Increased support for mathematics research is set to form a central plank of the 2003 budget for the US National Science Foundation (NSF) to be proposed by President George W. Bush in February.

Mathematicians hope that the increase will allow the agency to deliver larger grants. Compared with other disciplines, where the median NSF grant is $80,000 per year, mathematics' median is only about $35,000 — described as “a disgraceful number” by Philippe Tondeur, head of the NSF's mathematics division.

Back in October 2000, NSF director Rita Colwell called for the mathematics budget — $121 million in 2001 — to quadruple by 2007 (see Nature 407, 931; 2000). But the 2002 budget will only increase the subject's allocation by about $20 million, far short of Colwell's goal. Tondeur says that he hopes the 2003 figure will be “on a higher scale” than that for 2002. Senior officials in the agency say he will not be disappointed.

The government cannot release details of the budget in advance, but Sam Rankin, associate executive director of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), says that mathematicians are looking for a division budget of as much as $200 million.

The money would pay for new interdisciplinary projects linking mathematics to biology, computer science and geosciences, Tondeur says. It would also allow the division to expand its programme of Grants for Vertical Integration of Research and Education, launched in 1999. This programme, which already funds 31 departments, encourages interaction between senior faculty, postdoctoral researchers, graduate students and undergraduates.

US mathematicians complain that funding for their discipline has been declining since the 1970s as defence agencies, which used to fund much of their work, became less supportive of basic research. The NSF now accounts for nearly three-quarters of federal funding of mathematics. But only about 1,500 mathematicians — a small fraction of academic mathematicians — get NSF grants each year, according to Rankin.

“The backbone of mathematics is the individual investigator, and the system has not kept pace with the number of strong investigators in recent years,” says David Eisenbud, director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, California.

The new initiative should create a very different picture, Tondeur says. “It's going to be a really adventurous period for the mathematical sciences,” he says. “There's a growing perception that mathematics is an enabling discipline for science, technology and engineering.”