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!
BIO is excited to announce to the biological sciences community two new funding opportunities under the Understanding the Rules of Life (URoL) Big Idea: 1) Epigenetics and 2) Microbiome Theory and Mechanisms (MTM). The URoL Big Idea seeks to create a new paradigm at the convergence of science, engineering, and technology that will elucidate theoretical frameworks (rules) to enable prediction of the diversity of evolutionary solutions that biological systems use to support life processes seen across the planet. The National Science Foundation has recently invested $36 million in the first projects under the URoL portfolio from two separate solicitations and across more than thirty institutions.
The Epigenetics and MTM opportunities represent a collaboration across Directorates and Offices within the National Science Foundation. Specifically, Epigenetics intends to enable innovative research and promote multidisciplinary education and workforce training in the broad area of epigenetics, while MTM aims to understand and establish theory and mechanisms that govern the structure and function of microbiomes.
Integrative perspectives and research approaches from more than one research discipline are welcomed, as this is a cross-Directorate effort. The interdisciplinary scope of both programs aims to provide unique training and outreach opportunities to train the next generation of scientists in a diversity of scientific approaches and to engage society more generally.
Both programs offer two submission tracks:
Track 1 – for projects with a total budget of up to $500,000 and an award duration of up to 3 years, and
Track 2 – for projects with a total budget of up to $3,000,000 and award duration of up to 5 years.
The BII is a new funding opportunity to strengthen the connections between biological subdisciplines and encourage a reintegration of biology. This funding opportunity is a part of BIO’s larger efforts to stimulate integrative thinking in the biological research community.
NSF recently released a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) inviting the community to provide input on data-intensive science and engineering research questions and challenges and the essential data-related cyberinfrastructure (CI) services and capabilities needed to publish, discover, transport, manage and process data in secure, performant and scalable ways to enable that data-intensive research.
This is an opportunity for the BIO community to provide input on questions, challenges and associated needs specifically related to data-focused CI. While this DCL is not a funding opportunity, all input would be used to inform the refinement of NSF’s CI investment strategy and planning of future NSF funding opportunities.
For more information on how to submit ideas, please refer to the DCL (NSF 20-015) or contact the NSF Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure, email@example.com.
The deadline for submissions is December 16, 2019.
Supporting fundamental biological research that takes an integrative approach to understanding life’s key innovations is a priority for the BIO Directorate. Despite biology’s unifying goal of understanding the processes that generate and sustain life, 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 now aims to strengthen the connections between biological subdisciplines and encourage a reintegration of biology through a new funding opportunity: Biology Integration Institutes. Letters of Intent are due on December 20, 2019 and full proposals are due on February 6, 2020.
The Biology Integration Institutes will support collaborative teams of researchers at a level not feasible in most existing core programs and over a more extended timeframe than is typical of standard NSF awards. 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 levels of life, from biomolecules to organisms, species, ecosystems, and biomes. While this solicitation focuses on the integration of biological disciplines, any field beyond biology may be included as needed to address the overarching biological theme.
We also intend for the Institutes to enable research and training in a truly integrated environment, preparing the next generation of biological scientists to pursue discipline-spanning research throughout their careers. In these ways, the Biology Integration Institutes will enable the workforce and innovations that will inspire new applications to drive our bioeconomy and provide solutions to pressing societal challenges.
Proposals may be submitted in one of two tracks. Implementation proposals are for teams that have already developed an Integrative Research Plan around a theme of significance, designed an educational approach that employs effective methods for depth and breadth of training, and prepared a cohesive and sustainable Management Plan that is ready for deployment. Design proposals are for teams to develop communities and groundbreaking ideas to be submitted to later competitions as Implementation proposals through diverse and sustained activities, including workshops and follow-up meetings.
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.
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
NSF is calling for requests for supplements and proposals to support high school teams participating in the International Genetically Engineered 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.
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.
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.
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 (email@example.com).