever for both institutions.

Other participating institutions are the University of California at Berkeley ($1.65 million), Princeton University ($521,000), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ($325,000) and Fond du Lac Community and Tribal College in Cloquet, Minn. ($237,000).

"The center's research will help solve pressing societal problems involving mitigation of landscape-related risks," said NCED Co-Director Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, professor of civil engineering and director of SAFL. "Research will involve such topics as landslides; responsible management of landscape resources, including forests, agricultural fields and recreational areas; and wise development of resources like groundwater and hydrocarbons buried in sediments. It will also help in forecasting landscape response to possible climate change and other human-induced changes."

Created by tectonics, the Earth's surface is sculpted by flowing water, air and debris and is intimately bound to the life that inhabits it. It spans environments from high mountains to the deep ocean and time scales from the duration of a landslide to the accumulation of sediment over millions of years. Because it is built on such a range of forces and environments, the field of earth-surface dynamics involves many disciplines and approaches.

"This center will bring together scientists from a variety of fields to study the fundamental ways in which the Earth's surface changes," said NCED Director Gary Parker, a professor in the University of Minnesota department of civil engineering, in which SAFL is based. "We're integrating disparate fields of inquiry into a new super-field in order to build a common analytical framework for the study of all the forces that shape the face of the Earth." NCED will be based in the university's Institute of Technology.

"Rachel Carson described sediments as 'a sort of epic poem of the Earth,'" said NCED Co-Director Chris Paola, professor of geology and geophysics. "Unfortunately, this poem is written in a language we still can't always decipher. NCED will be a major step toward developing an integrated, predictive understanding of how our planet's surface works."

Earth-surface dynamics encompasses all the natural changes in our planet's surface. Research at NCED will center on four themes: 1) landscapes and seascapes; 2) basins; 3) how living things affect the development of landscapes and stream channels; and 4) integration of processes that change the shape of Earth's surface across environments--such as on land and in the submarine realm--and on scales ranging from individual particles of sediment to entire landscapes.

The grant will support collaboration between SAFL and the Science Museum to create exhibits in the museum's outdoor Science Park. The museum will develop a set of large interactive exhibits for Science Park, expand its Youth Science Center programs into Science Park, conduct summer institutes for K-12 teachers and develop new outreach programs for schools across the state and throughout the Upper Midwest. Ideas for exhibits include a 30-foot-long model showing how St. Anthony Falls eroded its way upstream; water exhibits about how the Mississippi River was modified to accommodate barge traffic; and exhibits showing how urban and rural landscapes can be better managed to reduce the runoff of pollutants into waterways. The new outdoor exhibits will open in summer 2004.


St. Anthony Falls Laboratory, situated on an island just downstream of St. Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River, is the only laboratory in the world that can tap into a natural waterfall to provide virtually unlimited water flow for experiments on everything from river engineering to formation of sediments. SAFL's experimental facilities, complemented by a modern computational network, field projects and new labs in water quality and bioengineering, have made it a focal point for researchers around the world. For more information, visit

With a 95-year history of hands-on science learning opportunities, the Science Museum of Minnesota welcomes nearly one million visitors per year. It is located at 120 W. Kellogg Blvd. in downtown St. Paul. For prices, hours and directions, visit For Omnitheater and 3-D laser show times and reservations, call (651) 221-9444.

Pictures of St. Anthony Falls Laboratory are at


Gary Parker, NCED director, (612) 627-4010 (in Japan until 9/2/02)

Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, NCED co-director, (612) 627-4595

Chris Paola, NCED co-director, (612) 627-4012

Deane Morrison, University News Service, (612) 624-2346,

Diana Dalbotten,

Peg Roessler, Science Museum, (952) 949-6550,

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