Strengthening Research Capacity at HBCUs

In FY 2015, the Advisory Committee for the NSF’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources convened a subcommittee of leaders from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to devise a comprehensive strategy to accelerate significant competitive opportunities for HBCUs through NSF’s Research and Related Activities (R&RA) programs.

Image of blackboard with title of Dear Colleague Letter

To help implement this strategy, NSF has just published a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 16-080) titled “Strengthening Research Capacity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” These actions are in keeping with guidance provided in NSF’s appropriations for FY 2015 and FY 2016 related to increasing the research capacity at HBCUs.

NSF invites proposers from HBCUs to submit supplemental funding requests to EHR’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP) and other awards that would increase research capacity of faculty and postdoctoral fellows in NSF-supported areas of research.

Additionally, NSF also invites HBCUs to submit EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) proposals to the HBCU-UP program to explore new directions or appropriate extensions of disciplinary-based research activities.

For complete information about this funding opportunity, please read the DCL (NSF 16-080):

Exploring Microbiome Opportunities Symposium

On April 20, 2016, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison hosted a one-day symposium on “Exploring Microbiome Opportunities in Life Sciences and Agriculture.” Jo Handelsman, Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) gave an overview of the significance of microbiome research for several priorities of the Obama administration, including the precision medicine initiative, climate change, soil erosion, forensic biology, national security, alternative energy, and economic opportunities. James I. Prosser from the Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Aberdeen then delivered a plenary lecture about the long-term goals and challenges for microbiome research.

Photo of four panelists
Left to Right: Jo Handelsman, Assistant Director for Science at OSTP, H. Gert de Couet, NSF BIO Division Director in IOS, Joseph Graber, Program Director at DOE, and Lita Proctor, Program Director and Project Coordinator at HMP (Credit: Sevie Kenyon, UW-Madison)
The plenary lectures were followed by presentations of the diverse portfolio of microbiome research projects conducted at UW-Madison. The symposium concluded with a panel discussion of funding opportunities for microbiome research. Participants were Jo Handelsman, Assistant Director for Science at OSTP, Lita Proctor, Program Director and Project Coordinator of the Human Microbiome project at NIH (HMP), and Joseph Graber, Program Director at the Department of Energy (DOE). NSF was represented by H. Gert de Couet, Division Director in BIO’s Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS).

NEON Management Update

March 16, 2016
(Updated links March 23)

The National Science Foundation has completed the process for selecting the new managing organization of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and have chosen Battelle Memorial Institute.

For more information about the selection and future updates about NEON, please visit the NEON Program Summary page and the NSF NEON Special Report on

NEON site design
Image credit:

Brain Awareness Week 2016 #BAW

In honor of Brain Awareness Week (March 14-20, 2016), here is a selection of recent news stories, videos, and other resources about NSF-funded basic research related to the brain.

To learn more about the NSF’s “Understanding the Brain” activities and the NSF’s participation in the White House’s BRAIN Initiative, please visit:

Recently, the NSF announced its participation in the National Research Infrastructure for Neuroscience effort:

NSF video series: In 2014, NSF awarded a total of $10.8 million to 36 brain research projects. These awards are called Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER). They are part of NSF’s broader efforts to understand the healthy brain. These six videos provide more detail about some of the exciting EAGER award projects:

NSF Radio Documentary: “Explorers of the Brain: Research from the Frontiers of Neuroscience.” This documentary aired on 111 radio stations around the U.S. Listen and access the transcript here: 

NSF/NBC Learn Video Series: “Mysteries of the Brain.” Scientists and engineers have studied the brain for decades, yet there are many mysteries that remain unsolved. New research is underway to develop and use cutting-edge technologies to better understand the brain. Watch this exciting 8-part video series to learn about the brain and the research NSF is funding:

What can fruit flies teach us about social interactions and the brain? Watch this NSF Science Nation video:

To watch this video with captions, click here

Neuroscientists have looked inside brain cells as they undergo the intense bursts of neural activity known as “ripples” that are thought to underlie memory formation. Read more from @CalTech:

Scientists decode brain signals nearly at speed of perception: Electrodes in patients’ temporal lobes carry information that, when analyzed, enables scientists to predict what object patients are seeing. Read more from @HSNewsBeat:

Like air traffic, information flows through major neuron ‘hubs’ in the brain. In many cortical regions, 70 percent of the brain’s information passes through only a fifth of the neurons. Read more from @IUNewsroom:

Engineered neural networks show hope for axonal repair in the brain, with minimal disruption to brain tissue. Technology holds potential to benefit patients with damage to brain connections resulting from brain injury or disease. Read more from @PennMedNews:

Researchers uncover “predictive neuron orchestra” behind looking and reaching movements. Read more from @NYUniversity:

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

Researchers develop new method for analyzing synaptic density: High-throughput, machine-learning tool could help researchers better understand synaptic activity in learning and disease. Read more from @CarnegieMellon:

University study shows first evidence for independent working memory systems in animals. Data could inform new pre-clinical research models for Alzheimer’s disease treatment that goes beyond spatial memory. Read more from @IUNewsroom:

In experiments with zoo animals, relative brain size was the best clue to problem-solving ability in carnivores. Read more from NSF here and watch this video from the NY Times’ ScienceTake:

Finally, if you are in the DC/MD area on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, attend the National Museum of Health and Medicine’s Science Café from 6-7pm with NSF Assistant Director for Biological Sciences, Dr. Jim Olds, who will be speaking about “Searching for an Elusive Cure to Brain Diseases.” Read more from @medicalmuseum:


Changes to Graduate Research Fellowship Program Eligibility

(Links updated March 29, 2016)

On March 7, 2016 the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources issued a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 16-050) identifying changes in eligibility to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).

Effective as of the 2017 competition (Fall 2016 deadlines), NSF will limit graduate students to only one application to the GRFP, submitted either in the first year or in the second year of graduate school.1 No change is made to the eligibility of undergraduates, of bachelor’s degree holders without any graduate study, or of individuals who have had an interruption in graduate study of at least two consecutive years.2

Read the Dear Colleague Letter and access Frequently Asked Questions (NSF 16-051)

1 First-year graduate students in Fall 2015 who applied to the 2016 GRFP competition will be allowed to apply a second time in Fall 2016, if they are otherwise eligible. All other graduate students are subject to the new eligibility requirements.
2 See the GRFP Program Solicitation: NSF 15-597

Press Release 16-033 (March 29, 2016): NSF awards 2016 Graduate Research Fellowships

NSF Announces Participation in National Research Infrastructure for Neuroscience Effort

In a Dear Colleague Letter dated February 19, 2016, the Directorates of the National Science Foundation announced the NSF’s intention to foster the development of a national research infrastructure for neuroscience to support collaborative and team science for achieving a comprehensive understanding of the brain in action and context.

This multi-directorate effort is part of the NSF’s Understanding the Brain activity, including NSF’s participation in the White House’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

Image of a fruit fly brain.
Image of a fruit fly brain highlighting the region that processes olfactory information (green). The fruit fly brain is a powerful model for understanding human biology. Credit: Jessica Plavicki and Grace Boekhoff-Falk, University of Wisconsin Madison

Understanding the brain is one of the grand scientific challenges at the intersection of experimental, theoretical, and computational investigation in the biological, physical, social and behavioral sciences, education research, and engineering.

Achieving a comprehensive understanding of the brain requires increased emphasis on systematic, multidisciplinary collaboration and team science to establish quantitative and predictive theories of brain structure and function that span levels of organization, spatial scales of study, and the diversity of species. This challenge necessitates the development of innovative, accessible, and shared capabilities, resources and cyberinfrastructure, along with the eventual organizing of these into a coherent national infrastructure for neuroscience research.

This effort will be realized through a phased approach.

Read more…

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.



Meeting NSF’s Technical Reporting Requirements

PIs must use to meet all NSF technical reporting requirements, including submission of annual, final, and project outcomes reports.

  1. What is Required?

NSF requires that all Principal Investigators (PIs) submit annual reports during the course of an award and a final report no later than 120 days following expiration of an award. Each report is reviewed by the award’s managing Program Officer; the reporting requirement is met only after the Program Officer has reviewed and approved the report.

NSF also requires…

Read more…

Revised Grant Proposal Guide for 2016

A revision of the Grant Proposal Guide will be in effect on January 25, 2016. Note – the revisions apply to all proposals due on or after January 25th.

You can access the 2016 GPG here:

Read about the changes & clarifications to the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (which includes the GPG) here:

Remember, when the instructions in a solicitation differ from the GPG, the solicitation is what you should follow. If you have any questions regarding what guidelines to follow, don’t hesitate to contact the Program Director/Officer for the program to which you are applying. Contact information is always listed on the Program Summary page.