Blog

Quantum Biology: Current Impacts and Opportunities

On World Quantum Day, we wanted to highlight how MCB is supporting quantum biology.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) annually send all agencies a letter that identifies the administration’s scientific research and development priorities. This year’s joint OMB/OSTP priority letter  identified several emerging industries, including quantum science, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and advanced manufacturing, as key areas for engagement.

MCB and the researchers we support have  recognized quantum biology as an emerging research area with opportunities for growth, adding quantum biology to the list of themes in the BBSRC lead agency opportunity and the list of cluster priorities in the Molecular Biophysics program description.  

In addition, MCB plays an active role in NSF’s Quantum Leap Big Idea and manages one of the Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes focused on quantum sensors for biology. The Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Quantum Sensing in Biophysics and Bioengineering, led by the University of Chicago, will create new types of biocompatible quantum sensors and embed these quantum sensors within biological systems to extract new information and gain control over biological processes that, until now, have been beyond reach. The Institute will also train the future quantum technology workforce.

Other support from MCB for quantum biology includes a Research Coordination Network that supports community development and research capacity building in this area, several EAGER awards to support exploratory research on topics from quantum principles in electron transfer in nanowires or in odorant detection or quantum imaging and quantum-based detection methods development, as well as full proposals exploring topics such as quantum phenomena involved in biological energy transfer. A full list of MCB supported quantum biology awards can be found here.

Continuing to support this emerging industry allows MCB and our community to remain at the cutting edge of biology and to strengthen cross-disciplinary partnerships.

For any questions about funding opportunities related to Quantum Biology, please contact Engin Serpersu (ESERPERS@nsf.gov) or Jaroslaw Majewski (jmajewsk@nsf.gov).

MCB CONGRATULATES RECIPIENTS OF THE 2022 PROTEIN SOCIETY AWARDS

The Protein Society, an international society dedicated to the advancement of protein research, recently announced its 2022 Award winners, several of whom have been funded by MCB’s Molecular Biophysics (MB) cluster. The Protein Society Awards recognize outstanding efforts of researchers who have distinguished themselves with significant achievements in protein research and who have made exceptional contributions in leadership, teaching, and service. Read more about the MCB-funded winners below.

Photo of several 2022 Protein Society Award Winners

Hans Neurath Award Winner – Squire Booker, Ph.D.
The Hans Neurath Award honors those who have made an exceptional contribution to basic protein research. Professor Squire Booker (Penn State University) is recognized for his research which has provided deep insight into the governing molecular logic underpinning biosynthetic pathways, enzyme cofactors, drug action and metabolism, and the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance.

Learn more about Squire Booker’s NSF funded research.

Stein & Moore Award Winner – Daniel Herschlag, Ph.D.
The Stein & Moore Award recognizes eminent leader in protein science who have made sustained, high-impact research contributions to the field. Professor Daniel Herschlag (Stanford University) has identified the principle of “catalytic promiscuity,” a critical missing link in evolution. In addition, his lab developed the RNA chaperone hypothesis, demonstrated the role of RNA binding proteins in coordinating gene expression, and has been on the forefront of developing cutting edge techniques that illuminate new aspects of protein behavior.

Learn more about Daniel Herschlag’s NSF funded research.

Protein Science Young Investigator Award Winners – Nicolas Fawzi, Ph.D. and Nozomi Ando, Ph.D.
The Protein Science Young Investigator Award recognizes a scientist in the first 8 years of an independent career who has made an important contribution to the study of proteins.

  • Professor Nicolas Fawzi (Brown University) is an internationally recognized leader in his field, his efforts were among the first to bring structural to proteins following phase separation. The Fawzi lab has provided insight into the physiology of membrane-less organelles and their pathological dysfunction associated with cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. Learn more about Nicolas Fawzi’s NSF funded research.
  • Professor Nozomi Ando (Cornell University) has pioneered new experimental and computational methods to illuminate the molecular mechanisms of protein allostery. Her research on diffuse scattering, faint and smeary signals in the background of x-ray diffraction images from protein crystals is noted with high regard. She is also recognized for her work in advancing structural biology education and advocating for diversity in STEM. Learn more about Nozomi Ando’s NSF funded research.

Join us in congratulating recipients of the 2022 Protein Society Awards. The full list of awards and winners can be found here: https://www.proteinsociety.org/page/protein-society-awards.

WELCOME MCB’S NEW SCIENCE ASSISTANT – OLAF CORNING

Olaf Corning joined MCB as a science assistant in early March.

Photo of Olaf

What attracted you to work for the NSF?
The NSF had been a subtle but steady influence on my undergraduate education, funding the research around me and enabling friends to pursue PhDs, but it wasn’t until I was interning in Congress that the desire to work at the Foundation seized me.

In the wake of the NSF’s 70th anniversary, the Hill was embroiled with debate over the NSF’s future. As Congress discussed Vannevar Bush’s intent, the numerous successes of the agency, and the challenges it could still solve, I realized this was a place I wanted to work. The Foundation is filled with people fundamentally committed to the celebration of knowledge, expanded access to science, and acceleration of scientific innovation. I am tremendously excited to be able to participate in the NSF’s mission and learn about how it operates and can grow with the needs of the Nation.

How was your relocation?
As smooth as it gets: I was already here! I moved to DC in 2016 for my undergraduate degree at the George Washington University. I’ve come to love the city. Washington, D.C. is incredibly walkable, has beautiful architecture, fantastic local parks, and a tremendous variety of available activities. Having grown up in a rural area in Florida, I am particularly enamored with the Metro. The stations and trains are a great resource and are their own peculiar art form. People here are friendly and quick to make friends. DC sees a lot of turnover and people compensate for it. If you are considering relocating to DC, you are sure to feel welcome.

Using the Rules of Life to Address Societal Challenges

On March 15, 2022, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) held a Town Hall bringing together a multidisciplinary group of researchers to discuss using the ‘rules of life’ to address societal challenges and to identify challenges ripe for this approach. Further background on the event and how it fits with NSF’s Understanding the Rules of Life Big Idea can be found on nsf.gov.

The ideas from that Town Hall have been distilled into four topics that will serve as focal points for four workshops, as noted below. Each workshop will consider how all the STEM disciplines (including biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, geosciences, mathematics, physics, social, behavioral, and economic sciences) could be used to tackle a specific problem. All workshops will incorporate cross-cutting themes of diversity, equity, and inclusion and STEM education, training, and workforce development. 

Applications opened on March 21, 2022 and close on March 29, 2022.

Participation in the workshop is by application only.

Additional ‘Incubator’ events will provide further engagement for postdoctoral scholars attending the workshops (scroll down for more information). Whether or not you are able to participate, we strongly encourage and request you share this information with postdocs in your networks.

Workshop 1: Stewarding an Integrated Biodiversity-Climate System (April 14, 2022, 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM EDT)
We are learning the Rules of Life that govern the essential role of biodiversity in controlling function, maintenance, and adaptation of every ecosystem on Earth. We are also learning that biodiversity and climate are inextricably linked and that everything affecting one affects the other. How might these lessons help us to predict, preserve, and harness the benefits of biodiversity for human society and the natural world?

Workshop 2: Achieving a Sustainable Future (April 19, 2022, 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM EDT)
We are learning the Rules of Life that govern the complexity of interconnected living systems at multiple scales, e.g., from natural and synthetic cells to organisms, populations, communities, ecosystems, and the biosphere. As we learn more about the ways that living systems use and re-use natural resources, how might these lessons help us devise strategies to improve sustainability?

Workshop 3: Harnessing Microbiomes for Societal Benefit (April 21, 2022, 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM EDT)
We are learning the Rules of Life that govern the individual and collective metabolism, physiology, signaling, and interaction of different microbiomes, as well as their composition and responses to evolving environments. As we learn more about the roles of microbiomes in all living systems, how might these lessons help us to improve human society and the biosphere?

Workshop 4: Leveraging AI and Data for Predicting Mechanisms (April 26, 2022, 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM EDT)
We are learning the Rules of Life that govern the prediction of an organism’s observable characteristics from interactions of its genome with the environment.  At the same time, novel research on artificial intelligence and data analytics is providing essential tools for integrating Rules of Life data.  How might these lessons help us to improve our ability to use AI and Data Science?

A Special Call to Postdoctoral Scholars

As the next generation of STEM leaders, you are invited to participate in the NSF-sponsored workshops listed above, and the accompanying postdoc-only “Incubators” on Using the Rules of Life to Address Societal Challenges. 

The postdoc-only Incubators are designed to aid your career development by providing an opportunity to brainstorm research directions for your future and a platform to meet other postdocs from different scientific backgrounds. You are welcome to share this announcement with colleagues who might be interested in attending.

Applications opened March 21, 2022, and close on March 29, 2022.

Workshop topics and dates are listed above.

Postdoc ‘Incubators’

  • Kick-off Incubator (all selected postdocs): April 12, 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM EDT
  • Writing Incubator A (for Workshops 1 & 2): April 22, 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM EDT *
  • Writing Incubator B (for Workshops 3 & 4): May 2, 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM EDT **
  • Wrap-up Incubator (all selected postdocs): May 17, 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM EDT

New Opportunity: Pathways to Enable Open-Source Ecosystems (POSE)

NSF has funded myriad research projects that resulted in publicly accessible, modifiable, and distributable open-source software, hardware, or data platforms. Now we are looking to support the development of these and other widely-used open-source products into open-source “ecosystems” (OSEs), each comprising a distributed community of developers and a broad base of users in academia, industry and government. Doing so will support thedevelopment of new technology solutions to problems of national, societal, and economic importance.

A new program, Pathways to Enable Open-Source Ecosystems (POSE), seeks to harness the power of open-source development to build these new technologies. The goal of the POSE program is to fund organizations to manage OSEs. OSEs based on hardware-, software- or data-based open-source products related to any NSF-supported field are encouraged.

Each OSE managing organization will be responsible for the creation and maintenance of infrastructure needed for efficient and secure operation of an OSE based around a specific open-source product or class of products. The early and intentional formation of such managing organizations is expected to ensure more secure open-source products, increased coordination of developer contributions, and a more focused route to impactful technologies.

Importantly, POSE is not intended to fund the development of open-source research products, including tools and artifacts or existing well-resourced OSEs or communities.

Program Phases
There are two phases of the POSE Program:

  • Phase I: OSE Scoping Proposals, budget to $300,000 for 1 year, 7-page max
    • Enables scoping activities to inform the development of the OSE. Should describe the long-term vision and impact of the proposed OSE, along with specific scoping activities that will lead to a well-developed and sustainable plan.
    • Proposal deadline: May 12, 2022
  • Phase II: OSE Development Grants, budget to $1,500,000 for 2 years, 15-page max
    • Supports transition of an open-source research product into a sustainable OSE. Should include a detailed project plan to support deployment of later-stage successful open-source products into operational environments; describe the current context; and articulate the long-term vision and impact of the proposed OSE.
    • Proposal deadline: October 21, 2022

For full details and submission information, please refer to the program solicitation, NSF 22-572.

Opportunities to Learn More
NSF Program Directors representing the POSE program will hold an informational webinar on March 23, 2022 from 3:30 PM ET to 4:30 PM ET.

Please register for the webinar here: https://nsf.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_GDUveT2ZTBG4c-tNxaODoA.

NSF Funds STEM from Cradle to Career

Earlier this week, NSF highlighted the work of MCB funded researcher, Julius Lucks, who used the tools of synthetic biology to develop a simple, low cost, water quality measurement device. 

Professor Lucks is an example of a faculty members that NSF funds at many stages in their careers – from postdoctoral support either individually, through the  Engineering Research Center (ERC) Program, or otherwise; CAREER awards; investigator-initiated awards supported by our core programs; and in other methods.

Specifically, Lucks was supported by the ERC program, which integrates cutting edge engineering research with translation and workforce development, a CAREER award, other awards from MCB and other NSF Divisions, and an award from the National Science Foundation Research Traineeship program, a program designed to provide graduate students with skills, knowledge and competencies to pursue a range of STEM careers. 

To learn more about how NSF funds STEM from cradle to career, check out some articles from NSF 101:

You can also view MCB funding opportunities as well as all NSF funding opportunities.

NSF 101: Funding opportunities for minority-serving institutions (MSIs)

The NSF blog, Science Matters, recently posted about tips on how to find and apply for funding opportunities for minority serving institutions (MSIs). NSF has many programs designed to support researchers at MSIs and broaden participation of outstanding researchers from across a diverse group of regions, institutions and demographic groups.

The tips include:

  • how to find funding opportunities that specifically target faculty members, researchers and educators at MSIs using the NSF’s Funding Search tool;
  • how to double-check program eligibility;
  • and what to include in a “one-pager” when contacting a program officer in advance of proposal submission.

Read more on the Science Matters blog here.

FY 2022 Convergence Accelerator: Track I and J

NSF has announced the topics for this year’s Convergence Accelerator program, with the goal of accelerating use-inspired, multidisciplinary research into long-lasting, sustainable solutions for societal challenges and scientific areas of national importance. Two of the topics selected for the 2022 solicitation, expected to be published in the coming months, relate to topics of two recent NSF/UIDP Workshops on World without Waste: A Circular Bioeconomy and Feeding the Planet Sustainably, and may be of interest to the MCB community.

The Accelerator comprises three phases: topic ideation, followed by convergence-research phases 1 and 2. Once a solicitation is released and awards are made, funded teams within a given track make up a cohort. All teams within a cohort begin in Convergence Research phase 1. At the end of phase 1, the teams participate in a formal NSF pitch and proposal process, which is used in selecting teams for phase 2.

Track I: Sustainable Materials for Global Challenges

The goal of this track is to converge advances in fundamental materials science with materials design and manufacturing methods in an effort to couple the end-use and full life-cycle considerations of environmentally and economically sustainable materials and products that address global challenges. Examples of broad topics within this track may include – but are not limited to – the following:

  • Materials research data-sharing principles and infrastructure (Materials Informatics)
  • Critical materials and manufacturing processes, such as microelectronics and their components; solutions for sustainable polymers in areas of high unmet need such as healthcare and packaging; and commercially-viable materials for sustainable clean energy (e.g., batteries, photovoltaics, wind turbines, hydrogen) and transport.
  • Full life cycle and sustainability “Systems Thinking”; Education (for and as) infrastructure, including scaling of innovative curricula and training for inclusive sustainable infrastructure design and job creation.

This convergent research track topic was based on the results of NSF-funded community workshops, such as Accelerating Translational Materials R&D for Global Challenges and Socioresilient Infrastructure: Precision Materials, Assemblages, and Systems.

Track J: Food & Nutrition Security

A goal of this track is to accelerate convergence that includes the food and nutrition sectors to address intertwined challenges of population health, climate change, and the nutritional needs of the most vulnerable among us by empowering youth, women, and disadvantaged communities. Examples of broad topics within this track include, but are not limited to:

  • Assessing, modeling, and forecasting “food deserts” (geographic areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food; analyzing food deserts to devise sustainable and socially, politically, economically, and culturally acceptable solutions.
  • Planning, prototyping or modeling to optimize food quality and availability while minimizing waste, including the utilization of sensors, data, and networks while also addressing policy, food labels and discard behavior.
  • Combining concepts and approaches from biology, social sciences, chemistry, and engineering to develop plans and methods to promote sustainable systems and enable food security and food literacy

The convergent research track topic was chosen based on the results of NSF-funded community workshops, such as Digital and Precision Agriculture and Sustainable Systems Enabling Food Security in Extreme Environments and Food Deserts Employing a Convergence of Food, Energy, Water and Systems for Societal Impact.

More information on the DCL can be found here. Once the solicitation is published the NSF Convergence Accelerator plans to hold informational webinars.   

Using the Rules of Life to Address Societal Challenges

We need your help to ‘hack’ the Rules of Life – to deepen our understanding and consider how those Rules might be used to tackle pressing societal challenges.

In 2016, the National Science Foundation (NSF) unveiled a set of ‘Big Ideas,’ 10 bold, long-term research and process ideas that identified unique opportunities to position our Nation at the cutting edge of global science and engineering by bringing together diverse disciplinary perspectives to support convergence research. One of those, Understanding the Rules of Life, is based on developing a predictive understanding of how key properties of living systems emerge from interactions among factors such as genomes, phenotypes, and dynamic environments. Funded projects over the past five years have investigated these interactions at multiple levels, in various organisms, and at different scales to produce generalizable ‘rules’ capable of predicting change in living systems.

Now, we are ready to take a next step and consider how to use those ‘rules’ to advance solutions to society’s toughest challenges. And we need your participation and help.

We invite you to participate in a series of free Virtual Events centered on Using the Rules of Life to Address Societal Challenges. The goal is to bring together researchers with diverse perspectives – including those from all scientific disciplines, with various levels of experience (from senior scientists to postdocs), from different types of institutions or organizations, and from groups historically underrepresented in STEM – to share ideas about how Rules of Life approaches and data might be harnessed by multidisciplinary teams to tackle pressing societal challenges.

How you can get engaged:

Virtual Town Hall (open to all)
March 15, 2022 (Registration open through February 28, 2022)
To discuss Rules of Life concepts and to identify challenges that are best addressed by applying Rules of Life approaches

Workshops 1-4 (by invitation)
April 14, 19, 21, and 26, 2022
Each focused on a specific challenge identified in the Town Hall
To explore ideas on how multidisciplinary research inspired by using Rules of Life can help provide solutions to societal challenges

Postdoc ‘incubators’ (by invitation, specifically for postdoctoral researchers)
April 12, April 22, May 2, May 17, 2022
To help maximize the workshop experience through professional networking and writing

Register Here
(Registration open through February 28, 2022)

FY2022 Future Manufacturing (FM) Solicitation Released

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences announces the release of a new solicitation for Future Manufacturing (NSF 22-568), the cross-directorate program supported by NSF’s Directorates for Engineering (ENG), Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS), Biological Sciences (BIO), Education and Human Resources (EHR), Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE), as well as the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) and the Office of Integrative Activities (OIA).

Future Manufacturing promotes new manufacturing that will address urgent social challenges arising from climate change, global pandemics and health disparities, social and economic divides, infrastructure deficits of marginalized populations and communities, and environmental sustainability. Future Manufacturing complements existing efforts, supported by NSF and other federal agencies, in advanced manufacturing, but the focus of this program is to enable new, potentially transformative, manufacturing capabilities rather than incremental improvements over current manufacturing.

This funding opportunity supports fundamental research and education for a future workforce to overcome scientific, technological, educational, economic, and social barriers in order to catalyze new manufacturing capabilities that do not exist today, enhancing the U.S. leadership in manufacturing.

Submission and Review Information

Proposals must address one or more of the thrust areas, which for the FY 2022 solicitation are:

(1) Future Cyber Manufacturing Research

(2) Future Eco Manufacturing Research

(3) Future Biomanufacturing Research

This solicitation will support the following two award tracks:

Future Manufacturing Research Grants (FMRG) for up to four years; and

Future Manufacturing Seed Grants (FMSG) for up to two years.

The deadline for proposal submission is March 10, 2022. 

Proposals must be submitted through Research.gov or Grants.gov;

FastLane submissions will not be allowed.

NSF will review proposals according to the standard merit review criteria along with specific criteria that are detailed in the solicitation.  For full details on submission instructions, solicitation requirements, and contact information, see NSF ­­­22-568.

Opportunities to Learn More
An informational webinar will be held on February 25, 2022, from 1:00-2:00 PM EST to discuss the Future Manufacturing program and answer questions about this solicitation. Details on joining the webinar will be posted here.