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Congratulations to 2017 Nobel Laureate, Dr. Joachim Frank!

A picture of the three awardees in stylized yellow and blue sketches with each of their names below their face.

© Nobel Media. Ill. N. Elmehed

MCB joins the rest of the scientific community in congratulating NSF funded researcher Joachim Frank who, along with Jaques Dubochet, and Richard Henderson, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his role in the development of Cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM).

“Cryo-electron microscopy fundamentally changed biology and biochemistry, allowing scientists to create 3-D reconstructions of the biomolecular processes that support life,” said NSF Director France Córdova. “The technology delivers an unprecedented look at life at the atomic scale, providing us with accurate models of everything from viruses to antibodies. Joachim Frank demonstrated that potential to NSF in 1984, when the agency helped him acquire a high-resolution electron microscope for 3-D reconstruction, and then continued to support his development of new applications for the technology over the following decades. Biochemistry owes Frank and this year’s other two Chemistry laureates, Richard Henderson and Jacques Dubochet, a debt for this important visualization tool.”

Dr. Engin Serpersu, Program Director and Molecular Biophysics Cluster Leader stated that “technological developments and improvements in data analysis transformed Cryo-EM from being suitable only to study global structural properties of biological complexes to providing 3D structures with atomic level resolution. These developments also allow researchers to examine proteins smaller than we ever imagined possible, including ones as small as 100 kDa. Undoubtedly, Cryo-EM is now one of the mainstay structural tools helping scientists in a broad range of biological problems and its development is well worth this honor.”

YEAR-ROUND PROPOSAL SUBMISSIONS (NO DEADLINES) COMING TO MCB IN 2018

MCB’s current solicitation (NSF 17-589) deadline is Nov. 20, 2017.

In response to popular feedback, and in the interest of our community, MCB will be following in GEO’s footsteps to eliminate deadlines for future proposals. We will release a new solicitation in mid- 2018 which will detail the procedure and funding priorities for proposals submitted with “no deadline.” Funding for the proposals submitted under the no-deadline solicitation will begin during the 2019 fiscal year.

Eliminating proposal deadlines offers three key advantages. First, no-deadlines allows PIs to be more strategic in building collaborations; second, no-deadline reduces the time crush on institutions; and third, no-deadlines enables NSF-BIO to work more collaboratively across the directorate to fund science that crosses levels of biological organization. NSF anticipates that this change will result in more complex, interdisciplinary projects that have the potential to dramatically advance biological science.

More information about the change will be released through FAQs, webinars, presentations, and this blog as it arrives. Read more in the Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 18-11).A timeline of the changes to come over the next two years

MCB WELCOMES DR. JAROSLAW MAJEWSKI, PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR THE MOLECULAR BIOPHYSICS CLUSTER

 

A headshot style photograph of Jaroslaw, Jarek, in a black suit in front of a black backdrop. He is wearing a polka dot tie and red pocket square and half-smiling into the camera.

What were you doing before you came to the NSF?

I am currently a Staff Scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory  (LANL) in Los Alamos in NM, and also an Adjunct Professor at Department of Chemical Engineering at UC Davis. In general, my area of scientific expertise covers using neutron and x-ray scattering to investigate nano- and meso-structures, including bio-interfaces (lipid membranes, interaction of membranes with bio-toxins, Langmuir-Blodgett monolayer films films and living cells) and soft-matter systems (polymers, etc.) in different environments. At LANL I was also involved in many aspects of solid-state physics and science connected with national security and actinides properties. I am currently an American Physical Society (APS) and Neutron Scattering Society of America (NSSA) Fellow.

What attracted you to work for the NSF?

I was interested to explore new career avenues as well as to use my experience to influence science outside the lab.

What was your first impression of the NSF? Has this impression changed since you began serving as a rotator?

My first impression was that NSF is a well-functioning institution with a friendly working environment and well-deserving of its impressive reputation. The organization has a clearly established mission, well-trained personnel, and extremely nice people all around. My first impression has only changed in that these observations have become even more evident over time!

What personal goals would you like to accomplish while at the NSF?

I would like to use my time at NSF to learn how science is supported from the view of a funding agency. I am interested to see the ways NSF uses to get to know the community we support  and to understand their scientific needs. I hope to obtain a more global picture of how federal agencies like NSF work and use this information to develop connections and knowledge. I also hope to visit the scientific places NSF supports and to better understand the scientific outcomes of the funded research..

What has surprised you most about working at the NSF?

That such tremendous work is done is such short time and with such efficiency. I have been continually impressed by the tight connection between the science communities and NSF Program Directors who support them. I have also been impressed at the huge spectrum of expertise, experiences, and ideas of the NSF staff.

What are some of the challenges of serving as a rotator?

I have to admit that the beginning was rather overwhelming: to learn so many new things in a short time (the panel season was approaching when I started) and to deal with/memorize/try to understand the science described in the proposals while knowing that any decision might be consequential for science. I was fortunate to have the support of my fellow Program Directors through this time and have learned so much.

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

It is a tremendously rewarding job but a lot different from regular activities of a scientist. It is a job well-suited for people who have a lot of experience in the scientific community and know their science well – I still find myself needing to learn many things at NSF despite my 20+ years’ experience as a scientist.

When friends or colleagues find out that you work at the NSF, what do they say or ask?

My friends and family, even those not as familiar with the extent of NSF’s work, are very impressed and think that working at NSF is very noble.

NSF IS MOVING

An outline of a moving truck with "MCB IS MOVING" on the side.

 

building 1 building 2

(Left) A photograph of NSF’s building in the Ballston area of Arlington, Virginia

(Right) NSF’s new offices in Alexandria, Virginia

As you may have heard, the National Science Foundation is relocating to Alexandria, Virginia. The physical transition is occurring over a six-week period, and this week the time has arrived for BIO (including MCB) to make the move.  Our last day in Ballston will be Thursday, September 14th and we will begin operations in the new building on Monday, September 18th. Our phone numbers and emails will remain the same, but we ask that you remain patient as we may be slower to answer messages or calls over the next few days. Effective October 2, our new mailing address will be:

National Science Foundation

2415 Eisenhower Avenue

Alexandria, VA 22314 

For more information read important notice 139; for IT- related questions email the Help Desk at rgov@nsf.gov.

MCB AT YOUR MEETING: WORKSHOP: THE ROLE OF CROWDFUNDING IN THE STEM ECOSYSTEM

Crowdfunding as a way of raising money to support worthy causes is popular among charities and entrepreneurs, and recently has been gaining traction in scientific communities as a novel way to collect support and financing for research projects. The Georgia Institute of Technology is organizing a workshop in Alexandria, VA, on Oct.10. Titled “The Role of Crowdfunding in the STEM Ecosystem”. The goal of the MCB funded (MCB – 1745230) workshop is to stimulate conversation and provide an exchange of ideas about crowdfunding in the sciences.  Chaired by Dr. Morris Cohen, Assistant Professor at Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and former AAAS Fellow at NSF, the workshop is open to the public and free to all attendees.

The workshop will feature a wide range of expert speakers giving presentations, panel discussions, audience question-and-answer sessions, and three “fireside chats.” Workshop topics will include:

  • Reflections from scientists who have used crowdfunding;
  • Legal and financial implications for crowdfunding campaigns;
  • Crowdfunding factors that may lead to inclusion or exclusion within the STEM community;
  • Crowdfunding platforms in the academic sector;
  • Crowdfunding platforms in the private sector; and
  • Future directions for crowdfunding in science.

The workshop will also address scientific studies of crowdfunding as a social phenomenon, as well as application of crowdfunding in the STEM environment. Additionally, there will be opportunities to meet fellow scientists interested in crowdfunding and initiate dialogues on topics of concern.

The workshop will take place October 10, 2017 from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM at the Holiday Inn Carlyle at 2460 Eisenhower Ave, Alexandria, VA. More information can be found at Georgia Tech’s workshop website including an agenda, speakers’ bios, and registration information. Registration is free but space is limited, so if you are interested, sign up today!

 

Questions? Email the organizers at crowdfundingworkshop@gmail.com.

FAREWELL TO DR. GREGORY WARR

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MCB celebrating Dr. Warr’s Retirement
Upper photo: (Left to Right) Dr. Theresa Good, Dr. Casonya Johnson, Dr. Arcady Mushegian, Dr. Gregory Warr, Dr. Charlie Cunningham, Dr. Steven Clouse, Dr. Michael Weinreich, Dr. Devaki Bhaya
Lower Photo: (Left to Right) Ann Larrow, David Barley, Valerie Maizel, Kelly Ann Parshall, Dr. Gregory Warr, Philip Helig, Dr. Reyda Gonzalez-Nieves, Dr. Stacey Kelley, Lourdes Holloway

 

MCB recently gave a congratulatory sendoff to Dr. Gregory Warr, who has retired from NSF after 10 years of dedicated service. Dr. Warr started at NSF in 2007, serving for a short period as a Program Director in the division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) before transferring to MCB, where he served as a Program Director and cluster leader for Cellular Dynamics and Function (CDF). During his tenure in MCB, Dr. Warr also temporarily served as acting Division Director, bringing his dedication for quantitative methods into his work as an MCB leader.

Dr. Warr was a strong advocate of MCB’s emphasis on quantitative, predictive and theory-driven science and this was well reflected in the portfolio developed in the CDF cluster, where projects emphasized quantitative approaches and modeling. Dr. Warr’s advocacy has also had effects across MCB. According to Dr. Karen Cone, Acting Deputy Division Director, one of his most important contributions to MCB was “his recognition, early on, that the Division was supporting many projects using network analysis to understand regulatory processes, but these projects were dispersed across the existing three clusters.  His insights helped spur creation of a new cluster, Networks and Regulation, which eventually was re-named the Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster and supports a portfolio of vibrant projects well-grounded in quantitative and predictive science.”

Dr. Warr’s droll sense of humor will be sorely missed, but his influence on how the Division operates will continue. Dr. Theresa Good, Acting Division Director, says, “I appreciate both his ability to see strategically what was happening in the Directorate and Foundation and [to] act in ways that strengthened the Division, and his skill in enabling people who work with him to grow. Greg sought out the best people to have working with him, so that the Division could benefit from their expertise. He was a true intellectual and scholar with a wide range of interests far beyond just the science we fund.”

MCB thanks Dr. Warr for his hard work and dedication to the Division and MCB science. We will also miss his inspiring 6 AM gym schedule and ability to point out the silly absurdities in our everyday lives. Dr. Charles Cunningham, fellow Program Director and longtime friend, says that he will most miss two things: “Firstly, having been in MCB for 10 years or so, there was little he did not know when it came to process, so he was this great fund of information. Second, our chats about science, politics and home, especially over a curry and a glass of something refreshing at the Bombay Club in DC.”

 

 

SPOTLIGHT ON MCB FUNDED SCIENCE

A spotlight illuminates the words 'Spotlight on MCB-funded Science.'

Photo Credit: Matusciac Alexandru/Shutterstock.com

Sharing MCB Science is one of our six blog themes where you can learn about exciting MCB-funded research submitted by our investigators (via this webform). We greatly appreciate the overwhelmingly positive response of the MCB scientific community and have received many more submissions than can be featured in long form on the blog. Enjoy this shorter spotlight of submissions we have received!

a closeup of a cell, it is shapes like a lollypop, a long thin stalk with a rounded top which is darker in color

Joseph K. E. Ortega – Photograph of a stage IV sporangiophore of Phycomyces blakesleeanus with the micro-capillary tip of a pressure probe.

Algal, fungal, and plant cells interact with their environment by regulating their size and shape through expansive growth, an increase in cell volume due predominately to an increase in water uptake. This process presents a special challenge for algae, fungi, and plants because cells in these organisms have an exoskeleton-like cell wall that provides support, protection, and shape.  When water enters these cells, turgor pressure builds up, which stretches (deforms) the cell wall; at the same time, new material is added to the cell wall to fill in the expanded regions and thereby control the size and shape of the enlarging cell. The interconnected processes of water uptake, wall deformation, and control of cell size and shape are crucial for algal, fungal, and plant survival.

Previous research has provided a good description of the molecular and mechanical changes accompanying expansive growth.  Taking advantage of this foundation, Dr. Joseph K. E. Ortega, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado, Denver, is bringing a new dimension to quantify cellular changes during expansive growth.  He has developed a mathematical model of the interconnected processes, called the Augmented Growth Equations (AGE). As described in his new publication, the model organizes multiple equations to represent the relationships between variables and uses dimensional analysis to produce dimensionless coefficients. The dimensionless coefficients enable researchers to more easily quantify the biophysical processes and better predict how changes in water absorption and cell wall deformation regulate expansive growth. While the model does not address the shape of the cells, the mathematical framework provides insight as to how water uptake and wall deformation are regulated in algal, fungal, and plant cells to control expansive growth during normal conditions and in response to changes in the environment.

This work is partially funded by the Molecular Biophysics Cluster of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Awards #MCB-0948921.

on the left is a still image from an MRI of a chest with the heart and lungs visible. On the right is a graph with the quick heartbead and slower respiration plotted as curves.

Dr. Steven Van Doren – Example of how the TREND software can distinguish the patterns of a heart beating and lungs breathing from an MRI movie

Visual outputs, such as photographs or movies, contain important data from scientific experiments. For example, identifying biologically relevant signals over time (trends) can be challenging, as they may be subtle or mixed into background movements or noise. To identify trends, researchers scour the data looking for specific features, such as peaks, and either mark them by hand, which is time consuming and subjective, or set specific background thresholds in instrumentation, which can result in mistaking signal for noise. In a new publication, Dr. Steven Van Doren, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Missouri, and his post-doctoral researcher, Dr. Jia Xu, describe a new software program called TREND (Tracking and Resolving Equilibrium and Nonequilibrium population shifts in Data). The software allows researchers to objectively extract information from two-dimensional images or videos, and in another recent publication, they describe extending the analysis to several different types of data.

TREND uses a statistical approach, called principal component analysis (PCA), on a series of individual measurements to compress and organize multivariate data so that researchers can select for and detect changes in a variety of factors over time. The factors can be anything: characteristics of a stream, grades in a class, or gene variants. When applied to movies, such as this sample video of a sunset, a trend in the data, such as the movement of the sun across the sky, can be plotted after removing background noise, such as motion from clouds. Another example is separating the pattern of a heart beating from lungs breathing using TREND (a photo of this video is shown above). TREND is available for licensing and download at http://biochem.missouri.edu/trend and https://nmrbox.org/.

 

This work is partially funded by the Molecular Biophysics Cluster of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Awards #MCB-1409898.

NATIONAL ALLIANCE FOR BROADER IMPACTS: THE POWER OF PARTNERSHIPS

NABI

In April, the National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI) held its fifth annual Broader Impacts Summit at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, WA. NABI is a network of more than 600 individuals working together to build institutional capacity, advance broader impacts, and demonstrate the societal benefits of research. NABI members come from educational institutions, museums, science centers, zoos, botanical gardens, professional societies, private industry, foundations, and other organizations. A list of member institutions is available on the NABI website and you can read about the objectives of NABI in a prior post on the MCB Blog. Established in part with funding provided by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, NABI events and resources help researchers create and develop impactful broader impacts activities.

At the summit, Dr. Suzanne Iacono, Head of the Office of Integrative Activities (OIA) at the National Science Foundation, delivered a keynote address entitled Broader Impacts at NSF. She noted, across proposals, student education and broadening participation were two main focus areas. These areas were also a major point of discussion in several of the sessions at the meeting.

The theme of the three-day summit was the “Power of Partnerships.” Sessions focused on three strands: innovative BI approaches and activities, faculty and student development and training, and broader impacts infrastructure, skills, and tools. Research into the role of partnerships in empowering high-quality outreach, models for public engagement partnerships, and best practices in the assessment and evaluation of broader impacts were presented, which created a foundation for data-driven conversations about broader impacts for the 21st century and beyond.  Presenters discussed how to construct strong science education and build outreach partnerships with a diverse array of partners such as citizen scientists, startup companies, museums, community partners, STEM graduate students, engineers, and faculty. Summit participants also learned how to use crowdfunding, cinema, social media, and Twitter as tools to facilitate outreach.  Discussion also focused on how to reach non-traditional public audiences, minorities underrepresented in STEM fields, and the next generation of scientists. Panelists offered lessons learned while establishing outreach partnerships such as University of Wisconsin – Madison Science Alliance, which connect scientists with K-12 educators, parents, lifelong learners, students, and others. The Summit had a strong focus on the future of BI and NABI.  Sessions engaged member feedback, discussed the creation of a peer-reviewed journal about broader impacts, and considered the role of the NSF CAREER Program in integrating intellectual merit and broader impacts. Slides for each presentation are available at https://broaderimpacts.net/2017-schedule/.

If you are interested in becoming a member of the National Alliance for Broader Impacts network, visit their website at https://broaderimpacts.net/join-nabi/ to join for free. Registration for the next summit, which will be held at the Providence Biltmore April 25-27, 2018 will become available on the NABI website at https://broaderimpacts.net/.

This work is partially funded by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Award #MCB – 1408736.