Author: nsfmcb

NSF issues a new funding opportunity on Quantum Sensing 

Through a new solicitation entitled Quantum Sensing Challenges for Transformational Advances in Quantum Systems (QuSeC-TAQS; NSF 22-630), NSF seeks to support interdisciplinary teams of three or more investigators to explore highly innovative, original, and potentially transformative research on quantum sensing.  The QuSeC-TAQS program aligns with recommendations articulated in the strategic plan, Bringing Quantum Sensors to Fruition, that was produced by the National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Quantum Information Science, under the auspices of the National Quantum Initiative

QuSeC-TAQS is a cross-cutting NSF funding opportunity for which the Biological Sciences Directorate is a key partner.  Research involving biological systems and/or participation of scientists from different fields of biology is encouraged. Research topics might include:  investigation of quantum phenomena in biological systems; use of quantum devices and approaches in the investigation of biological problems; or creation of new biocompatible quantum probes and sensing protocols to gain insights into complex biological systems that fundamentally cannot be accessed through classical measurements. Outcomes from such studies are expected to advance knowledge of biological functions and dynamics within cells and could potentially provide new platforms for biotechnology. 

Preliminary proposals are required and due December 16, 2022; and full proposals are due April 3, 2023. 

Additional questions should be directed to  

Agile BioFoundry Selects New Collaborations

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences and the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems at the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the selection of six projects to conduct research and development that will advance the U.S. bioeconomy.

The selectees were chosen from applicants for a direct funding opportunity titled  “Accelerating Innovations in Biomanufacturing Approaches through Collaboration Between NSF and the DOE BETO funded Agile BioFoundry,” which provides support for researchers from institutions of higher education and nonprofits to collaborate with the Agile BioFoundry (ABF). Selected projects leverage the rapid prototyping and advanced biotechnology resources available at the ABF to accelerate basic research projects to deployment.

BETO and NSF have selected the following projects:

Both the NSF and BETO recognize the critical roles that synthetic and engineering biology play in advancing the U.S. bioeconomy. The selected projects all directly contribute to the production of renewable biochemicals and biofuels and build foundational technologies critical for the decarbonization of the industrial and transportation sectors.

Funded by BETO, ABF aims to advance biomanufacturing by uniting and expanding the capabilities of the national laboratories to offer a robust, agile biomanufacturing platform accessible to researchers across the private and public sectors.

ABF partners include Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and more than a dozen university and industry partners.

Need to Make a Change?

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) would like to bring attention to the following two funding opportunities that are designed to support researchers who are seeking to enhance or change their research activity.   

The Mid-Career Advancement Program (MCA; NSF 22-603) is an NSF-wide program designed for PIs whose administrative and/or teaching duties have significantly hindered their research efforts. The program provides funds to release faculty from some of their non-research duties allowing them to pursue collaborations to gain new skills or resources and substantially enhance their research trajectory. The MCA Program is targeted primarily to Associate Professors; however, as part of a new pilot track, Full Professors at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) are eligible to apply when submitting to the Biological Sciences or Geological Sciences Directorates. Budget-wise, MCA provides a total of 6.5 months of the PI’s salary over the course of the award, plus one month of summer support for each collaborative partner and $100,000 to the PI for other direct costs. Whereas the primary focus of the program is to support training that allows a PI to pursue a new research direction, support may also include graduate student training. The application requires a description of the research plan, a two-page Impact statement, a statement from the collaborator, and a letter from the Department Chair.   

The Transitions to Excellence in Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Research Program (Transitions; NSF 21-508) is an MCB program designed for PIs who have made productive contributions to a research area, but now would like to change or expand their research direction by acquiring new research or data analytic skills. The Transitions Program is tailored for Associate and Full Professors at any U.S. academic institution. The total maximum budget for a three-year Transitions Award is $750,000, which includes support for six months of the PI’s salary in the first, professional development (or sabbatical) year of the award and support for two subsequent years of research at the PI’s home institution.  Proposals for the Transitions Program must include a compelling professional development plan, as well as a letter of support from the Department Chair. PI’s have the option to include a letter of support from the host laboratory detailing the training plan for the PI.   

Attend the upcoming Virtual Office Hours, on October 12th from 2-3pm, to learn more about the MCA and Transitions Programs!   

Transitions to Excellence in  
Molecular and Cellular Biosciences  
Research (Transitions)
Mid-Career Advancement (MCA)
NSF 21-508 NSF 22-603 
MCB-specific solicitation Multiple participating programs across NSF 
Eligibility  Associate and Full Professors (or equivalent) Associate Professors (or equivalent) for at least 3 years and Full Professors at PUIs (BIO, GEO) 
Purpose Enables pursuit of new avenues of inquiry or expansion of research toward greater impact Enables increased research focus through protected time and collaborative partnerships 
Individuals SupportedSupports PI salary during sabbatical or similar leave plus 2 years research support Supports PI and collaborative partner salary with some support for research and training activities 
Notes for Successful Proposals Successful applicants will demonstrate a strong record of prior accomplishment and a compelling plan for moving the research in new (ideally cross-disciplinary) directions Successful applicants will demonstrate substantive benefit to their research and career trajectory, especially in cross-disciplinary directions 
Deadline Proposals are accepted at any time. Target Window: February 01 – March 01, 2023, and annually thereafter 
Maximum Budget $750,000 total over 3 years, including PI salary (6 mo.)  PI salary (6.5 mo.), collaborator salary (1 mo.), and $100,000 direct costs for research over 3 years 

A New Strategic Plan

Every four years, NSF releases a new strategic plan that guides the development of the agency goals and actions.  In 2022, NSF introduced its newest strategic plan, which has two notable changes compared to previous plans: 

  • For the first time, a focus on broadening participation by empowering STEM talent is front and center, followed by the goal of creating new knowledge (which is typically listed first in the strategic plans). 
  • The plan includes a goal calling for translating knowledge into solutions that benefit society.

The 2022-2026 NSF strategic plan outlines the following four strategic goals:

  • Empower STEM talent to fully participate in science and engineering
  • Create new knowledge about our universe, world and ourselves
  • Benefit society by translating knowledge into solutions
  • Excel at NSF operations and management

By elevating empowering STEM talent to the first strategic goal, NSF is bringing an agency-wide focus to this issue. To empower STEM talent to fully participate, NSF has set specific objectives of increasing the involvement of communities underrepresented in STEM and growing a diverse STEM workforce to advance the progress of science and technology. By meeting these objectives through support for research and for formal and informal education, NSF will engage and empower the millions of talented individuals still missing from the STEM workforce.

The third goal of translating knowledge to solutions acknowledges the importance of application of science to solving the problems facing our nation and the world. This goal complements the second goal of creating new knowledge, which has been the bedrock of NSF’s mission to advance national health, prosperity, and welfare since the agency was created in 1950.

Together, these strategic goals ensure that NSF supports the diverse people who are part of the scientific enterprise and continues to be at the forefront of scientific discovery and technological advancements improving society for this generation and the next.   

In the Biological Sciences (BIO), there are many programs designed specifically to empower STEM talent. All Divisions in BIO support these programs—including , Research Experiences for Undergraduates, Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology, Research and Mentoring for Postbaccalaureates in Biological Sciences, Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology, and others – which are hosted by the Division of Biological Infrastructure’s Human Resources Cluster.  In addition, every award funded by BIO (including in MCB) supports not just science, but the people who do the science.  Empowering STEM talent is built into the broader impacts review criterion against which all proposals are evaluated. 

To read more about NSF’s strategic goals and how the agency is pursuing these goals read the NSF Strategic Plan.


Dr. Karen Cone, Acting Division Director 

MCB is excited to announce the return of Dr. Karen Cone to MCB as Acting Division Director, starting in August 2022, while Dr. Theresa Good serves a detail as Acting Deputy Assistant Director in the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO). 

Most recently, Dr. Cone was a science advisor in the Office of the Assistant Director for BIO. There she led NSF’s activities in Understanding the Rules of Life, coordinated the cross-BIO funding opportunity Integrative Research in Biology, served as the executive secretary for the NSF-wide Bioeconomy Coordinating Committee, and managed the Biological Sciences Advisory Committee.  

Dr. Cone is not new to MCB. She previously served as a program director in the Genetic Mechanisms cluster. During her service, she established herself as an extraordinary colleague and mentor to new PIs in the community and to new Program Directors in MCB. She has also served as the managing program director for the CyVerse cyberinfrastructure collaborative and Acting Deputy Division Director for both the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems and MCB.  

Prior to joining NSF, Dr. Cone was a professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Her research expertise is in plant genetics and genomics, with emphasis on epigenetics and chromatin-mediated regulation of gene expression. 

Per Dr. Cone, “I am excited to have the opportunity to be back in MCB.  I look forward to renewing old relationships and forging new ones.  MCB continues to stand out in BIO in its service to the research community, and I am happy to help support this important mission.” 

Per Dr. Good, “MCB will be in great hands with Karen at the helm.  She is well respected for her leadership and scholarship both inside and outside NSF and has a reputation of innovating in the ways she supports broader impacts.  She is the right person to lead MCB during this transition.  I’m thrilled that she was willing to take on this new responsibility.” 

We are excited to steal Dr. Cone back from the front office – even if only temporarily. We are also looking forward to hearing Dr. Good’s stories and new perspectives once she returns from her detail.  


On September 15, 2022, from 1:00 to 3:00 PM EST, NSF will hold an informational webinar on the SCMCS. The webinar will consist of a short presentation followed by an open Q&A session with cognizant Program Officers. Register for the webinar here

The aim of the SCMCS program (Solicitation NSF 22-608) is to establish a Synthesis Center for Molecular and Cellular Sciences that will create new knowledge through innovative synthesis and integration of available data. The deadline for preliminary proposals is January 13, 2023.  

You can read additional details about the SCMCS here and the upcoming webinar here.  


The National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) just announced updated topics for its collaboration with the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for the coming year, described in Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) NSF 22-107.

Titled “UKRI/BBSRC-NSF/BIO Lead Agency Opportunity in Biological Informatics, Systems Understanding of Host-Microbe Interactions, Synthetics Cells and Cellular Systems, and Synthetic Microbial Communities” the DCL describes updates on topical areas associated with the lead agency opportunity:

  • Biological informatics
  • Systems understanding of host-microbe interactions
  • Synthetic cells and cellular systems

It also outlines a new area of interest in synthetic microbial communities.

The lead agency scheme allows for reciprocal acceptance of peer review through unsolicited mechanisms and helps reduce some of the current barriers to international collaborations.

Proposal Information
There is a two-part application process:

  • A letter of Expression of Interest, due on September 21, 2022, will be reviewed for project eligibility.
  • Eligible proposals will then be invited to submit to the appropriate lead agency program. Full proposals submitted to NSF should be received by March 2023 to receive full consideration. Refer to the DCL for important details.

Projects must be a collaboration between at least one investigator in the US and one in the UK, must address the priorities of both UKRI/BBSRC and appropriate NSF/BIO division(s), and must address the topical areas identified in the DCL. 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 22-107.


Since MCB switched from one fixed deadline per year to no deadlines for accepting proposals to core programs*, Program Directors have received many questions from the community, chief among them being “when should I submit my proposal?”  Answers to the most common questions are provided below.

Q. When should I submit my proposal?

A. You should submit your proposal when you think it is ready.  There really isn’t a best time of year to submit a proposal to MCB core programs.

Q. How do I know when my proposal is ready?

A. We recommend that you ask colleagues within and outside of your immediate research area to read the proposal and provide critical feedback.  Do take their feedback seriously, because if they identify an issue, it is likely that reviewers will as well.  

Q. Are the funding rates different throughout the year?  Am I more likely to get funded if I submit early or later in the fiscal year?

A. The funding rates are the same throughout the year.  Program Directors plan their budgets based on proposal submission data from prior years such that proposals in every panel have the same chance of being funded.

Q. When are panels held?  I want to make sure my proposal gets reviewed promptly.

A. Panels are held throughout the year to ensure timely review no matter when a proposal is submitted.  Program Directors schedule a panel as soon as enough proposals are available to review as a group.  We also try to distribute the workload associated with panels on MCB staff and peer reviewers evenly through the year so that timing does not affect the quality of merit review.

Q. Does it take longer to get my reviews back now that MCB has switched to no-deadline?

A. Actually, MCB gets reviews back to PIs faster on average under no-deadline. Currently, the average time to decision is between 4.5 to 5 months. 

Q. Is there a time of year when it takes longer to get my proposal reviewed?

A. Reviews take a bit longer when a proposal is submitted in early summer.  NSF’s fiscal year starts on October 1 and ends on September 30.  In order to expend all of the funds appropriated by Congress for a given fiscal year, Program Directors have to submit their award recommendations to the Division Director in time for the Division of Grants and Agreements (DGA) to finalize all awards by September 30.  Therefore, during early summer Program Directors focus on finalizing award recommendations instead of setting up new panels.  Some proposals submitted during this period might take one or two extra months to complete review.   

Q. Is it true that there is a limit to the number of proposals that an investigator can submit in one year?

A. No.  When BIO first switched to no deadline, there was a cap on proposal submission.  However, that cap was lifted in 2018.  Investigators may submit more than one proposal a year.  But remember, a declined proposal can only be resubmitted after it has undergone substantial revision. 

* Certain special programs of interest to the MCB community have deadlines, which are noted in the summary available through NSF’s Funding Search.  Whether the program of interest to you has a deadline or not, be sure to read the solicitation carefully and reach out to a Program Director with any questions.  


Steve Clouse has been a program director in MCB for six and a half years. He was hired as a full-time rotating program director (VSEE) in MCB in January of 2016, working on site at the previous NSF headquarters in Arlington, VA. Steve switched to part-time program director in August of 2017, working remotely from Oregon and traveling to Alexandria, VA for panels and retreats.

What was the highlight of your time at NSF?

There have been many highlights. To work with my MCB and other NSF colleagues to fund the best possible science in cell and molecular biology and broaden my scientific perspective from a focus on my own individual research to interdisciplinary approaches, was definitely a high point. I also enjoyed working with a broad spectrum of principal investigators from the pre-submission stage of determining whether their work was appropriate for Cellular Dynamics and Function, through the review process, and finally the award or decline decision. Managing awards and following their progress was rewarding as were discussions with PIs about how to address reviewer comments for those proposals that were declined. The several large, interdisciplinary projects and research networks I was involved with, were particularly interesting.

What are you most looking forward to next?

After a career spanning more than 40 years in various aspects of scientific research, I am looking forward to more free time and more time spent outdoors. Living in Oregon definitely facilitates outdoor activities. I also look forward to more uninterrupted time to spend with family and traveling.

What personal goals did you accomplish while at NSF?

My research was funded by NSF continuously for 30 years, starting with an NSF postdoctoral fellowship in plant biology in the 1980s and concluding in 2016 with a final grant on plant proteomics before retiring as professor from North Carolina State University. I wanted to contribute something to NSF before fully retiring and also be exposed to the breadth of science that NSF funds. My six and a half years at NSF helped me achieve that goal and was a nice transition from retiring as an active faculty member, while still being involved in science and research from a different perspective.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director at the NSF?

Being a Program Director is a very worthwhile endeavor, particularly if your research program is well established and can continue to function efficiently with periodic visits back to the home institution. MCB is a great place to work. I was impressed by the collegiality of the program directors and senior management and the helpfulness and skill of the outstanding administrative staff.

Division Director, Theresa Good, said about Dr. Clouse, “Steve has been a pleasure to work with for these past six years.  As a AAAS Fellow, Steve is a highly accomplished scientist who is deeply connected to the plant science community.  As such he has not only been a great program director but also a great mentor to scientists seeking funding from MCB.  While I am glad that Steve and his wife will now have more time to hike in Oregon and travel in retirement, I will miss his quiet humor, sound advice, and steadfast commitment to NSF and its mission.”


Marcia Newcomer joined the division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) in July 2018 as a program director. She became a cluster leader in July 2020.

What was working at MCB like?

Working in MCB was a great experience, especially for someone who has spent so many years in academia. Seeing the funding process from this perspective provides a much fuller understanding of the government’s efforts and role in supporting basic research. The environment in MCB is highly cooperative, and there are many opportunities to coordinate with other divisions and directorates. 

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director at the NSF?

I would highly recommend serving as a Program Director. It is a great opportunity to be introduced to research areas well outside of one’s sphere of expertise. In some sense, it is almost like being a graduate student again, when you are excited about the research possibilities before you. It is also inspiring, because you work with so many colleagues and reviewers and are constantly reminded that there are dedicated people in this line of work who have a sense of fairness and an appreciation for how basic research can have a tremendous impact on our quality of life. You also come to appreciate government investments in research facilities, and the role of these facilities in expanding our scientific reach and providing a highly skilled workforce. 

Theresa Good, MCB Division Director said of Dr. Newcomer, “It has been a delight to work with Marcia these past four years.  She jumped in head-first, pushed us to continue to push the boundaries of the research we fund, and hasn’t stopped making a difference.  She’s been involved in developing programs for postbaccalaureate scientists, expanding the role of AI in molecular biophysics, and leveraging convergent science to prevent future pandemics.  Just as importantly, she has shared her warmth, humor, and sense of excitement for science with all of us.  We wish her the best back at LSU.”