Welcome

Welcome from BIO Assistant Director Dr. James Olds

As the Assistant Director of the Directorate for Biological SciePhoto Dr. James Oldsnces (BIO) at the National Science Foundation, it is my pleasure to welcome you to BIO Buzz, the blog for BIO’s Office of the Assistant Director. This blog will be a platform for disseminating information about policies, procedures, activities and initiatives that extend across BIO Divisions and affect the biological sciences community as a whole.

My vision for the Directorate requires that the shared core values of the BIO Divisions—transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness—are reflected in the activities of the BIO Front Office. One step toward realizing this vision is to advance our existing communications strategy and enhance engagement within the Directorate and between BIO, the scientific community, and the general public. Effective communication is essential to fulfilling the missions of NSF and BIO. We hope you find the information here informative. Welcome to BIO Buzz!

Help BIO spread the word about your research!

Every PI knows that disseminating data is an essential part of the scientific process. From publishing manuscripts to presenting at meetings, a project’s biggest impacts only come after it has been shared. Promoting new discoveries and cutting-edge research throughout the general public is equally as critical as dissemination within the scientific community – and that’s where we need your help.

The quickest way for NSF to receive notice of an upcoming publication is for PIs to let their Program Officer know directly when a manuscript has been accepted for publication. We are interested in hearing about all BIO-funded research so we can share it in the form of press releases, stories pitched to major media outlets, NSF Discoveries, videos, radio features and more.

Ideally, we want to learn about upcoming publications shortly after they have been accepted. This allows us to prepare press releases or pitch the story to media outlets early enough to release them as soon as your manuscript is published. When you learn of an accepted publication that you think NSF would want to publicize, please send your Program Officer the following information:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Journal Title
  • Publication date (or if publication date is unavailable, the acceptance date)

Though we will not be able to share all of the research that is sent to us, we appreciate your help in sharing your work with audiences that might not otherwise hear about the exciting discoveries NSF-funded researchers are making every day. Thank you!

Updated IRES solicitation now available

The NSF’s Office of International Science and Engineering has released an updated solicitation for the International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) program. IRES focuses on active research participation by U.S. students in high quality international research, education and professional development experiences in NSF-funded research areas. The updated solicitation can be found on the NSF website.

The overarching, long-term goal of the IRES program is to enhance U.S. leadership in research and education, and to strengthen economic competitiveness through training the next generation of research leaders.

The solicitation has three tracks, two of which are new to the program.

  • Track I: IRES Sites projects engage a group of undergraduate and/or graduate students in active, high-quality collaborative research at an international site with mentorship from researchers at a host facility. IRES Sites must be organized around a coherent intellectual theme that may involve a single discipline or multiple disciplines funded by NSF.
  • Track II (New): Advanced Studies Institutes (ASI) are intensive short courses with related activities that engage advanced graduate students in active learning and research. ASIs typically range in length from ten to 21 days and must be held outside the United States. ASIs must have a compelling rationale for their international location and should involve U.S. and foreign researchers. ASIs enable students to develop skills and broaden professional networks, leveraging international participation and complementary resources.
  • Track III (New): New Concepts in International Graduate Experience projects propose, implement and evaluate creative ideas for catalyzing the development of globally engaged U.S. scientists and engineers at the graduate student level. Professional societies and organizations in the U.S. are invited to propose innovative large-scale programs to provide high-quality international research and professional development experiences for U.S. graduate students.

Submission Deadlines: January-February 2018

Webinar: November 30, 2017, 2:00 – 3:30pm

OISE contacts:
Dr. Maija Kukla
Track I

 

Dr. Fahmida Chowdhury
Tracks II & III

For the Times They are A-changin’ – Going to no-deadlines in BIO

Invoking Bob Dylan lyrics seems like the best way to transmit the new view of BIO – it is time to awaken, the world is changing. I’ve been immersed in scientific research my entire life, upon taking on the mantel of researcher and educator, moving into academic leadership positions, and finally leading the Directorate for Biological Sciences. Through these experiences, I have witnessed a common thread; scientists want to address questions that are more and more complex. Those complex questions require collaboration and interdisciplinary research, and BIO must be in a position to respond to our communities’ demands.

BIO’s first response is to change how we do business. We are going to move to a no-deadline, full proposal submission mechanism for receiving and reviewing proposals submitted to most core programs in all four divisions in BIO, the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB), the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS), the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB), and in the programs in the Research Resources Cluster of the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI). Our goal in taking this step is to create an environment where program officers can work collaboratively among the divisions in BIO – uninhibited by varying deadlines across BIO and overwhelming workloads.   Our experience (and others’) suggests this change will alleviate the demands on institutions, reviewers, applicants, and NSF staff caused by steadily increasing numbers of proposals submitted to BIO.

We also hope, and preliminary evidence suggests this is the case, that eliminating deadlines increases the quality of proposals. Under a “no-deadline” review system, a proposal can be submitted on any day, at any time. Investigators are free to submit a proposal when it is as well-developed and competitive as possible, and when it is convenient for them. Submitting proposals at any time allows investigators to have more time to prepare proposals, build collaborations, think more creatively without the pressure of a deadline, and it supports better career-life balance for our investigators. All of these benefits improve the science because they contribute to the best final product for submission.

More information on this change can be found in the DCL, associated FAQs, and upcoming webinars and outreach events. Each Division (DEB, IOS, DBI, and MCB ) has produced a blog about this change, addressed specifically to their communities; I encourage you to check these out. Program officers are standing by for questions about the transition to this change, and I encourage you to call your program officers with specific questions. Additionally, if you have comments or questions about the change to no-deadlines, I would like to hear about them, so please direct them to BIOnodeadline@nsf.gov.

 

Basic Research Goes to Washington

February 15, 2017

This week, NSF-funded research was on display on Capitol Hill for “The Arc of Science: Research to Results” event. Scientists whose work provides insights, products, or services to American citizens, businesses, and government interacted with congresspeople, congressional staffers, and representatives from various sectors of the economy, including health care, education, and industry. Guests enjoyed hands-on demonstrations of technologies directly stemming from NSF-funded research.

Attendees learned about BIO-funded research at the exhibit, “QSTORM: Achieving Pinpoint Surveillance Capacity Inside Living Cells.” The Principal Investigator, Dr. Jessica Winter (Ohio State University) and colleagues from the Museum of Science Boston showed how NSF is supporting teams of scientists and engineers to come together to tackle one of the last frontiers of microscopy – obtaining detailed images of the inner workings of living cells. The researchers explained to attendees how new breakthroughs in nanotechnology, chemical engineering, optics, and computer programming are allowing them to address this challenge.

Visitors to the exhibit had the opportunity to “turn on” a real set of amazingly bright and colorful quantum dots–the researchers use these to illuminate the tiniest features inside cells. Then, using a styrofoam and slinky model, the team demonstrated how they “turn off” a quantum dot using a gold nanoparticle tethered by a strand of DNA. Attendees learned how STORM super-resolution microscopy can reconstruct detailed images from overlays of pinpoint dots of light.

Dr. Olds peers into a small box sitting on a table by lifting up a small flap on the box. Researchers look on.
NSF Assistant Director for Biological Sciences, Dr. Jim Olds, used models of QSTORM quantum dots to discover how they enable scientists to look inside living cells. (Photo credit: NSF)

The QSTORM project, originally funded in 2010, has since received a second grant from NSF to work on implementing new imaging techniques made possible by the original science and to help establish partnerships which otherwise may not have come to be. Dr. Winter is working with the Museum of Science Boston to develop several hands-on demonstrations to explain the science of quantum dots to a broader audience.

The Arc of Science event was coordinated by the National Science Foundation and the Coalition for National Science Funding. Invited speakers included NSF Director Dr. France A. Córdova, Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Senator Gary Peters (D-MI).

To see additional highlights from the event, look for Tweets from @NSF with the hashtag #ArcOfScience.

New Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG) for 2017

Last updated January 4, 2016

The National Science Foundation has made some changes to the guidance documents for proposal and award policies and procedures. Instead of the current two-guide structure of a Grant Proposal Guide (GPG) and an Award and Administration Guide (AAG), there will be one guide—the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG; NSF 17-1)—comprising two parts: 

  • Part I: Proposal Preparation and Submission Guidelines
  • Part II: Award, Administration and Monitoring of Grants and Cooperative Agreements

For proposals submitted or due, or awards made, on or after January 30, 2017, the guidelines in PAPPG 17-1 apply.

The NSF has detailed the significant changes and clarifications to the PAPPG (NSF 17-1) and provided a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Proposal Preparation and Award Administration document.

In the future you will not see references to the GPG in NSF documents and on NSF web pages (the NSF will be updating existing references to the GPG on all web pages over time).

The NSF has also issued a revised version of the Grants.gov Application Guide (.pdf download). It has been updated to align with changes in the new PAPPG (NSF 17-1).

If you have any questions or concerns about the PAPPG (NSF 17-1), FAQs, or the Grants.gov Application Guide, you can contact the NSF Policy Office at policy[at]nsf.gov. For technical questions related to Grants.gov, please email support[at]grants.gov.

~Happy New Year! The Directorate for Biological Sciences looks forward to supporting exciting new discoveries and outstanding continuing basic science research in 2017.~

Get NSF document updates by Email through GovDelivery.

NSF Assistant Director Discusses BIO Research and Infrastructure Investments with the NSB

On November 8, 2016, the NSF’s Assistant Director for Biological Sciences, Dr. Jim Olds, presented to the National Science Board an overview of the BIO Directorate’s research and infrastructure investments. This is a brief summary of his major talking points.


The NSF provides approximately 68 percent of federal support for basic research in biological sciences (not including support from the National Institutes of Health).

A bar graph that includes data for all science and engineering fields, physical sciences, engineering, environmental sciences, mathematic, social sciences, biology, and computer science.
NSF Support of Academic Basic Research in Selected Fields as a Percentage of Total Federal Support. “Biology” includes biological sciences and environmental biology; excludes NIH. Source: NSF/NCSES FY2014

One of the ways in which NSF ensures that basic biology achieves downstream impacts is through partnerships with other agencies, in the U.S. and internationally, and public-private partnerships; for example, with the USDA, NIH, BBSRC, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others.

The research supported by BIO’s Divisions crosses scales of size, space, time, and complexity.

The total FY2017 budget request for BIO is $791 million, which is about 1/10th of the NSF’s total request.

Pie chart showing the budget request for the 5 Divisions of the Biological Sciences Directorate
Directorate for Biological Sciences FY2017 Budget Request by Division

Part of the FY2017 budget request includes funds to support research across the Directorate related to the “Rules of Life” framing device which includes, but is not limited to, research focused on: the relationship between genes, the environment, and phenotype; plant and microbial sciences (microbiomes); synthetic biology; the origins of life; as well as support for quantitative, interdisciplinary approaches and resources for training and early career science. Support for projects that involve sophisticated modeling and theory development are seen as opportunities for partnerships with other NSF Directorates.

BIO’s “Rules of Life” framing device contributed to the development of the Ten Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments, specifically the “Predicting Phenotype” research challenge. Among the biggest gaps in our biological knowledge is how to predict the phenotype of a cell or organism from what we know about the genome and environment. The traits of an organism are emergent properties of multiple types of information process across multiple scales. Unpacking phenotypic complexity will require convergence across biology, computer science, mathematics, the physical sciences, behavioral sciences, and engineering.

Headline: NSF awards $15.9 million to foster new understanding of biological systems on regional to continental scales.

Some recent awards made by the BIO Directorate support research across scales, for example the MacroSystems Biology and Early NEON Science program awards. Examples of projects funded by this program include research on forest function from genes to canopies, plant-pollinator-pathogen networks, and modeling of invasion dynamics across scales.

More than a dozen initiatives constitute the “Major Investments” of BIO’s FY2017 request. Among these are Understanding the Brain, Clean Energy Technology, Microbiome, and support for training and education.

The FY2017 request for BIO’s portion of the NSF’s Understanding the Brain initiative is $46 million which includes $19.54 million for BRAIN Initiative activities. Understanding the Brain is a cross-Directorate initiative; for BIO, funding may support team-based science, mapping circuits, connecting function to behavior, and support for data, infrastructure, and tool development. This opens the door for diverse partnerships. In September 2016, the NSF provided support, with The Kavli Foundation and Columbia University, for the Coordinating Global Brain Projects conference hosted by The Rockefeller University, and the NSF is co-sponsoring the upcoming workshop, Comparative Principles of Brain Architecture and Functions, with the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED) at UC San Diego.

Using amazing new technologies, evolutionary neuroscientist Dr. Melina Hale and her graduate students at the University of Chicago are discovering that the basic movements of one tiny fish can teach us big ideas about how the brain’s circuitry works. Source: “Mysteries of the Brain,” produced by NBC Learn in partnership with the NSF (Full video: https://youtu.be/BUzeEpcO238)

“I love watching these cells be active while the animal is behaving. It’s just remarkable to me that we can see the brain work and try to understand how it’s functioning.” – PI Melina Hale

A new BIO program, Next Generation Network for Neuroscience (NeuroNex), will fund research with the goals of: developing theoretical frameworks for understanding brain function across organizational levels, scales of analysis, and/or a wider range of species; and the development and dissemination of innovative research resources, instrumentation and neurotechnology. We anticipate this portfolio will be transformative, integrative, and synergistic.

Support for clean energy technology-related research will involve funding for enhancing photosynthesis, for systems and synthetic biology, for bioinspired-design of proteins, for exploring the metabolic and energetic potential of living organisms, and for modeling environmental impacts, as well as impacts on genome stability, fitness, and phenotype.

BIO’s investments in studying microbiomes will focus on the role of microbes in plant and animal function, productivity, health and resilience to environmental change, as well as microbes’ role in soil and marine ecosystems. Partnerships with USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture have already led to support for research on plant biotic interactions, as well as research to develop and enable breakthrough technologies for animal and plant phenomics and microbiomes.

In BIO’s FY2017 budget request, approximately $43 million is designated for programs that will enhance training and education, provide support for early career researchers, and broaden participation. BIO will continue participation in NSF INCLUDES, ADVANCE, CAREER, and Improving Undergraduate STEM Education. In addition, BIO will provide new opportunities for research traineeships (details to come!). It is also important to think about how we track students who are supported by BIO funding along their career trajectory and this will be a topic of discussion throughout the Directorate in 2017.

The Biological Science Directorate also recognizes how critical research resources (infrastructure), centers, observatories, networks, and support for data science are to the success of basic scientific research. CyVerse (was iPlant) integrates many aspects of data science, including providing key infrastructure for data management and analysis. This resource democratizes access to high-throughput computing. Continued investment in cyberinfrastructure would be congruent with some of the Ten Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments and would provide an avenue for BIO to continue to engage with partners in other NSF Directorates. The NSF recently announced awards for four new Science and Technology Centers – the Center for Cellular Construction is BIO-managed and will allow for the development and use of tools for controlling cell trajectories across the phenotypic landscape, which is important for understanding, for example, how cells become malignant.

The big picture for the future of the Directorate for Biological Sciences is this — biology is the engine of innovation in the 21st century. As President Obama said in his weekly address of October 16, 2016, “Innovation is in our DNA.”

The BRAIN Initiative: Three Years at the Frontiers of Neuroscience | The Kavli Foundation

In this Science Spotlight from the Kavli Foundation, a group comprising scientists and funders, including the NSF’s Assistant Director for Biological Sciences, Dr. Jim Olds, reflects on what the BRAIN Initiative has already achieved and how it is evolving.

Article: The BRAIN Initiative: Three Years at the Frontiers of Neuroscience | The Kavli Foundation

Coordinating Global Brain Projects Event

September 14, 2016

Coordinating Global Brain Projects

Due to revolutionary new technologies, neuroscientists are poised to significantly advance our understanding of the brain and behavior, with profound implications for health and society.

To enhance collaboration and better coordinate global efforts in fundamental neuroscience research, the National Science Foundation (NSF) will support a conference of scientists and government representatives from countries with significant investments in neuroscience research. Attendees, many of whom are members of the U.S. BRAIN Initiative, a public-private collaborative effort aimed at accelerating the development and application of new technologies to revolutionize our understanding of the brain, will exchange ideas and information about their efforts and identify new opportunities for collaboration.

rat hippocampus,
This image shows a rat hippocampus, a region of the brain critical for learning, memory and emotion. Credit: Elyse L. Aurbach, Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, University of Michigan

NSF and The Kavli Foundation will support the event, hosted by Rockefeller University in cooperation with Columbia University.

“Brain diseases and disorders affect millions of families worldwide, leading to billions of dollars in medical expenses and lost productivity,” said NSF Director France Córdova, who will deliver opening remarks at the event. “This event is intended to promote collaboration and cooperation in emerging, large-scale international brain projects to further advance neuroscience research. NSF plays a pivotal role in funding brain research, bringing the research community together and shaping the vision for a global brain initiative.”

The NSF’s Assistant Director for Biological Sciences, Dr. Jim Olds, will present information about the NSF’s participation in the U.S. BRAIN Initiative.

The U.S. State Department, the Global Partnerships Forum, The Kavli Foundation and NSF will also host a complementary event at the U.N. headquarters in New York City the evening of Sept. 19.

Use the hashtag #globalbrain to follow the conversation on social media.

For event details, please see the official NSF Media Advisory: http://go.usa.gov/xKrFd

Related links:

 

BIO OAD Hosts HACU Summer Intern

August 15, 2016
Guest blogger: Nicolle Omiotek

This summer I was a HACU intern in BIO’s Office of the Assistant Director (OAD). I am from Illinois where I attend Elgin Community College. I have completed a variety of science and mathematics courses and was excited to spend the summer at the National Science Foundation.

You might be wondering, “What is HACU?” HACU is the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. The HACU internship program provides students who attend Hispanic-serving institutions with an opportunity to experience working at a variety of places including federal agencies. Luckily, I was selected by the NSF to be an intern for summer 2016. This internship has been a life-altering experience that has shown me that there are many potential career paths for scientists.

What did I work on during my internship?

My major project was to collect, analyze, and categorize data related to model species used in research supported by BIO’s Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS). Model species data in IOS’ funding portfolio have never been systematically categorized before.

I created a standardized method for gathering and analyzing information from proposals. I identified key terms related to my project such as species, kingdoms, and common names, and determined if the project involved single organisms or multiple organisms, and if the latter, whether the organisms were in a symbiotic relationship. The majority of the portfolio consisted of single-organism awards but some involved research on multiple species.

Photo of Nicolle in front of a sign for the Biological Science Directorate with a tv monitor behind her displaying a photo of a sloth.
BIO OAD’s HACU intern Nicolle Omiotek created multimedia displays for the BIO Directorate highlighting NSF-funded research.

Following the collection and cleaning of data, I envisioned a way to accurately represent the data visually. I presented my findings to NSF staff and other HACU interns. This was my favorite part because I shared the data I collected over the summer and the findings that I found most interesting.

To collect the data for my project, I read many NSF proposals, which meant I had the wonderful opportunity to learn about the exciting research that has been supported by IOS and the organisms involved. For example, I was fascinated to discover that the male sage-grouse has inflatable air sacs on its chest that are used in mating behaviors.

Another fun project I was able to work on included making slide presentations of recent NSF-funded discoveries for display in the hallways of the BIO Directorate. I also learned about communicating science via social media. In addition, I attended many lectures on diverse science topics at NSF.

A life changing experience

During my time in BIO/OAD I had the great pleasure to work with Dr. Caitlin Schrein, Science Writer, and Dr. Brent Miller, Science Advisor. They were helpful every step of the way. Overall my experience has been enlightening, exciting, educational, and inspirational for continuing my path into science. I am looking forward to applying everything I learned both academically and professionally.

Big thanks to Dr. Miller, Dr. Schrein, the entire BIO/OAD office and NSF, HACU, Dr. Sherrie Green (NSF), and Kathy Meisinger (Elgin Community College).

Learn more about the HACU National Internship Program (HNIP):  http://www.hacu.net/hacu/HNIP.asp

Follow HNIP on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HNIP 

Assistant Director for BIO Attends Cancer Moonshot Summit

On June 29, 2016, the Cancer Moonshot Summit was held on the campus of Howard University in Washington, DC. The National Science Foundation’s Assistant Director for the Directorate for Biological Sciences, Dr. Jim Olds, was pleased to represent the Foundation at the event.

From the Office of the Vice President of the United States:

“In his final State of the Union address, the President tasked the Vice President with heading up a new national effort, the Cancer Moonshot. The ultimate goal is to double the rate of progress—to make a decade’s worth of advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care in five years—to ultimately end cancer as we know it.

The goals of this effort cannot be achieved by one person, one organization, or one discipline. Solving the complexities of cancer will require the formation of new alliances to defy the bounds of innovation and accelerate the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and—ultimately—a cure. It’s going to require millions of Americans speaking up and contributing what they’re able.

The Cancer Moonshot Summit will be a venue to bring together all sectors that have a role to play in making progress on the Cancer Moonshot goals to share new ideas and launch new collaborations and actions.

The Cancer Moonshot is a mission, and all of us #CanServe. How will you make a difference, break down barriers to progress, or catalyze change where you live or work?

Photo of Dr. Olds at Summit with quote: I can serve by ensuring support for the highest quality fundamental biological sciences research