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MCB Congratulates its FY 2022 CAREER Awardees and Reminds the Community of the Upcoming CAREER Solicitation Deadline

MCB Congratulates its newest cohort of CAREER awardees.  The NSF Faculty Early CAREER Development Award (CAREER) is the most prestigious award that NSF gives to early career investigators, enabling these new faculty to embark on an academic career that integrates research and education. In Fiscal year 2022, MCB funded 33 CAREER awards to new faculty in 18 states, including 5 EPSCoR states, and at a diverse set of institutions, including those that are research intensive, primarily undergraduate, and minority-serving. 

Photo by Aphiwat Chuangchoem

The CAREER awards in the FY22 MCB portfolio covered topics across the entire spectrum of MCB-funded science from the molecular to cellular, including topics such as genome stability, DNA repair, intracellular signaling, and organelle formation. The projects used computational and experimental tools including those from biophysics and synthetic biology. Some exciting projects include:

  • The development of novel approaches to understand how proteins insert themselves into cellular membranes
  • How oxidative damage to DNA is repaired by cellular enzymes
  • How cells determined which duplicated genes were retained or lost during evolution
  • How components of bacterial immune systems can be utilized as tools for improving medicine or crop production.

A distinguishing criterion of CAREER awards is the integration of research with education, which is often described in the context of broader impacts.  Broader impacts efforts undertaken by this year’s awardees will engage high school students and their teachers, as well as community college, undergraduate and graduate students, in projects that range from course-based research experiences to activities involving inflatable project domes that can be transported across schools. In some of the most innovative activities, undergraduate students will test for water pollution by visually monitoring a biological motor, graduate students will use smartphone optical microscopes and microfluidic technologies to design devices for undergraduate classrooms, high school students will be introduced to synthetic biology through modular education kits, and STEM students will partner with journalism faculty to enhance their ability to effectively communicate science to the non-scientific community.

MCB was fortunate to have received support from the American Rescue Plan to enable the support of so many early career faculty.  

A complete listing of the new MCB CAREER award recipients can be found here (link).

How to Submit to the CAREER Program

The latest update of the CAREER solicitation (NSF 22-586) was recently released. 

Changes include:

  • Proposal submissions must be through Research.gov
  • There are new guidelines for letters from the Department Chair
  • Submission Deadline is Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Potential proposers are encouraged to read the full text of the solicitation. Submissions of CAREER proposals are encouraged from early-career faculty at all CAREER-eligible organizations and are especially encouraged from women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities to apply.

Related upcoming events:

MCB is holding a Virtual Office Hour on May 11th, 2-3 p.m. EST about the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER). You can register for the office hour here.


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.

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.   

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.

Accelerating Innovations in Biomanufacturing Approaches through Collaboration Between NSF and the DOE BETO funded Agile BioFoundry (NSF-DOE/ABF Collaboration) NSF 22-549

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences in NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences and the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems in the Directorate for Engineering announce a new funding opportunity in collaboration with the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (DOE BETO), “Accelerating Innovations in Biomanufacturing Approaches through Collaboration Between NSF and the DOE BETO funded Agile BioFoundry” NSF 22-549.

This funding opportunity provides support for researchers from institutions of higher education and non-profits to take advantage of the unique Design-Build-Test-Learn facilities at the Agile BioFoundry (ABF).  NSF will support the work of the researchers prior to or in parallel to the work that will occur at ABF.  DOE BETO will support the work at ABF through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA).  Through this collaboration, NSF hopes that more basic research projects can be advanced to deliver impact to society leveraging the rapid prototyping and advanced biotechnology resources available at ABF. 

The deadline for proposal submission is April 4, 2022.  Prior to submission, proposers are required to contact ABF and submit a brief outline of their plan for feasibility review. Ideally the plan should be submitted for feasibility review 2 months prior to proposal submission. Due to this year’s time constraint, ABF is willing to accept plans for feasibility review until February 21, 2022 at the latest.

NSF will review proposals according to the standard merit review criteria along with specific criteria that are detailed in the solicitation.  Proposers are encouraged to review ABF capabilities and intellectual property provisions of the CRADA prior to submission. 

For full details on submission instructions, solicitation requirements, and contact information, see NSF 22-549.

Your Project Titles Matter, Choose Wisely

Project titles matter because they partially determine who will end up reviewing your proposals. Unlike the situation with journals, where an editor can share the abstract of a manuscript with a potential reviewer, all NSF can share is the title. This comes into play in two important ways:

First, when we put together a panel, we strive to find panelists with a broad diversity of interests to cover the broad diversity of proposal topics in a typical panel.  A major challenge is to figure out the best matches of panelist expertise with proposal topics. To help in doing so, we send each panelist a complete list of proposal titles and ask them to rank each from 1 (“I’d love to review this one and have the necessary expertise”) to 4 (“I’m clueless or disinterested”). Although we sometimes overrule those rankings, we certainly pay attention to them. Here’s the point: If you want your proposal to be reviewed by someone who can best appreciate your project and provide the most constructive feedback, your title is pivotal.  Make sure it concisely summarizes what your proposal is about and stay away from vague or grand statements.

Second, the same challenge of matching reviewers to proposals comes into play when Program Directors solicit reviews from ad hoc reviewers (i.e., reviewers who are not panelists).  While Program Directors may be confident in the appropriateness of a particular reviewer for a given proposal, the reviewer makes a decision about whether to review the proposal according to the title.  The problem is that reviewers are far more likely to say “no” if they don’t have a good sense of what they’re getting themselves into.

Bottom line: You don’t want folks making false assumptions about your proposal’s content when the title is the only glimpse they have to your proposal. You can (and should) provide effective project titles.

Welcome to MCB Cliff Weil!

Cliff Weil joined MCB in July 2021 as a program director in the Genetic Mechanisms cluster.

What is your educational background?

I have a B.S. in Genetics from the University of California, Davis and a Ph.D. in Genetics and Development from Cornell University.

What were you doing before you came to NSF?

Before joining MCB in July 2021, I was a professor at Purdue University focused on genetics, molecular biology, and genomics of plants, particularly maize and sorghum. I have a special fondness for transposable elements, which were first described in maize, and their interactions with the DNA repair machinery. I’ve also worked on microtubules and as a part of groups trying to interface engineering with biology. From 2017-2020, I was a program director in the NSF Plant Genome Research Program in the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS).

What attracted you to work for NSF?

I’m really excited about being able to facilitate getting the best science supported and about helping develop new directions for Molecular and Cellular Biology.. It is a great group of colleagues in MCB, and I really like the dedication to the work that everyone shares and the free flow of ideas. These are crazy times with the pandemic, but NSF has barely skipped a beat and there remains incredible opportunity to develop new ideas and to broaden the community of scientists. I’m thrilled to be a part of that.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about serving as a Program Director (*or applying to a position) at NSF?

Definitely do it! It’s a lot of work but totally worth it, interesting (sometimes in unexpected directions), and a lot of fun. You will learn a TON. I really like living in the DC area, so if you can do that, you should, but the remote working has been amazingly seamless.

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

“Can you get me some money!?” I always tell them to send me a one-pager… I think my kids were least impressed with that answer.

NEW COLLABORATION BETWEEN NSF MCB AND GERMAN RESERCH FOUNDATION

The NSF Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) has announced a new opportunity for investigators to obtain support for international collaboration, specifically between the U.S. and German research communities. The Dear Colleague Letter, released under an MOU with the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and  titled “NSF-DFG Lead Agency Opportunity in Molecular and Cellular Biology” (NSF 22-015), invites U.S. and German collaborators to submit joint proposals in the areas covered by NSF/MCB and DFG’s review board 201 “Basic Research in Biology and Medicine.”

The proposals should focus on basic research at a molecular, subcellular, or cellular level, including theoretical approaches. Please note the following exclusions:

  • Proposals encompassing tissues, organs or whole animals will not be considered.
  • Research in the areas of plant sciences, microbiology, immunology, and neurosciences is also excluded.

Proposals must provide a clear rationale for the need for US-German collaboration, including the unique expertise and synergy that the collaborating researchers will bring to the project.

Please note that proposals can be submitted from January 3rd, 2022 on a continuous basis. Please note that there is no deadline for submission to either agency.

For full details on submission guidelines, program priorities, and contact information, see DCL NSF 22-015.

Designer Cells Welcomes Proposals for the Second Year

In 2020, NSF’s Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences together with the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transports Systems (CBET) in the Directorate for Engineering (ENG) and the Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES) in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) launched a new solicitation, Designing Synthetic Cells Beyond the Bounds of Evolution (Designer Cells) NSF 21-531.  With this solicitation, NSF hoped to continue to support advances in building synthetic cells and leverage the success of programs like Understanding the Rules of Life: Building a Synthetic Cell. Projects submitted to the Designer Cells solicitation used synthetic biology to address at least one of the following research areas:

  1. identifying the minimal requirements for the processes of life;
  2. addressing fundamental questions in the evolution of life or to explore biological diversity beyond that which currently exists in nature;
  3. leveraging synthetic systems for innovative biotechnology applications. 

The program is now accepting proposals for its second cohort. The due date for proposals for the second year is February 1, 2022.

In its first cohort, the program made 12 awards.  These first awards explored a number of exciting themes including building synthetic organelles, exploring non-natural or synthetic approaches to information storage and decoding, and creating cells with new tunable properties.  One exciting thematic area represented in a number of 2021 Designer Cells awards was synthetic modifications that change information storage and decoding in cells.  A full list of the awards made in the first year of Designer Cells can be found here.  

In this second year of the solicitation, Program Director Anthony Garza says that he “hopes to see proposals that continue to push to boundaries of what cells can do, either by adding in new functionality, or minimizing cell components, but still getting functional synthetic cells.” Program Director Steve Peretti said he “would like to see the community exploit synthetic cell technology in new application areas.” 

Opportunities to Learn More

Garza and Peretti are holding a Virtual Office Hour on Designer Cells and other new opportunities on November 17, 2021 at 2 PM EST.  You can register here