Welcome

tornow headshotWelcome from BIO Assistant Director Joanne Tornow

As the Assistant Director of the Directorate for Biological Sciences (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.

Our 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!

INCLUDES Virtual Office Hour

Please join us for the upcoming information session on the Inclusion Across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (NSF INCLUDES) program on October 17th, 2019 from 1pm-2pm EST!

During this Virtual Office Hour, program directors from the NSF INCLUDES Implementation Team will discuss the program’s history and new planning grants solicitation (NSF 19-600). Following the discussion, program directors from NSF INCLUDES and the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) will answer questions from attendees during an open question and answer period.

Join us remotely and bring questions, comments and concerns! Please use the registration link below to register for our October 17th Virtual Office Hour.

Click here to register

NSF INCLUDES is one of the 10 Big Ideas and is a comprehensive national initiative to enhance U.S. leadership in STEM discoveries and innovations focused on NSF’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and broadening participation in these fields. These planning grants support efforts necessary to build capacity to establish future centers, alliances or other large-scale networks endeavoring to address a broadening participation challenge in STEM at scale.

The first deadline for full proposals is December 3, 2019.

For more details, refer to the full solicitation: NSF 19-600

Shape the Future of Synthetic Biology! Apply for Funding to Mentor High School iGEM Teams

NSF is calling for requests for supplements and proposals to support high school teams participating in the International Genetically Engineering Machine – or “iGEM” – competition.

Attracting diverse students to STEM careers at a young age is essential to ensure the realization of a vibrant U.S. bioeconomy that will fuel innovation, economic growth and job creation. Synthetic biology has emerged as a major driver of innovation and technological advancement; as such, active researcher engagement of young people in synthetic biology is an important early step in workforce development to support a growing bioeconomy.

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Participants in the 2018 iGEM Giant Jamboree.
Image credit: iGEM Foundation, Justin Knight.

iGEM has emerged as the premier opportunity to engage students in creative research and technology development projects in synthetic biology. Annually, over 6,000 students from around the world at the high school, undergraduate, and master’s level participate in iGEM, working to design, build and test creative solutions to societal challenges using the tools of synthetic biology.

To support early career workforce development in this growing field, NSF is encouraging principal investigators of existing NSF awards to apply for supplements through the Research Assistantships for High School Students (RAHSS) mechanism to support iGEM teams. Supplements can vary in size but are expected to average approximately $10,000 per team. Additionally, NSF encourages the submission of Research Coordination Networks (RCN) proposals that would support dissemination of best practices for working with high school iGEM teams, and/or ways of remote mentoring of teams that are not located near a research university with synthetic biology capabilities. RCN proposals can be submitted at any time to the Biological Sciences or Engineering Directorates.

For more information on iGEM and how researchers can participate, visit iGEM.org.

NEON Webinar

Learn about the upcoming NEON Webinar from our colleagues in the Division for Biological Infrastructure here or below.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced its intention to carry out a competition to manage the Operations and Maintenance of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 19-080) announcing this decision:

  • provides general information on NEON,
  • communicates that NSF anticipates initiating the competition,
  • provides information on provisional goals,
  • outlines a timeline for the competition, and
  • invites comments and questions from eligible organizations interested in this competition (submit via neon-bot@nsf.gov).

NSF will be hosting a webinar on September 11th at 2pm regarding the planned competition for operation and management of NEON. Individuals, teams, and organizations interested in submitting proposals should try to participate.

This webinar will discuss the timeline for executing the competition for the management of NEON Operations and Maintenance. It will highlight key decision points by NSF and identify critical dates for activities related to the competition. The webinar will also provide information on the post-award oversight requirements for awards managed through cooperative agreements (CAs). Following the presentation, there will be a question and answer period.

For further details about the competition, please consult the NEON Program webpage and DCL (NSF 19-080).

For more details about NEON, please consult the NEON Project webpage.

BIO Welcomes New DBI Division Director

BIO is very pleased to welcome Dr. Patricia Soranno as the new Division Director for the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI). Dr. Soranno is a freshwater ecologist coming to us from Michigan State University where she is a Professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Dr. Soranno is a prominent researcher in the field of landscape limnology, meaning that she studies the multi-scaled spatial and temporal drivers of freshwater chemistry and biology. She has strong interests in fostering the development of data-intensive approaches in ecology, with an emphasis on collaborative science networks. Her experience with NSF includes being supported by the Macrosystems Biology-Early NEON Science program, the Coupled Natural-Human Systems program, and working with humanities scholars on team science supported by the Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences Directorate. In coming to NSF, she steps away from her role as founding Editor-in-Chief of Limnology & Oceanography Letters.

As Division Director for DBI, Dr. Soranno will assume leadership over all of BIO’s infrastructure programs, from physical and cyber-infrastructure to human resources. DBI manages large unique BIO projects such as the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and diverse BIO Centers, as well as core programs that innovate and sustain cyberinfrastructure, instrumentation, and other tools that enable biological research.  DBI also provides support for postdoctoral fellowships, REU sites, biological collections and field stations.

BIO would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to Dr. Lisa Clough, Section Head for the Ocean Section within the Division of Ocean Sciences in the Directorate for Geosciences, for selflessly fulfilling the role of Acting Division Director in DBI. Her dedication, hard work, and professionalism are deeply valued and appreciated.

Integrating Biology

Biology has the goal of understanding the processes that generate and sustain life.  Despite this unifying principle, the actual practice of modern biology has become increasingly fragmented into subdisciplines due, in part, to specialized approaches required for deep study of narrowly defined problems.  BIO aims to encourage a unification of biology. Our goal is to stimulate creative integration of diverse biological disciplines using innovative experimental, theoretical, and computational approaches to discover underlying principles operating across all hierarchical levels of life, from biomolecules to organisms, species, ecosystems, and biomes.

Earlier this year we asked you, as members of the biological sciences community, for high-level ideas on the research questions and topics that would benefit from NSF investment in a truly integrated research environment. The responses from across the country offered a broad range of fundamental biological questions spanning the scales of biological organization. BIO now wants to grow and enrich the conversation with a view to priming the formation of new NSF-supported research teams around these questions.

To that end, we invite you to register for one of several Virtual Town Hall discussions, which will take place the week of September 16, 2019. These events will help identify themes for more focused, in-person discussions that will take place later in the fall – fertile soil for germination of new, foundational cross-disciplinary ideas that will unify and advance the biological sciences.

More details can be found at https://reintegratingbiology.org/.

NEXT STEPS for NEON

One of BIO’s highlights from this current fiscal year is the movement of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) from construction into full operations. 179 data products are now freely available to the scientific community and the public on the NEON Data Portal, and we are pleased to note that downloads of the data are rapidly increasing as is use of NEON data in publications. NEON data is also transforming ecological education at a diverse range of institutions.

NSF recently announced (NSF 19-080) its intent to launch an open competition for the management of NEON’s future operations and maintenance. NSF’s major facilities routinely undergo such a merit-based, peer-reviewed process, thus the announcement signals that NEON has matured into a fully-functioning Observatory.  The review process will take roughly two years, with the new award expected to commence in late 2021.  As always, NSF will be relying on community expertise in the merit review process, which will ensure that NEON is an effective resource for ecology for years to come.

We recognize that members of the scientific community may have questions and input for NSF as we embark on this process. We welcome community input, and to that end, we will host a NEON Information Session and Question and Answer Period on Monday, August 12, at the Ecological Society of America’s Annual meeting in Louisville, KY. For those who won’t be at ESA, questions and input can be directed to the cognizant program officer, Dr. Roland Roberts (neon-bot@nsf.gov).

We hope to see many of you at ESA.

Notice: New Email Validation System May Block NSF Email Communications

NSF has applied a mandated global email policy change that may be interfering with NSF communications to and from external email recipients. All email activities may be impacted, including automatic NSF email notifications, ad-hoc review requests, panelist correspondence, and any correspondence with PIs, co-PIs, fellows and job candidates.

This new email validation system, called “Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance” (DMARC) is an email authentication, policy, and reporting protocol that helps to deal with phishing, spam, and server spoofing. This change was made as outlined in the Department of Homeland Security’s Binding Operational Directive (BOD) 18-01.

Since some universities, organizations, and federal agencies have not applied the DMARC policy for their email servers, email sent by NSF may be classified as spam by organizational email services and may be quarantined prior to delivery. Additionally, if an external email recipient auto-forwards email that is sent to their organization’s email account (ex. a .edu email address) to another account (ex. a gmail.com email address), they will not receive the forwarded email. A full explanation of this issue can be found on the DMARC website.

Although there are no actions NSF or individual recipients can take to prevent emails from being blocked at this time, we strongly recommend following up emails with a phone call, especially if you don’t receive an expected reply. Additionally, please alert your IT Department or Email Administrator for information on ways your institution may be able to address the issue.

Reminder: Integration Institutes Request for Information Due March 1

This is a reminder that the deadline for the Integration Institutes Request for Information is this Friday, March 1. The BIO Directorate is seeking high-level ideas from the community on fundamental biological research questions and topics poised for major advances. For more information, please visit our previous post, visit the Dear Colleague Letter or send an email to BIO-RFI-II@nsf.gov.

Help Shape BIO’s Future: Submit your Integration Institute idea by March 1!

Would you like to help shape the future of biological research? The NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) recently published a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) seeking high-level ideas from the community on the research questions and topics that would benefit from NSF investment in a truly integrated research environment.

As a reminder, this is a call for ideas, not proposals, meaning there is no funding associated with this DCL, but rather provides the community with an opportunity to share its visions for the future of biology. Any ideas you have – even those that include collaborations with fields outside the biological sciences – will be considered and will help inform BIO strategies for supporting a number of Integration Institutes over the next several years.

The deadline for submissions is March 1. Please see the Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 19-027) for details on how to submit your ideas, and direct any questions to BIO-RFI-II@nsf.gov.

A Letter from the Assistant Director

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Dear Colleagues,

BIO is excited to be back to work following the long lapse in appropriations. We thank the biological sciences community for its patience and its support of students, postdocs, faculty, technical and administrative support staff and researchers during this challenging time.

Fortunately, because BIO core programs have a no-deadline submission process and relevant systems remained online during the shutdown, BIO has experienced few disruptions to our division programs. However, this also means that we have a backlog of submitted proposals and missed panels. As we get our systems up and running again, we are establishing processes that will enable us to focus on high-priority areas, particularly in light of the three-week continuing resolution. Our staff is working hard to reschedule cancelled merit review panels and process awards, and is prioritizing in particular the review and funding of postdoctoral fellowships and REU site awards. As we work to expedite the return to normal operations, I call upon the volunteerism of the reviewer community and ask for your flexibility in participating in rescheduled and virtual panels.

In addition to addressing the backlog of activities from the lapse, BIO remains committed to delivering on ongoing competitions, including the Understanding Rules of Life competitions. Please note that deadline dates for BIO special solicitations and DCLs remain unchanged.

A special note to our colleagues in the ecological sciences community about the changes that took place at the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) during the lapse in appropriations: Now that NSF has resumed operations, we are re-engaging with all key stakeholders in the project. I remain fully committed to ensuring that NEON realizes its scientific promise as it transitions to full operations. I wish to express my gratitude to all those who have worked together to bring NEON construction to the finish line, including Battelle staff and NEON’s Science, Technology and Education Advisory Committee (STEAC), and thank the STEAC for their thoughtful engagement and continued commitment to NEON.

I once again thank you for your patience in this challenging time and ask for your continued support as we work to get back on track as soon as possible.

Sincerely,
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Joanne Tornow, PhD
Assistant Director for Biological Sciences