Author: nsfmcb

DATA MANAGEMENT PLANS: TIPS FROM DCL 19-069

Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) 19-069 was recently issued to highlight two key practices of effective data management and two tools to produce a data management plan (DMP) that meets NSF requirements.

Two key practices:

1. Persistent IDs for Data: Make your data discoverable, citable, and linkable by assigning a persistent identifier, often available through your home institution.

2. Machine-readable DMP: Ensure that the plan for managing, disseminating, and sharing your data and associated resources is in a format that can be read by a computer.  Using a standardized template is a good way to make the elements of the plan clear and easily modifiable as needs of the project evolve over time.

Two key tools:

DCL 19-069 cites two free tools for creating machine-readable DMPs. Neither is required to be used.

A graphic of a wrench against a background of a cog

1. ezDMP: This tool was developed to ensure that proposals submitted to NSF include clearly organized DMPs. Funded through an EAGER grant, (NSF award 1649703), ezDMP includes links to updates from the Directorate of Biology on DMPs as well as a list of biology-specific repositories.

2. DMPTool: This tool provides a click-through wizard for creating a well-organized DMP based on templates from over 250 institutions and nearly 40 funding agencies, including NSF.

Other sources of information about NSF’s data management policy include:

All proposals submitted to NSF must include a data management plan regardless of the amount of data the project is expected to produce. The DMP requirement supports NSF’s policy on data sharing, which in turn, complies with a memorandum issued in 2013 requiring public availability of federally funded research and digital scientific data.

(Image credits: “Tips”: Aha-Soft/Shutterstock.com. Other: smahok/Shutterstock.com)

Summer School at NIST and DCL for collaboration with NIST

This is a logo montage that includes the NSF logo and the logo for CHRNS (the Center for High Resolution Neutron Scattering)

The Center for High Resolution Neutron Scattering (CHRNS) is holding a week-long course from July 22-26 at the Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) in Gaithersburg, MD. Registration for the class, titled, “CHRNS Summer School on Methods and Applications of Neutron Spectroscopy,” and other information about the course is available on line

To assist the research community in accessing NIST instrumentation for conducting fundamental research, NSF has created Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) 11-066. Titled “NSF-NIST Interaction in Basic and Applied Scientific Research in BIO, ENG & MPS,” the DCL provides supplemental funding to enable investigators holding active awards from NSF to conduct relevant portions of their work on-site at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). Funding requests may include travel expenses and per diem as well as collaboration by principle investigators (PIs), co-PIs, post-doctoral scholars and both undergraduate and graduate students.

The DCL facilitates collaborative research and educational activities between NSF-funded investigators and science and engineering staff at NIST. In practical terms, this means that NIST provides not only access to its laboratories, but also instrument specialists. “This frees the biologist to focus on the research rather than on learning new technology,” notes Engin Serpersu, program director in the Molecular Biophysics cluster of MCB.

NIST’s half-dozen laboratories and user facilities included in the DCL align with MCB’s goal to support research that incorporates theories and concepts from physics, mathematics, chemistry, engineering and computer science. For example, says Serpersu, “The opportunity to conduct research using neutron scattering technology is extremely useful for discerning the structural and dynamic properties of biological systems.”

Read the DCL for more information and contact your program director to discuss your request.

BROADER IMPACTS — IF IT WORKS, KEEP DOING IT

Broader Impacts are activities which advance societal goals through either the research itself or through complimentary efforts that advance the larger enterprise of science. Broader Impact activities don’t have to be original, one-of-a-kind ideas. However, they should clearly address a need, be well-planned and documented, and include both a thoughtful budget and a thorough assessment plan. Principle Investigator Allyson O’Donnell uses near-peer mentoring to pair high school students from under-represented minorities with undergraduates in the O’Donnell lab at the University of Pittsburgh, and assesses the outcomes to identify impact.

High school student Hanna Barsouk (Taylor Allderdice High School) and undergraduate student Ceara McAtee (University of Pittsburgh) work on a project in the O’Donnell Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh.

Goals of the Broader Impact activity: “The near-peer program focuses on bringing underrepresented minority high school students into the lab and providing an opportunity for them to develop their passion for science. Undergraduates who serve as mentors have measurably stronger engagement with their work in the lab.”

Recruitment: “The high school students volunteer in the lab during the school year and then can apply to participate in more research-intensive activities during the summer. The summer internships are paid, and this is currently funded through an REU supplement as part of my CAREER award.” (NSF award 1902859)

How it works: “I pair the high school students with an undergraduate mentor so that there is a near-peer mentor connection with someone closer in age than a grad student or post doc. We have found that this gives the undergraduate a stronger sense of engagement and ownership in their research project. Plus, based on our assessments, this mentoring experience makes it more likely that the undergraduates will participate in outreach activities in the future. From the high school students’ perspectives, they have someone they are more comfortable asking questions of and who can help give them advice on navigating the application process for universities. Of course, this is in addition to having myself and other team members as mentors.”

How do you measure impact? “We have used the Grinnell College SURE survey [Survey of Undergraduate Research Experiences] and other reflective assessments of this approach and find that both the undergraduate and high school students report significantly enhanced learning experiences. Specifically, the high school students show higher learning gains in understanding the research process and how to think like a scientist, while the undergraduate students gain more knowledge about science literacy and confidence in their ability to engage the community in science.”

High school students Sara Liang (left) and Hannah Barsouk proudly display a box of plasmids they created to support their research project at the O’Donnell lab. The two attend Taylor Allderdice High School.

Future plans? “We first used this system of pairing high school students with undergraduate mentors while the O’Donnell lab was located at Duquesne University. We worked with eight students in 2017 and six students in 2018 and we expanded to other labs in the Department of Biological Sciences. We hope to expand the program here at the University of Pittsburgh as well, where it will also be supported by our fantastic outreach team.”


CAREER DEADLINE REMINDER- July 17, 2019

doodles of bology images, books, a heart, an axon, cells, fungus, insects, chemical formulas, and leaves

NSF CAREER proposals submitted to BIO are due July 17, 2019 by 5PM submitter’s local time. The CAREER program (NSF 17-537) is an NSF-wide solicitation offering the agency’s most prestigious award for early career faculty. CAREER awards are intended to be the foundation of a lifetime of leadership, research, and education, and in MCB are awarded in any research area supported by MCB core programs. CAREER awardees are also eligible to receive the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers.

Applicants with questions can read these FAQs or contact the relevant division representative. All proposals should be submitted in accordance with the revised NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) (NSF 19-1), which is effective for proposals submitted, or due, on or after February 25, 2019.

continued doodle of biology things, plant cells, sugar structures, DNA, a bird, root systems, cell structures

Photocredit: Drawlab19/Shutterstock.com

MCB Welcomes Summer Intern Jamie Helberg

Each year the National Science Foundation hosts summer interns from across the United States. This summer, the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences staff is excited to welcome Jamie Helberg. Read below to learn more about Jamie and the project she’s undertaking for MCB.

Welcome Jamie Helberg

I grew up in Los Angeles, California and am the proud daughter of Cuban and Colombian immigrants. This fall, I will be entering my senior year at Pitzer College. Pitzer is a member of the Claremont Colleges-a unique consortium of five undergraduate colleges and two graduate institutions. I am majoring in Environmental Analysis with a Spanish minor. Following my bachelor’s degree, I aspire to attend graduate school to study agriculture and food security. This summer, I will be focusing on whether resilience and productivity of applicants to MCB awards correlates with demographics by evaluating resubmission rates. Overall, I hope to consolidate this data in a manner that coherently recognizes how NSF funding can lead to groundbreaking research while simultaneously diversifying our nation’s scientific discoverers. 

Teaching CRISPR in the classroom: a new tool for teachers

Photo Credit: Megan Beltran

While CRISPR has become one of the most talked about gene editing tools in the research community, easy-to-use educational activities that teach CRISPR and related molecular and synthetic biology concepts are limited. Michael Jewett and his team at Northwestern University have created a set of user-friendly educational kits to address just this issue, called BioBits kits. This tool was developed as a broader impacts activity in Dr. Jewett’s currently-funded research (NSF 1716766) , investigating and expanding the genetic code for synthetic applications such as producing non-natural polymers in biological systems, and with collaboration and funding from several other institutions.

BioBits kits contain materials to run hands-on lab activities designed to teach high school-aged students the basic concepts of synthetic and molecular biology through simple biological experiments. Students add the included DNA and water to pre-assembled individual freeze-dried cell-free (FD-CF) reactions. The results are noticeable when the individual FD-CF reactions fluoresce, release an odor, or form a hydrogel (depending on the experiment). For example, the BioBits Bright kit includes six different DNA templates, each of which encode for a protein which fluoresces a unique color under blue light, directly demonstrating how proteins differ based on initial DNA sequence. So far, three kits have been developed: BioBits Bright, Explorer, and Health, with activities covering topics from the central dogma of biology, to genetic circuits, antibiotic resistance, and CRISPR.

The visible (or smellable) outputs make the results interactive and intuitive, engaging students in a relatable experience. In addition to the FD-CF reactions and instructions, the kits contain example curriculum, such as one independent research-based activity that asks students to address ethical questions surrounding CRISPR, further engaging students in the topic and providing a deeper understanding of the technology.

Over 330 schools from around the world have requested kits so far. Find out more on the BioBits website or in recent open-access articles in Science Advances and ACS Synthetic Biology.

Cell Cycle: MCB Camaraderie

Twelve MCB members and three guests joined thousands of other bicyclists for a 20-mile ride through Washington, D.C. on May 18. The ride was part of DC Bike Ride 2019. A portion of the registration fees was allocated to raising awareness of biker safety in D.C., which was recognized last year as the largest city on the East Coast to receive the "Gold" bicycle friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists.

Front row, left-to right: Megan Lewis, David Rockcliffe, Basil Nikolau, Michael Weinreich, Kelly Parshall, Alexis Patullo, Ann Larrow, and Matthias Falk
Back row: Alias Smith, Dave Brougham (guest)

Twelve MCB members and three guests joined thousands of other bicyclists for a 20-mile ride through Washington, D.C. on May 18. The ride was part of DC Bike Ride 2019. A portion of the registration fees was allocated to raising awareness of biker safety in D.C., which was recognized last year as the largest city on the East Coast to receive the “Gold” designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community SM by the League of American Bicyclists.

“It was a great day to have the Division rally together and spend the time on ‘cycling the cell’ as a team,” said Dr. Bassilos Nikolau, Division Director for MCB. “Participating in events such as this is important because so many of us at MCB, NSF, and the wider federal workforce are bicycle commuters.”

Team members not pictured above are Theresa Good, Wilson Francisco, Rita Miller, Axel Azcue (guest) and Michael Hubbard (guest).

MCB congratulates the winners of the NSF Director’s Awards and the National Alliance for Broader Impacts Award

The NSF directors award winners are standing together holding their certificates and smiling
Left to right (front) Alexis Patullo, Reyda Gonzalez-Nieves, Bridget Johnson, Engin Serpersu, (back) Wilson Francisco, Charles Cunningham, and Jaroslaw Majewski.

On May 9, 2019 the National Science Foundation held its annual Director’s Award ceremony to recognize excellence in service and achievement by NSF employees. Eight MCB employees were honored this year. Reyda Gonzalez-Nieves received the NSF Director’s Award for Meritorious Service for her exceptional leadership. Charles Cunningham, Bridget Johnson, and Alexis Patullo received a Superior Accomplishment award for advancing one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas, “Understanding the Rules of Life” through their work organizing the “Building a Synthetic Cell” ideas lab. Wilson Francisco, Jaroslaw Majewski, and Engin Serpersu also received a Superior Accomplishment award for their leadership in developing “Quantum Leap,” another of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas.

The National Alliance for Broader Impacts held its annual summit April 30-May 2 and honored Karen Cone and David Rockcliffe for their significant contributions to advancing the societal impacts of research and for leadership in supporting the National Alliance for Broader Impacts.

MCB congratulates all our awardees and thanks them for their hard work and commitment to fulfilling NSF’s mission to promote the progress of science.

Expanded Funding Opportunities for Collaborations between NSF BIO and UK Researchers

a colorful abstract picture on a black background

NSF BIO researchers can now submit collaborative proposals with British institutions in four new topic areas, Bioinformatics, Microbiome, Quantum Biology, and Synthetic Biology/Synthetic Cell. This opportunity to submit collaborative projects that are reviewed only once, either at NSF BIO or BBSRC, is highlighted in the Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) NSF 19-058, which explains the process for preparation of the letter of intent and proposal submission to this funding opportunity. 

There is a 2-stage application process: a letter of intent (due July 2, 2019) after which full proposals will be invited to their appropriate programs in both the UKRI/BBSRC (due 2nd October 2019) and NSF/BIO (full proposals accepted anytime).

Projects must be a collaboration between at least one investigator in the US and one in the UK and must address the priorities of both UKRI/BBSRC and appropriate NSF/BIO Divisions. Additionally, proposers must provide a clear rationale for the need for a US-UK collaboration, including the unique expertise and synergy that the collaborating groups will bring to the project.

For full details on submission guidelines, program priorities, and contact information see DCL NSF 19-058.