NSF Calls for Examinations of Emergent Networks as Part of Understanding the Rules of Life “Big Idea”

Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation

Reposted from Bio Buzz, the blog of the Assistant Director of Biology.

The biological world is interconnected by complex networks. What are the rules that control these networks? How are the interactions altered by environments? Are the rules similar across all biological scales? How can an understanding of such roles be harnessed to benefit society?

The new Understanding the Rules of Life: Emergent Networks (URoL:EN) solicitation encourages convergent, cross-disciplinary research – including the biological sciences – to examine such rules, the outcomes of these interactions, and to aid in the prediction of emergent properties. The program also seeks to train STEM practitioners to contribute to this area of convergent research. Proposals under the solicitation should be submitted by May 10, 2021.

As part of the Understanding the Rules of Life: Predicting Phenotype, one of ten “Big Ideas” NSF-wide, this new solicitation builds on previous URoL programs to help increase knowledge and the ability to predict an organism’s observable characteristics—its phenotype—from its genotype.

Understanding the mechanisms at play in the interconnections between living organisms and their environments, across every biological scale, will provide vital insight into grand biological challenges, help advance biotechnology to spur the US bioeconomy, and aid in solving some of society’s issues, including the growing impacts of infectious disease and climate change.

Investigators from across the biological sciences are encouraged to submit proposals in concert with researchers in other disciplines, including the mathematical and physical sciences, geosciences, computer and information sciences, engineering, and behavioral and social sciences.

Directorates from across NSF will be holding a virtual office hour on March 11 beginning at 2:00pm Eastern to answer questions on the solicitation. Register in advance for this webinar: https://nsf.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_kP23L5ymTFKw5EVCqBFcCQ.

For full details and guidance on award types, amounts and other questions, see Understanding the Rules of Life: Emergent Networks (URoL:EN).

BIO-wide Virtual Office Hours Recap – How to Write a Great Budget

Repost from DEBrief, the blog of the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB).

The Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) held its latest virtual office hour on February 10, 2021. Program Officers were joined by representatives from the Division of Grants and Agreements (DGA) to provide insight on how to prepare NSF budgets.

If you were unable to attend, here are some of the questions asked during the Q & A section broken down by themes:

Participant support – This category is a ‘protected category’ that should facilitate the participation of people in the research. Frequently we see Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) or Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) in this category. Participant support does not have indirect costs applied to it.

Q: When might one use Participant Support?

A: This will be left up to the researcher and their university to decide, but as mentioned REUs or RETs are commonly placed in this category.  Whether you place undergraduate students in this category versus a paid salary line will depend on how the students factor in the research. It is not appropriate to put postdoctoral salaries or collaborator salaries in this category.

Q: Can I move funds out of Participant Support?

A: You must speak with your Program Officer before rebudgeting and receive official NSF permission to do so. Funds moved from Participant Support could be subject to indirect costs and proposed moves must be well justified.

Q: Should REUs or RETs be put in budgets at the time a proposal is submitted?

A: Yes, if you know that you will have an REU, etc. you should include that when you submit your proposal.  You can submit a supplement request if you belatedly realize you would like to have an REU student. Contact your managing Program Officer about this.

Modification and rebudgeting – Following the awarding of a grant, the investigator and their university have the authority to rebudget certain costs (e.g., move money across budget categories) to accomplish the goals of the research. There are some restricted categories (e.g., Participant Support) and a few rebudgeting modifications that require NSF approval (see this chart).

Q: Can I change my start date of my award?

A: While working with a Program Officer, you can modify the start date of your award. However, once the grant is awarded, the start date cannot be changed.

Q: Can I rebudget funds from travel and student involvement due to the pandemic?

A: Given that COVID-19 had reduced travel and student involvement, these funds may be rebudgeted to supplies.

Salaries – NSF allows up to 2 months of salary support for principal investigators across all NSF awards for a single investigator. In rare and well justified cases, more than 2 months of support can be requested.

Q: Could an investigator change their level of effort, and therefore support, post-award?

A: Will this change the scope of the project?  If the scope is changed, then the institution will need NSF prior approval. If this does not change the scope of the project, then the PI will need to communicate with their institution and follow institutional policies and procedures.  

Q: Does NSF fund protected research time?

A: The two months of salary support is typically considered protected research time. There are some funding opportunities where support for research pursuit over an extended period is allowable (see Mid-Career Advancement NSF 21-516).

Q: Does a researcher need to request salary?

A: Researchers should consult with their university and sponsored research officials to determine whether one can forego salary requests.

G6. Other. – This category contains costs that do not have a predetermined category already outlined in budget workbooks. 

Q: What types of costs can I put in G6. Other?

A: Common examples for BIO proposals are tuition remission and DNA sequencing costs. Costs such as graduate student tuition remission, fee-for-service expenses for running samples, or research station fees are also in this category.

Q: What do we do if we don’t have a Sponsored Research Office (SRO)? 

A: There must be an Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) at the institution, who is not the PI, who has the authority to make decisions and take responsibility on federal grants. If you are unsure who it is, you can ask the Chief Financial Officer at your institution who that representative would be.

Please reach out to a program officer if you have any questions about the proposal submission and review process. View the presentation and future office hours dates on MCB’s Office Hours page.

Webinar and Update to the “Future Manufacturing (FM)” Solicitation

NSF has updated the “Future Manufacturing (FM)” solicitation (NSF 21-564) by revising the goal:

The goal of Future Manufacturing is to support fundamental research and education of a future workforce to overcome scientific, technological, educational, economic and social barriers in order to enable new manufacturing capabilities that do not exist today.

A webinar about the solicitation will be held Friday, Feb. 26, 1-2 pm EST. Registration for the webinar is required and can be found here.

Interested researchers can find a description of the opportunity and a link to the details on the Future Manufacturing program’s web page. Full details, requirements, and review criteria can be found in the solicitation itself. The NSF has also posted an overview of the Future Manufacturing awards made in 2020. Submit further questions to FutureManufacturing@nsf.gov.

BIO and COVID-19 Recovery Efforts

Updated 5 Mar 2021: A recording of the session is now available (Access Passcode: ++6ZM*=i).

From BioBuzz, the blog of the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO): “Throughout the past year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has supported the research community by providing guidance, funding flexibilities, and deadline extensions. This support will remain a top priority for NSF as we seek to recover from the pandemic. Up-to-date information on these offerings continues to be added to the agency’s Coronavirus Information page.”

A BIO-wide virtual office hour event covering how BIO is supporting those impacted will be held Tuesday, Mar. 2, 11 am – 12 pm EST. For more information on these efforts and to register for the office hour, read the full post, linked here.

Cross-Disciplinary Workshops on Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention

The directorates for Biological Sciences (BIO); Computer Information Science and Engineering (CISE); Engineering (ENG); Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE); and the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) at NSF are jointly supporting a series of interdisciplinary workshops (Feb. 16-17; Feb. 22-23; Feb 25-26; additional workshops planned) to engage research communities around the topic of Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention.

The workshops will bring together experts in the biological, engineering, computer, and social and behavioral sciences to start conversations and catalyze ideas on

  • how to advance scientific understanding beyond state-of-the-art in pre-emergence and emergence forecasting; and
  • real-time monitoring, and detection of inflection point events in order to prevent and mitigate the occurrence of future pandemics.

Each workshop is expected to have up to 50 invited active participants. The community can participate in a listen-only mode and interact through chat and Q&A functions. Individuals are encouraged to participate in as many workshops as possible, as each will cover a different aspect of the topic and all will be interdisciplinary in nature.

Registration info and agendas for each workshop are available at https://www.nsf.gov/events/event_summ.jsp?cntn_id=302023&org=CISE

Workshop 1 (Feb. 16-17, 2021): Rapidly detect and assess the threat of emerging pathogens through advanced biosensing, surveillance, and the tracking of human and non-human populations for risk modeling and pandemic preparedness. Agenda

Workshop 2 (Feb. 22-23, 2021): Understanding of how the global behavior of an organism emerges from the interactions that begin occurring between components at the molecular, cellular, and physiological scales. Agenda

Workshop 3 (Feb. 25-26, 2021): Description: Identification of pre-emergence and the predictions of rare events in multiscale, complex, dynamical systems. Agenda

Additional workshops are currently being planned. Stay tuned.

Coloring Outside the Lines with Broader Impacts

This is a depiction of the cover of the coloring book.

While collaboration in science is essential, the good news is that potential collaborators aren’t required to be in the form of other principal investigators. In fact, collaborators from outside one’s field often have skills and perspectives that can bring broader impact ideas to life.


Dr. Ahna Skop’s (MCB 1716298) recently published book, “Genetic Reflections: A coloring book” is the result of such a collaboration – involving Dr. Skop and two undergraduates, Elif Kurt and Caitlin Marks. Kurt and Marks developed the illustrations for the coloring book as part of their independent project for a Life Sciences Communication class. The coloring book is an extension of an earlier broader impact activity achieved through a collaboration with artist Angela Johnson. That project, also titled “Genetic Reflections,” is a 40-foot-long science art installation on display at the Biotech Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is open to the public.

The aim of the coloring book is to inspire children and other members of the public as they discover the natural beauty of science and genetics. Within the coloring book are 26 illustrations of basic biological concepts – one for every letter of the alphabet. For example, the letter A goes with the illustration Arabidopsis thaliana (pictured below), a small flowering plant frequently used as a model organism in plant biology studies.

Nearly 400 copies of the book have been sold since its release in October 2020. A preview of the book is available online at the Skop Lab’s web page. The preview page has proven popular, receiving almost 1,500 unique visits since its inception. 

The broader impacts do not stop at the book itself; it has also spawned a variety of other outreach events. Most recently, Skop’s team introduced the book to a Girl Scout troop in Madison, Wisconsin to introduce troop members to the beauty of science and genetics.

Working on the coloring book has given Kurt a great appreciation for how science communication can be used in her career. As a future doctor, she has a passion for bridging the communication barrier between health care providers and their patients and believes that her experiences working on this book will help her to “bring a human touch back to medicine.”

Image for coloring, titled "A is for Arabidopsis thaliana"

Some of the proceeds of the book are donated to charities and programs that support historically marginalized students and programs in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM).


NSF Announces Call for Center for Advancement and Synthesis of Open Environmental Data and Sciences

Reposted from our friends at the BioBuzz Blog.

NSF has released a new solicitation for a Center for Advancement and Synthesis of Open Environmental Data and Sciences (NSF 21-549). Letters of Intent for the solicitation are due on April 1, 2021

Exemplifying open and team science, the Center will be fueled by open and freely available biological and other environmental data to catalyze novel scientific questions in environmental biology through the use of data-intensive approaches, research networks, and training in the accession, management, analysis, visualization, and synthesis of large data sets.

The Center will provide vision for speeding discovery through the increased use of large, publicly accessible datasets – such as those provided by the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio), the LTER network, Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), and others – to address biological research questions through collaborations with scientists in other related disciplines, as well as key questions that emerge at interfaces between biology, informatics, and a breadth of environmental sciences.

It also will foster the development of generalizable cyberinfrastructure solutions and community-driven standards for software, data, and metadata that support open and team science, and role-modeling best practices.

The Center will be a leader in diversifying the data-intensive environmental science workforce across demographic, geographic, institutional, and disciplinary dimensions and will further enable data-driven discovery through immersive education and training experiences to provide the advanced skills needed to maximize the scientific potential of large volumes of available open data.

For more information on the solicitation, including a list of cognizant Program Officers, please visit the program page.

Top Five: Most Viewed Posts Published in 2020

Since the launch of the MCB blog in 2015, the total number of annual views has increased by nearly 60%. Readership has been driven by continued promotion as well as the addition of two new pages useful to the research community. The Funding Opportunities page, with over 1,100 views, highlights MCB-specific funding opportunities; the Office Hours page (nearly 1,900 views) provides links to past presentations and registration links to upcoming events

1. HBCU-EIR WEBINARS: VIDEO RECORDING AND SLIDES AVAILABLE

This post provided a link to a slide presentation on NSF 20-542 (Historically Black Colleges and Universities-Excellence in Research (HBCU-EiR).
Published June 22

2. LETTERS OF COLLABORATION AND SUPPORT: KNOW THE DIFFERENCE

Details on the differences between the two, along with a table of comparison.
Published April 30

3. LIFE AFTER PROPOSAL DECLINE: CALL YOUR PROGRAM DIRECTOR

Dr. Karl Thompson discusses the benefits of talking to a program director — especially if your proposal has been declined.
Published Dec 16


4. IMPORTANT UPDATES TO THE CAREER SOLICITATION

Synopsis of changes to NSF-525 (Faculty Early Career Development Program) (CAREER) solicitation.
Published Mar 12

5. MCB WELCOMES ANTHONY GARZA AND MARIAM TAHIR, BIDS FAREWELL TO VALERIE MAIZEL

Human interest update on staff changes.
Published June 25