NSF

MCB BIDS FAREWELL TO SONAM AHLUWALIA AND LOURDES HOLLOWAY

Sonam Ahluwalia joined the division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) as a program assistant in August 2020.

What was working at MCB like?

MCB is a unique division, where people are always looking to improve procedures, share creative ideas, and empower PIs. MCB is a place where any individual can uncover their talents, rise above challenges, and experience a true team environment. I was able to learn incredible skills during my time here and explore other career interests.

What was your first impression of NSF? How did that change over time?

My first impression of NSF was that it was just a government organization that funds science. However, over the years I have learned that NSF is beyond just a federal agency, but embodies forward-thinking, progression, efficiency, and love for all science.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about working at NSF?

Do it! There is much to learn and more to gain.

MCB Division Director, Theresa Good, said about Ms. Ahluwalia, “Sonam was the first person to start in MCB during the pandemic.  There was so much uncertainty, but she just took it in stride.  She learned quickly, volunteered for just about everything, and was unafraid of any challenge.  I can’t wait to see what she does next in her career. “

Lourdes Holloway joined MCB as a Pathways summer student in 2015 and began working as a program assistant in 2018. She became a program specialist in 2019.

What is next for you after your time at MCB?

My next step in my career remains at NSF, moving from BIO/MCB to the Division of Graduate Education in the Education and Human Resources Directorate as a program analyst. In this new position, I will be primarily supporting the Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

What was working at MCB like?

Starting out as a summer student working on records retirement to a program specialist working closely with the operations manager on division finances/operations, it’s been an amazing experience! I am so glad to have started my professional career with MCB, largely due to my colleagues and leadership. MCB is full of dedicated, supportive, and talented staff, which made this experience more rewarding. I appreciate that MCB supports cross-training and development in areas outside of your normal duties. It has allowed me to grow tremendously and develop new skills across various subjects. 

Where can undergraduate or graduate students learn about training opportunities at the NSF?

I would highly recommend current students and recent graduates interested in working at the NSF to consider the Pathways Program. It’s a great way to get your foot into the federal workforce and NSF offers a variety of experiences and positions. I had a great experience and it put me on the path I am still on today. Broadly, there are an incredible amount of training opportunities supported by the NSF. That includes programs run by the Division of Undergraduate Education and by the Division of Graduate Education as well as NSF funding opportunities for undergraduate students and graduate students.

MCB Division Director, Theresa Good, said of Ms. Holloway, “It was my privilege to work closely with Lourdes on a number of projects.  I got to see firsthand how talented she is.  It has been a pleasure to watch her grow in her skills and accomplishments.  I hope her new Division knows what a jewel they have in Lourdes.   We all wish her the best in her new position.“

BROADER IMPACTS: WHAT ARE THEY AND HOW ARE THEY REVIEWED?

All NSF proposals are evaluated based on two criteria: Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts. Intellectual Merit is reviewed on the value of the science, the potential for the planned investigation to result in impactful outcomes that advance knowledge, and the ability to assess success. But how does Broader Impacts work?

Occasionally, NSF Program Directors will see reviews of Broader impacts that say “The PI plans to do X, Y and Z broader impacts activities. This is a strength of the proposal.”  

We know this isn’t helpful for the PIs, and they aren’t helpful to the Program Director, so we ask reviewers to think about why Broader Impact efforts are a strength, how they benefit society or expand the reach of the science, and/or how they build capacity – either for the individual, their lab, or the institution.

We also want to know whether what the PI has laid out as a plan to accomplish those goals is doable and sufficiently resourced. Thoughtful evaluation of broader impacts will help the PI in carrying out their work, help NSF, and lead to better broader impacts activities with more benefit to society. MCB encourages reviewers to provide reviews that they themselves would find useful as PIs – constructive evaluations highlighting aspects of the proposed activity that were done “just right” as well as aspects that could be improved.  Good reviews help PIs improve not just their proposals, but also the works that eventually gets funded. 

In writing the Broader Impacts statement, we encourage the PI to be thoughtful in what they want to accomplish and how they will accomplish it. Is the activity something that interests them and has measurable outcomes? Are funds requested to support the activity or to help with assessment. Examples of Broader Impact efforts can include teaching, training, and learning; broadening participation of underrepresented groups; building or enhancing partnerships (including across multiple sectors); broad dissemination of the science or technological understanding; enhancements to infrastructure both at your home institution and in developing countries; and/or local impacts like policy or land use.

What are some resources to help think about Broader Impacts (and evaluate them if you are a reviewer)?

NSF provides PIs and reviewers with information about both merit review criteria in the Proposal and Award Policy and Procedure Guide (link).  Additional information on Broader Impacts activities can be found in this document or at this blog post. You can also view the recording and slides of MCB’s Broader Impacts Virtual Office Hour.

The NSF funded Center for Advancing Research Impacts in Society provides helpful guidance on how to evaluate broader impacts in this brochure.

And, of course, the MCB blog has posted about Broader Impacts – including some examples – in the past. You can read all the posts tagged as “Broader Impacts” at https://mcbblog.nsfbio.com/tag/broader-impacts/.

DEAR COLLEAGUE LETTER: NSF REGIONAL INNOVATION ENGINES (RIE) PROGRAM

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) newly established Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) has announced the NSF Regional Innovation Engines (NSF Engines) program. This bold new initiative aims to significantly expanding our Nation’s innovation capacity by investing in key areas of national interest and economic promise, in every region of the United States. To accomplish this ambitious goal, the program will fund the development of Regional Innovation Engines that will cultivate and sustain activities in use-inspired research and development, translation of innovation to practice, entrepreneurship, partnership and stakeholder development, and workforce development to realize thriving regional innovation ecosystems. The outcomes of this program will enhance the nation’s economic and industrial competitiveness as well as national security.

The NSF Engines program provides up to ten years of funding per Engine award with a maximum budget of $160M, with up to an additional two years of funding to support development activities before creating an Engine. The program solicits proposals corresponding to three award types, as outlined below.

  • Type-1 awards are development awards that provide seed funding to enable awardees to lay the groundwork for establishing a new NSF Engine, with the goal of catalyzing a new innovation ecosystem for a specific topic area. Type-1 awards are intended to allow teams to prepare for the submission of a successful Type-2 proposal. The duration of a Type-1 award is up to 24 months, with a maximum proposed budget of $1M.
  • Type-2 awards are intended to support awardees representing a geographical region of service that are well-primed to support a regional innovation ecosystem. Type-2 awards provide funding for up to 10 years, with a total maximum budget of $160M.

Submission of a Type-1 development proposal is not required for the submission of Type-2 proposal. See the NSF Engines Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for further details on the award types and the differences between the various types.

The BAA specifies proposal deadlines for both proposal types. Prior to submission of proposals, teams are required to submit a Concept Outline, which is due June 30, 2022, for both proposal types. Approval of a Concept Outline from a cognizant NSF Program Officer is required to submit a full proposal.

For more information about the NSF Engines program including frequently asked questions and upcoming webinars, visit the NSF Engines program website. Additionally, visit the NSF Engines BAA website to view proposal deadlines and information on award types and differences.   See MCB’s Blog Post from May 10 to learn more about NSF sponsored Bioeconomy Workshops that address critical national needs relevant to Engines.

NSF/BIO AND CHE WILL FUND ACQUISITION OF HELIUM RECOVERY SYSTEMS

NSF recognizes the concerns in the research community associated with the national and global helium shortage and the impact on critical research infrastructure such as advanced nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy systems and other instruments with cooled magnets.  In response, the Directorate of Biological Sciences (BIO) and the Division of Chemistry (CHE) in the Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) announce their willingness to support the acquisition of helium recovery systems via the NSF Options to Address Helium Supply Shortage Concerns DCL. Given the limited availability of funds, priority for the support will be given to:

  • Existing NSF/BIO or NSF/MPS/CHE investigators
  • Shared use, multi-user, or core-lab academic facilities
  • Applications from under resourced institutions

Specific submission instructions for NSF/BIO and for NSF/MPS/CHE are contained within the DCL.  For BIO proposers, proposals are accepted at any time.  For CHE proposers, proposals should be submitted during the October 1 to October 31, 2022 submission window.

Special Office Hour addressing Helium Recovery Opportunities

In response to substantial early interest, we have scheduled a Special Virtual Office Hour webinar from 4-5 PM (EDT) on Friday, June 10, to provide a quick briefing from program staff in both Divisions, followed by extensive Q&A to help community members prepare for and take advantage of this opportunity.  Anyone planning to pursue this funding opportunity is urged to participate in the webinar by registering here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. For those unable to attend, slides will be posted on our CHE Office Hour website: https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=300572&org=CHE

Attendees requiring closed captioning should contact the Chemistry division at ncarey@nsf.gov at least 48 hours in advance to ensure that this service is available.

MCB ANNOUNCES THE SECOND VERSION OF SENTINELS: DREAM SENTINELS

MCB has replaced the Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), Sentinel Cells for the Surveillance and Response to Emergent Infectious Diseases (NSF 20-105) with a new DCL:  

Sentinel Systems that Detect, Recognize, Actuate, and Mitigate Emergent Biological Threats (DREAM Sentinels).

In this new Sentinels DCL, MCB again partners with the Directorate for Engineering’s Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems to call for proposals to be submitted to core programs that address novel synthetic biology approaches to quickly sense and respond to the next emergent biological threat prior to its evolution in its host or transmission to human populations.

All proposals submitted in response to this DCL should include biosensing and bioactuation elements that address a biological threat. The biosensing element should leverage the power of modern biotechnology and deliver robust and specific recognition of the biological threat. The results of bioactuation should alert the user, destroy the threat, protect the host, or initiate an immune response or other strategies that would mitigate the threat. Other possible areas of interest are included in the DCL.

Proposals submitted in response to this DCL should have a title prefaced with “DREAM Sentinels:”. Proposals should be submitted to the Systems and Synthetic Biology cluster where proposals are accepted without deadline and are reviewed as they are received.

Investigators interested in submitting a proposal are strongly encouraged to contact Anthony Garza, aggarza@nsf.gov. More information on the DCL can be found here.

It is anticipated that up to $3,000,000 will be allocated annually for DREAM Sentinels awards, subject to the availability of funds.

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.


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.

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

Q&A Session for the Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB) Program Announced

The NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB) program will be hosting a question and answer session 2 weeks prior to the PRFB Deadline. The Q&A session will be Nov. 16th, from 3-4 pm Eastern Time.  The PRFB deadline is December 6th, 2021.

Please register in advance for the webinar below, and share this invitation with anyone you think may be interested:

https://nsf.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_Ogehn040SjGXPePi3GjeSg