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.

#PollinatorWeek has US Buzzing

June 22, 2016

This afternoon the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released the Pollinator Partnership Action Plan (PPAP). The PPAP accompanies the National Strategy to Promote Pollinator Health, released by OSTP in 2015 along with the science-based Pollinator Research Action Plan.

The National Strategy to Promote Pollinator Health has three goals:

  1. Reduce honey bee colony losses to economically sustainable levels;
  2. Increase monarch butterfly numbers to protect the annual migration; and
  3. Restore or enhance millions of acres of land for pollinators through combined public and private action.

To compliment today’s PPAP release, the National Science Foundation (NSF) summarized the agency’s pollinator portfolio (i.e., what the NSF funds in this area). The NSF supports many basic research and education programs and projects relevant to the National Strategy to Promote Pollinator Health. The majority of awards related to pollinators are made through the Directorate for Biological Sciences, but pollinator research is supported throughout the NSF. The NSF Pollinator Portfolio summary can be found here:

A bumblebee foraging on the petals of a larkspur flower.
A larkspur flower with a guest—a bumblebee foraging on its petals. (Credit: Karen Levy, Emory University)

To celebrate #PollinatorWeek, the NSF has also published an article on Medium highlighting NSF-funded research news and discoveries related to pollinator health.

Learn more about the National Strategy to Promote Pollinator Health, the PPAP, and how you can nurture and celebrate pollinators on the OSTP blog.

BIO’s FY 2017 Budget Request

On February 9, 2016, the National Science Foundation rolled-out its FY 2017 budget request to Congress.

Information about the NSF’s budget request can be found on, including a summary brochure, a press release, fact sheets, the Director’s presentation slides, and more.

Dr. Jim Olds, NSF Assistant Director for Biological Sciences, rolled-out the budget request for the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO). BIO currently supports 68% of academic basic research in non-medical biology.


The total FY 2017 request for BIO is $790.52 million, a 6.2% increase over the FY 2016 estimate. Of the $790.52 million, $745.73 million is discretionary funding and $44.79 million is new mandatory funding*.

The table below identifies how BIO’s request is distributed across its Divisions.

FY 2017 Request (millions)
Molecular and Cellular Biosciences $136.77
Integrative Organismal Systems $215.40
Environmental Biology $145.17
Biological Infrastructure $135.74
Emerging Frontiers $157.44 (includes mandatory funding)

BIO’s top priority is core research across biology. Broad support for academic basic research in biology is necessary to produce the knowledge that will address national needs in agriculture, health, the environment, and continuing innovation for the bioeconomy, which has already shown progress in areas such as biofuels, biorenewable chemicals, and nanotechnology.

BIO funding priorities for FY 2017 include the following:


BIO support for clean energy technology would provide funds for research in areas such as: systems and synthetic biology to streamline and scale the metabolic and energetic potential of living organisms, to produce non-petroleum based sources of important chemicals, materials, feed stocks, and fuels; bioinspired design of new proteins and other complex biomaterials that can transform light into energy; and investigations to assess the impact of fuel and/or bio-renewable chemical production to assess the potential environmental impacts of these technologies.

Understanding the Brain combines support for activities relevant to the the White House’s BRAIN Initiative and continuing NSF support for activities in the areas of cognitive and neuroscience.

Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS) will be stressed in NSF-wide and BIO specific programs, such as Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) and Macrosystems Biology (MSB). Also, a joint solicitation between BIO’s Division of Integrative Organismal Systems and USDA NIFA, called Plant Biotic Interactions (PBI), will be issued in FY 2016, with initial awards funded in FY 2017.

BIO’s budget request includes increased support for microbiome research. Microbiome investments support research 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. Studies of microbiomes occur on a broad range of scales from metagenomics, which looks at the entirety of collective genomes in microbial communities, to individual community composition and collective metabolic activity. The joint IOS/NIFA solicitation mentioned above will include support for microbiome research.

major investments

In FY 2017, as NEON nears completion, BIO will assume full responsibility for NEON operations and oversight. With the need for increased oversight, BIO will transfer program management for NEON operations from Emerging Frontiers (EF) into the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI),   which   has   long-standing   experience   managing   cooperative   agreements and infrastructure, such as Science and Technology Centers (STCs), iPlant (now CyVerse), and other BIO Centers for Analysis and Synthesis. Funding for early NEON science, including continuing support for the MacroSystems Biology (MSB) program, remains a priority.   NSF is in the process of evaluating new managing organizations for NEON operations and maintenance.

BIO will sustain support for new mid-scale projects to advance data, software, and collaborative infrastructure in support of several priority areas through the Advances in Biological Informatics (ABI) Program, BIO Synthesis Centers, as well as ongoing solicitations, e.g., Software Infrastructure for Sustained Innovation (SI2). In FY 2017, SI2 will begin to focus on software infrastructure for major projects and awards including STCs, iPlant (now CyVerse), and Major Research Facilities and Construction (MREFC) projects.

The NSF-wide BioMaPS investment seeks to discover fundamental new knowledge to enable innovation in national priorities such as clean energy, climate science, and advanced manufacturing. In FY 2017, BIO will sustain support for this activity. One area of emphasis will be synthetic biology, which is a convergent area at the intersection of biology, engineering, and physical sciences that informs our ability to design and build novel biological functions and systems using engineering principles.

Understanding the Rules of Life represents our shared vision for core research. Support for this new emphasis includes research areas such as the genotype to phenotype challenge, plant and microbial sciences, including the study of microbiomes, synthetic biology, origins of life, and developing biological theory as a framework for the rules of life. Quantitative approaches that integrate the mathematical and physical sciences, computer science, and engineering into advancing basic biological understanding underpinning the study of the rules of life will be encouraged.


BIO’s FY 2017 budget request also includes support for early career scientists through enhanced funding for PIs, new efforts to train graduate students, and targeted support for postdoctoral fellows. BIO will participate in the NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) program. And a BIO Research Training Grant (RTG) Program would provide $6.16 million to improve graduate education.

BIO will participate in the NSF initiative, Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners that have been Underrepresented for Diversity in Engineering and Science (INCLUDES), an effort to increase the preparation, participation, advancement, and potential contributions of those who have been traditionally underserved and/or underrepresented in STEM fields. BIO will also continue participation in the NSF-wide program ADVANCE as part of its ongoing commitment to broaden participation to build strategies and models to increase the participation, retention, and advancement of women in all STEM academic careers.

Finally, in the area of innovation activities, the FY 2017 budget includes support for an Origin of Life Ideas Lab – a partnership between NSF BIO and NASA Astrobiology to stimulate creative thinking and new research on the earliest events leading to life on Earth. Projects resulting from the Ideas Lab would explore plausible pathways for the origin of life that would contribute directly to our understanding of the indispensable properties of life on Earth and inform our search for life on other worlds, and would contribute to a theoretical framework for the “metabolism first” and “RNA first” hypotheses for the origin of life.

*Mandatory funding, also known as “direct spending,” is a different category of Federal spending than NSF typically sees. It is most commonly associated with entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) and is not subject to discretionary caps. In FY 2017, the Administration is seeking legislation to provide mandatory funding for NSF and other R&D agencies on a one-time basis.



Draft of revisions to NSF-wide grant and proposal policies up for public comment


Each year or so, NSF releases an updated version of its agency-wide guidance for proposals and grants, called the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG). This big document consists of two parts: instructions for proposers (the GPG, or Grant Proposal Guide) and instructions for awardees (the AAG, or Award Administration Guide).

The PAPPG sets the ground-rules for NSF programs. Solicitations, like the DEB Core Programs solicitation, exist to enumerate specific variances from the basic rules, for example the format and contents of a preliminary proposal. Solicitations, however, also refer back to the PAPPG and follow the ground-rules for everything except those specific variances. A good example of this is that the requirements for proposal font size are detailed in the PAPPG and we have no reason to repeat or modify that in the DEB Core Programs solicitation but they apply to both preliminary and full proposals.

Changes to…

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A reminder to check your FastLane Profiles


For any demographic analysis or comparison, NSF is reliant on the self-reported characteristics of participants in all phases of proposals and awards. Completion of the profiles is voluntary but critical for linking demographic data to proposal, funding, and review patterns. And, importantly, your profile provides the contact information that we use to reach out to you. So if your email address and institutional information are not up to date you may miss out on funding opportunities or critical notifications that affect your eligibility for funding.

So, is your FastLane PI profile complete, up to date, and error-free?

What about your OTHER FastLane profile? When was the last time you completed your Reviewer information?

Yes, that’s right; if you’ve taken part in both sides of the NSF merit review process you have two[i] separate FastLane profiles: one as a PI and another as a reviewer (or panelist).

Across NSF, our…

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