Broader Impacts

Reintegrating Biology: Last Chance

This is the logo for Reintegrating Biology.

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences wants to hear what you think!


Although registration for participating in one of two Virtual Town Halls will soon close, there’s still time to make your voice heard in the discussion about the directions you’d like to see funded by the National Science Foundation.  

For more information, read the post, “Integrating Biology” at BioBuzz, the blog of the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences, Office of the Assistant Director.

Reintegrating Biology: Register Now

What research directions do you think the biological research community should be exploring? What research directions do your peers value?

This is the logo for Reintegrating Biology.

Make sure your ideas are part of the conversation by registering to participate in either of two Virtual Town Hall events on Sept 17 and 18. The events will include some (very) brief inspiring talks, a few details, small break-out groups to brain storm, and report-outs from the small groups.

Register now at reintegratingbiology.org. For more information, visit Integrating Biology.

Reintegrating Biology: Tell Us What You Think

This is the logo for Reintegrating Biology.

What is the most compelling question in the life sciences you would tackle by integrating disparate sub-disciplines of biology?  

NSF wants your thoughts on the question—and you may wish to hear the thoughts of your peers. Join the conversation by registering for one of two Virtual Town Hall meetings to be held Sept. 17 and 18. Participants must register. Go to reintegratingbiology.org to register. Registration is limited.

For more information, read the post, “Integrating Biology” at BioBuzz, the blog of the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences, Office of the Assistant Director.

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.”


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.

Supplemental Funding Opportunity: INTERN

Attention, Principle Investigators and graduate students! DCL 18-102 provides up to $55,000 per student in funding for up to six months to allow recipients to participate in research-based internships in STEM or STEM education research fields in non-academic settings.* The goal is to enable students to gain knowledge, skills, and experiences that prepare them for entry into non-academic careers. This opportunity is open to PIs who are supporting graduate students through any active NSF award. To be eligible, a graduate student must have completed at least one academic year in their graduate (master's or doctoral) program and be making satisfactory progress towards degree completion. For a description of the activities supported, visit the announcement page, then contact your program officer to discuss your proposal. *Principle investigators who currently hold an active award from MCB may also apply directly to MCB with a supplemental funding request.

Attention, Principal Investigators and graduate students! DCL 18-102 provides up to $55,000 per student in funding for up to six months to allow recipients to participate in research-based internships in STEM or STEM education research fields in non-academic settings.* The goal is to enable students to gain knowledge, skills, and experiences that prepare them for entry into non-academic careers.

This opportunity is open to PIs who are supporting graduate students through any active NSF award. To be eligible, a graduate student must have completed at least one academic year in their graduate (master’s or doctoral) program and be making satisfactory progress towards degree completion.

For a description of the activities supported, visit the announcement page, then contact your program officer to discuss your proposal.

*Principal investigators who currently hold an active award from MCB may also apply directly to MCB with a supplemental funding request.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Congratulations to MCB funded-researcher Dr. Frances Arnold, recipient of the 2018 Noble Prize in chemistry. Dr. Arnold is honored for her role in developing the field of directed evolution. As a researcher at California Institute of Technology, Dr. Arnold based her work on the principles of evolution to improve enzyme function; she used error prone polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to introduce random mutations in a gene of interest, introduced those genes into an E. coli library, allowed the mutants to compete, and selected for mutants that improved function. Enzymes optimized through this process can improve results anywhere enzymes are used such as: medicine, biotechnology, biofuels, research, industrial production, and home cleaning and processing applications.

“Dr. Arnold transformed the field of protein engineering and did so at a time when there were very few women in the field.  She combatted gender bias in academia by excelling and demonstrating to those of us who followed her that it was possible,” observed Theresa Good, Deputy Division Director of MCB. Dr. Arnold’s award brings the total number of female awardees in chemistry to five of 180 recipients, representing 2.8 percent of awards in chemistry; the percent of all Nobel Prizes awarded to women is slightly less than six percent.

This year’s award is shared with Dr. George P. Smith, University of Missouri, and Dr. Gregory Winter, Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK, for their work on phage display. Click on the link to read the Statement on the Nobel Prize in Chemistry by NSF Director Dr. Frances Córdova.

what’s your big idea?

What is it?   The NSF 2026 Idea Machine competition is an unprecedented opportunity to promote a new area of research that is important and exciting but not currently addressed by NSF. Ideas submitted will help set the stage for breakthrough research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and STEM education through the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026 and beyond.

How do I enter?   Submit your entry at the NSF 2026 Idea Machine website by October 26th, 2018.

Who’s eligible–and not eligible–to submit ideas?   All contestants must be either U.S. citizens, or permanent residents or legally reside in the U.S., and be over 14 years old on September 1, 2018. More details are available on the Eligibility & Rules page.

 

Better Communication, Better Science

Alexandre and Barnajeet
Dr. Gladys Alexandre, left, and REU participant Reena Barnajeet.

In 2015, researcher Dr. Gladys Alexandre learned something valuable: the addition of Reena Barnajeet, a hard of hearing student, to her lab improved the communication skills of everyone in the group. (more…)