The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) became fully operational this year, and public sources of data are now freely available. Additionally, a recent Dear Colleague Letter announced an intent to compete management of future operation and maintenance of the network. Read more about it on Bio Buzz, BIO’s blog from the office of the Assistant Director.
Whether you are a first-time investigator or a seasoned NSF-funded researcher, a correctly prepared award budget can help you prevent delays in starting your research. We asked MCB program directors to tell us their top tips on completing a proposal budget. While these tips are helpful, MCB reminds PIs to always refer to the Proposal & Award Policies & Procedure Guide (PAPPG) for guidance on proposal submission. In addition, follow any specific instructions or restrictions included in the program announcement or program solicitation to which you are applying.
Three MCB-funded researchers are among 314 recipients of the 2019 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The selections were recently announced by President Trump. The three are among 80 nominated by NSF. A total of nine recipients are from NSF’s Directorate of Biology.
The PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology. The award was established in 1996 and is coordinated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Dr. Lynette Cegelski, Stanford University (Award #1453247), “for her outstanding research in the field of solid-state NMR spectroscopy to develop novel strategies to examine bacterial amyloid fibers, and for providing unparalleled detail into the structure and function of native curli amyloid fibers and their interactions with amyloid dyes and their cognate biofilm polysaccharide partners at the atomic and molecular levels;”
Dr. Megan Thielges, Indiana University, Bloomington (Award #1552996), “for her leadership in the development and application of high-resolution infrared spectroscopy to protein dynamics and function, and for her commitment to reduce barriers for female participation in science;” and
Dr. Edward O’Brien, Pennsylvania State University (Award #1553291), “for his outstanding research in the field of computational molecular biophysics, for increasing the understanding of the influence of protein synthesis on nascent protein behavior, and for developing a creative outreach program to introduce high school students to cutting edge research opportunities.”
Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) 19-069 was recently issued to highlight two key practices of effective data management and two tools to produce a data management plan (DMP) that meets NSF requirements.
Two key practices:
1. Persistent IDs for Data: Make your data discoverable, citable, and linkable by assigning a persistent identifier, often available through your home institution.
2. Machine-readable DMP: Ensure that the plan for managing, disseminating, and sharing your data and associated resources is in a format that can be read by a computer. Using a standardized template is a good way to make the elements of the plan clear and easily modifiable as needs of the project evolve over time.
Two key tools:
DCL 19-069 cites two free tools for creating machine-readable DMPs. Neither is required to be used.
1. ezDMP: This tool was developed to ensure that proposals submitted to NSF include clearly organized DMPs. Funded through an EAGER grant, (NSF award 1649703), ezDMP includes links to updates from the Directorate of Biology on DMPs as well as a list of biology-specific repositories.
2. DMPTool: This tool provides a click-through wizard for creating a well-organized DMP based on templates from over 250 institutions and nearly 40 funding agencies, including NSF.
Other sources of information about NSF’s data management policy include:
- NSF FAQs for Public Access (NSF 10 041); and
- NSF plans for data management and sharing of the products of research (PAPPG – Chapter 2, Section 2 (j), “Special Information and Supplementary Documentation”).
All proposals submitted to NSF must include a data management plan regardless of the amount of data the project is expected to produce. The DMP requirement supports NSF’s policy on data sharing, which in turn, complies with a memorandum issued in 2013 requiring public availability of federally funded research and digital scientific data.
(Image credits: “Tips”: Aha-Soft/Shutterstock.com. Other: smahok/Shutterstock.com)
The Center for High Resolution Neutron Scattering (CHRNS) is holding a week-long course from July 22-26 at the Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) in Gaithersburg, MD. Registration for the class, titled, “CHRNS Summer School on Methods and Applications of Neutron Spectroscopy,” and other information about the course is available on line.
To assist the research community in accessing NIST instrumentation for conducting fundamental research, NSF has created Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) 11-066. Titled “NSF-NIST Interaction in Basic and Applied Scientific Research in BIO, ENG & MPS,” the DCL provides supplemental funding to enable investigators holding active awards from NSF to conduct relevant portions of their work on-site at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). Funding requests may include travel expenses and per diem as well as collaboration by principle investigators (PIs), co-PIs, post-doctoral scholars and both undergraduate and graduate students.
The DCL facilitates collaborative research and educational activities between NSF-funded investigators and science and engineering staff at NIST. In practical terms, this means that NIST provides not only access to its laboratories, but also instrument specialists. “This frees the biologist to focus on the research rather than on learning new technology,” notes Engin Serpersu, program director in the Molecular Biophysics cluster of MCB.
NIST’s half-dozen laboratories and user facilities included in the DCL align with MCB’s goal to support research that incorporates theories and concepts from physics, mathematics, chemistry, engineering and computer science. For example, says Serpersu, “The opportunity to conduct research using neutron scattering technology is extremely useful for discerning the structural and dynamic properties of biological systems.”
Read the DCL for more information and contact your program director to discuss your request.
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.
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.”
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.”
NSF CAREER proposals submitted to BIO are due July 17, 2019 by 5PM submitter’s local time. The CAREER program (NSF 17-537) is an NSF-wide solicitation offering the agency’s most prestigious award for early career faculty. CAREER awards are intended to be the foundation of a lifetime of leadership, research, and education, and in MCB are awarded in any research area supported by MCB core programs. CAREER awardees are also eligible to receive the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers.
Applicants with questions can read these FAQs or contact the relevant division representative. All proposals should be submitted in accordance with the revised NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) (NSF 19-1), which is effective for proposals submitted, or due, on or after February 25, 2019.
Each year the National Science Foundation hosts summer interns from across the United States. This summer, the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences staff is excited to welcome Jamie Helberg. Read below to learn more about Jamie and the project she’s undertaking for MCB.
Welcome Jamie Helberg
I grew up in Los Angeles, California and am the proud daughter of Cuban and Colombian immigrants. This fall, I will be entering my senior year at Pitzer College. Pitzer is a member of the Claremont Colleges-a unique consortium of five undergraduate colleges and two graduate institutions. I am majoring in Environmental Analysis with a Spanish minor. Following my bachelor’s degree, I aspire to attend graduate school to study agriculture and food security. This summer, I will be focusing on whether resilience and productivity of applicants to MCB awards correlates with demographics by evaluating resubmission rates. Overall, I hope to consolidate this data in a manner that coherently recognizes how NSF funding can lead to groundbreaking research while simultaneously diversifying our nation’s scientific discoverers.
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.