Author: nsfmcb

HBCU – EiR Informational Webinars: April 15 and 21

Two informational webinars on the HBCU-EiR solicitation are scheduled. One will be held April 15, 10-10:30 am EST. The other will take place April 21, 2-2:30 pm EST. Read the text below for information on how to register.

In April, MCB will offer two informational webinars reviewing relevant highlights of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Excellence in Research (HBCU – EiR) solicitation (NSF 20-542). The webinars will introduce the solicitation and encourage prospective principal investigators to communicate closely with program directors before submitting a Letter of Intent and will feature program directors from each of the four divisions of NSF’s Directorate of Biological Sciences (BIO):

  • MCB – Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences
  • DBI – Division of Biological Infrastructure
  • DEB – Division of Environmental Biology
  • IOS – Integrative and Organismal Systems

Faculty from eligible institutions are encouraged to attend the webinar. To register and receive the Zoom meeting link, please click on the following links for the session you wish to attend.


In June, MCB will also offer webinar-based, interactive workshops on proposal-writing and the merit review process to HBCU faculty and staff interested in submitting a proposal to the EiR solicitation. MCB has provided these workshops to HBCU institutions for the past two years, and they are making a difference.

Information about the June workshops will be emailed to department chairs or grants offices at HBCUs in the next few weeks. If you work at an HBCU and wish to receive these emails directly, email your request to webreg@nsf.gov. Please share this information with appropriate faculty and staff.

MCB: Still Open for Business

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) would like to assure the scientific community that the Division is still fully operational. MCB is committed to supporting the community and accomplishing the mission of the National Science Foundation (NSF). While Program directors and staff are working virtually during this time, MCB continues to welcome your proposal submissions, participation in MCB’s virtual Office Hours, virtual panel service, and general communications.

The Division understands the immense impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on research, institutional closures, and personal life. If you find yourself struggling to meet a deadline for proposal or award report submissions, please contact your MCB program director. In accordance with NSF Implementation of OMB Memorandum M-20-17, MCB is flexible in considering extensions.

Stay in the loop by regularly checking the NSF coronavirus information page, NSF Twitter page, the BIO Buzz blog for the Directorate for Biological Sciences, and of course subscribe to the MCB Blog.

Please review the Dear Colleague Letter on COVID-19 inviting submissions of Rapid Response Research (RAPID) awards related to the virus. For specific questions or comments, please reach out to an MCB program director.

BIO-wide Virtual Office Hours

As you may have seen, Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) Assistant Director Joanne Tornow, PhD, wrote to the biological sciences community to share information about NSF’s current operations in light of COVID-19 and provide guidance to current awardees.

In that letter, Dr. Tornow noted that BIO staff are interested in hearing how BIO and NSF can mitigate the longer-term harm of COVID-19 on U.S. research and training. We will be holding a series of four BIO-wide virtual office hours next week during which the biological science community can share concerns, ask questions, or offer suggestions on how we can do more to address this national emergency.

Sessions dates and times are as follows and registration and log-in information will be available here shortly. Please feel free to attend the session that best fits your schedule; representatives from across BIO will be in attendance during each session.

  • Monday, March 30, 4-5 pm EDT 
  • Tuesday, March 31, 3-4 pm EDT
  • Wednesday, April 1, 2-3 pm EDT
  • Thursday, April 2, 1-2 pm EDT

For more information on NSF’s activities and response to COVID-19, please visit our coronavirus information page; this site is updated regularly.

MCB CONGRATULATES THREE 2020 PROTEIN SOCIETY AWARD RECIPIENTS

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) congratulates three MCB-funded researchers for recognition by The Protein Society. Catherine Drennan, Karen Fleming, and Martin Gruebele were among seven recipients of the 2020 Protein Society Awards announced March 12.

Head shot of Dr. Catherine Drennan, recipient of the Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin Award from The Protein Society, 2020.

Professor Catherine Drennan (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is the recipient of the Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin Award. The award recognizes “exceptional contributions in protein science” having a large impact on the scientific understanding of biology. The Society cites Dr. Drennan’s contribution to the understanding of the biology of metalloproteins as well as her advocacy for “inclusion and equity”in science and education.

Professor Karen Fleming (Johns Hopkins University) is the recipient of the Carl Brändén Award. The award was bestowed by The Protein Society.

Professor Karen Fleming (Johns Hopkins University) is the recipient of the Carl Brändén Award. The award honors an outstanding protein scientist who makes “exceptional contributions” in the areas of education or service. Dr. Fleming is cited for her work on thermodynamic measurements of membrane protein folding. She also received recognition for her service work with major scientific societies and her efforts to address gender biases.

Professor Martin Gruebele (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) has been awarded the Hans Neurath Award. The award recognizes researchers who have made notable contributions to basic protein research. Dr. Gruebele is cited for his work on the use of flash heating and ultrafast spectroscopy for studying protein folding and for studying flash folding in live cells.

IMPORTANT UPDATES TO THE CAREER SOLICITATION

image saying "Update!" Image credit: SergioVas/Shutterstock.com
Image credit: SergioVas/Shutterstock.com

The Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) solicitation (NSF 20-525) contains key updates this year:

  • A single deadline has been implemented for all directorates. The deadline is July 27, 2020 and the fourth Monday of July annually thereafter.
  • Principal Investigators must hold at least a 50% tenure-track or equivalent position as an assistant professor to be eligible to apply.
  • This year’s applicants must meet all eligibility criteria as of July 27; future applicants must meet all eligibility criteria by each year’s respective deadline of the fourth Monday of July.

The CAREER Program offers the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty. Each year, NSF also selects nominees for the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) from recent CAREER awardees. Approximately 500 CAREER awards are made each year; the total anticipated funding amount for this year’s awards is $250,000,000.  

To assist applicants in meeting the deadline, NSF has developed supplementary guidance on key milestones to complete before submitting your CAREER proposal. For example, CAREER proposals submitted through Grants.gov should be submitted by July 17 to allow for the additional processing required before they can be accepted by NSF. If submitting through FastLane or Research.gov, submit by July 20 to allow time for resolving any system errors and also to avoid high volume delays at NSF’s Help Desk.

New Solicitation: Future Manufacturing

an image of a welding assembly. Image credit: SasinTipchai/Shutterstock.com
Image credit: SasinTipchai/Shutterstock.com

In response to the Strategy for American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing, a report by the National Science & Technology Council, NSF has released a new solicitation, Future Manufacturing (FM) (NSF 20-552). This solicitation aims to support fundamental research and education of a future workforce that will enable manufacturing that does not exist today or exists at such small scales that it is not viable (“Future Manufacturing”).

The solicitation is relevant to basic research in biology, says Dr. Elebeoba May, program officer in the Systems and Synthetic Biology cluster. “This solicitation encourages interdisciplinary research that pushes the boundaries of what is currently possible in manufacturing. With respect to the biosciences, this is an opportunity to investigate how biology ‘manufactures’ from the molecular to the macroscale and use those insights to inform next-generation manufacturing products and practices.”

There are three thrust areas for FY20 submissions: Future Cyber Manufacturing Research, Future Eco Manufacturing Research, and Future Biomanufacturing Research. Additionally, the solicitation will support the following three award tracks:

Future Manufacturing Research Grants (FMRG) (two types)
Type I — $500,000 to $750,000 per year for up to five years,
Type II — $750,000 to $2,000,000 per year for up to five years; and
Future Manufacturing Seed Grants (FMSG)
Awards in this track will provide support for up to two years at a level not to exceed $250,000 per year; and
Future Manufacturing Networks (FMNet)
Awards in this track will provide up to five years of support at a total amount of $500,000.

Letters of intent are due April 10, 2020, with full proposals due June 5, 2020. Full details on program priorities, program officer contact information, and submission requirements can be found in the solicitation. A webinar will be held on Thursday, Mar. 26. Details will be available later.

Dear Colleague Letter on COVID-19

A new Dear Colleague Letter on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (NSF 20-052) invites non-medical, non-clinical-care research proposals that seek to explore how to model and understand the spread of COVID-19; to inform and educate about the science of virus transmission and prevention; and to encourage the development of processes and actions to address this global challenge.

Proposals may be submitted through the Rapid Response Research (RAPID) funding mechanism as well as through existing funding opportunities.

For more information, please read the full Dear Colleague Letter and reference the FAQs. All questions about this DCL should be directed either to a program officer managing an NSF program with which the research would be aligned or to rapid-covid19@nsf.gov.

Welcome and Farewells

Stephen DiFazio joined the Genetic Mechanisms cluster in January, beginning a one-year term as a temporary program director (“rotator”) in the Visiting Scientist, Engineer and Educator (VSEE) program.

A picture of Dr. Stephen DiFazio

What were you doing before you came to NSF? I am a professor of biology at West Virginia University. My research program focuses on woody plants in the Salicaceae family (cottonwood, aspen, willow). I work on a wide variety of topics, but most recently my interests have centered on the molecular basis of sex expression and biotic interactions, with particular focus on identifying and characterizing the genes responsible for sex dimorphism and sexually antagonistic loci.

What attracted you to work for NSF?
I have served on the Genetic Mechanisms panels three times, and greatly enjoyed the experience. The best part was learning about the cutting-edge science and exciting ideas laid out in the proposals. But beyond that, I was fascinated by the highly choreographed process, and the efficiency with which we thoroughly considered dozens of complex proposals over the course of just a couple of days. I really wanted to see behind the scenes and learn about the up-front work and the systems in place to facilitate things.

What have you learned so far from your position?
It appears that impact of the transition to the no-deadline policy will take years to fully manifest, but I think that most signs point toward an overall improvement in both the process as well as the quality of advancements resulting from the funded research.

How has your relocation to the area gone?
I’m really happy with my relocation thus far. I’m enjoying Alexandria and environs, and I’ve got a good living situation. Plus, the biking is really great, so I will have plenty of opportunities to indulge in my favorite pastime. Once the novelty wears off, I’m sure I’ll be missing my wife more, but Morgantown, my home, is close enough that I expect we’ll be spending many weekends together. I’ve also left my research lab in a good place, so I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to return to my former life once this stage of the adventure concludes.


Matthias Falk recently completed a two-year term as a rotating program director in the Cellular Dynamics and Function cluster, joining the group under the VSEE program in December, 2017.

Dr. Matthias Falk

What is next for you after your time at NSF?
I have several ideas I want to pursue, including crowdfunding organized by my university.  I am exploring how to fulfill one of my dreams of combining science with arts by organizing an evening of science, music, and body expression here at Lehigh University.  I am also looking at developing an outreach program aimed at high school students in Pennsylvania, using my knowledge of microscopy to spark excitement and interest in the biological sciences.

What was the highlight of your time at NSF?
Calling young investigators (assistant professors) to let them know that their investigator-initiated or CAREER proposal would be recommended for funding was the highlight of my tenure.  To be able to have such an important influence on the scientific career of such gifted researchers was an amazing experience, and to hear and feel the excitement my phone call unleashed is something I will never forget!

What did you learn from your position?
I see grant and proposal writing with a different set of eyes now that I have seen firsthand how many factors beyond good science influence the review process and funding decisions.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director at NSF?
Becoming a rotating program director is a great way to give back to the scientific community and an amazing opportunity to capture the breadth of science. To be immersed in that day after day and to participate in executing and shaping this endeavor is very exciting. It’s particularly opportune to engage in such a position and build on one’s past career accomplishments, and help guide the future scientific endeavor based upon one’s own significant footprint in science.


A photo of Dr. Devaki Bhaya

Devaki Bhaya served as a rotating program director in the Systems and Synthetic Biology cluster, joining the group under an Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) assignment in December, 2016. She returned to her home institution (Carnegie Institution for Science) this past January.

Dear Colleague Letter: Plant Synthetic Biology

A new Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 20-045) was released to highlight NSFs interest in supporting the plant synthetic biology community through already existing programs. The Biology and Engineering Directorates support the community through funding synthetic biology basic research, tool development and applications, and proposals that emphasize the potential outcomes with benefits to society.

Proposals can be submitted to the Divisions of: Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS), Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB), and Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems (CBET). Proposals should be titled with the preface “PlantSynBio:” and submitted to the program most closely related to the proposed research. These programs all accept proposals without deadlines. For more information on topics of interest, contact information, and background see DCL 20-045.

MCB Workshop-based Webinars are Making a Difference

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences will host a series of workshop-based webinars on proposal writing for researchers at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) this June. While most of the information presented is applicable to any potential proposal-writer, the webinars focus on the Research Initiation Awards (RIA) and the Excellence in Research (EiR) tracks of the HBCU-Undergraduate Programs (HBCU-UP) solicitation NSF 20-542. The goal of the webinars is to foster relationships with principal investigators (PIs) at HBCU institutions and to increase the number and competitiveness of proposals submitted to the EiR track of the HBCU-UP solicitation (NSF 20-542). An invitation to participate will be emailed to every HBCU that lists a life-sciences department contact on its website.

A total of 79 unique participants from 32 unique HBCU institutions have participated in the two previous webinars, held in 2018 and 2019. Participants gain a deeper understanding of the merit review process, participate in a mock proposal review, discuss tips for writing strong proposals, and interact with program directors from all divisions in the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO). 

Initially launched in 2018 by Dr. Casonya Johnson, a former program director in the Genetic Mechanisms cluster, the webinar has been well-received. Over 94% of the participants in last year’s workshop said they would recommend the workshop to a colleague. As a whole, the respondents agreed that they felt well prepared to develop a competitive proposal for submission to the National Science Foundation after completing the webinar. A preliminary analysis of proposal submissions from 2018 to 2019 finds that the percentage of proposals submitted by participating institutions rose from 7% in 2018 to 14% in 2019.

MCB continues to seek opportunities to help faculty and staff at under-represented institutions to increase the competitiveness of proposal submissions for all solicitations offered by MCB. Interested faculty are encouraged to contact their respective department chairs for registration details if they have not received information by April 8 or email mcbwebreg@nsf.gov. Details and registration information will also be posted here on the MCB blog.