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 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 Application Guide, you can contact the NSF Policy Office at policy[at] For technical questions related to, please email support[at]

~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.

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:

Related links:


#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.

NSF Announces Participation in National Microbiome Initiative

(Updated May 16, 2016)

On May 13, 2016, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in collaboration with Federal agencies and private-sector stakeholders, announced the National Microbiome Initiative (NMI).

As shared by OSTP, “Microbiomes are the communities of microorganisms that live on or in people, plants, soil, oceans, and the atmosphere. Microbiomes maintain healthy function of these diverse ecosystems, influencing human health, climate change, food security, and other factors. The NMI aims to advance understanding of microbiomes to aid in the development of useful applications in areas such as health care, food production, and environmental restoration.”

To kick off the NMI, OSTP hosted an event at the White House to hear from community and research leaders about microbiome science, and opportunities for collaboration and progress. The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Assistant Director for the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO), Dr. Jim Olds, participated in the event as a member of a federal agency panel.

Dr. Olds was proud to announce NSF’s participation in this initiative through a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 16-087) highlighting NSF BIO’s vision and approach to support and encourage microbiome research across the phylogenetic spectrum and biological scales; from host – microbe interactions to ecosystems. NSF BIO will also foster the development of a national research infrastructure to support collaborative science on microbiomes.

Dear Colleague Letter title: Supporting Research Advances in Microbiomes

NSF BIO encourages proposals that advance discovery in the realm of microbiomes with support through several programs in fiscal year 2017. These programs cross the entire BIO Directorate and span basic science through translational research that addresses pressing global challenges and support the development of tools needed for the 21st century.

To learn more about NSF BIO’s participation in the National Microbiome Intiative, access the Dear Colleague Letter here:

Scuba diving researchers collect samples from coral.
Researchers Rebecca Vega Thurber and Ryan McMinds on a mission to obtain samples from a reef. Research on coral microbiomes is funded by the NSF through a Dimensions of Biodiversity award. Read more:
Photo Credit: Ryan McMinds

BIO’s Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) Home Page
IOS Core Funding Programs Page (including EDGE Track)
Plant-Biotic Interactions Program Page (IOS and USDA/NIFA)
Symbiosis, Defense, and Self-Recognition Program (IOS Physiological and Structural Systems Cluster Page)
BIO’s Division of Environmental (DEB) Biology Home Page
DEB Core Funding Programs Page
BIO’s Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI) Advances in Biological Informatics Program Page
Systems and Synthetic Biology Cluster of BIO’s Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences Page

NSF Hosts Delegation from China

On Thursday, April 21, 2016, a delegation from the Chinese Ministry of Science & Technology (MOST) and the Embassy of China visited the National Science Foundation. The delegates met with representatives from across the Foundation, including Assistant Director for BIO, Dr. Jim Olds.

The delegation discussed current NSF partnerships through the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) and Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) programs and talked about potential areas for future collaboration. The meetings were highly informative and strengthened the good relationship between NSF and MOST.

Photo of delegation with staff and management of the NSF.
Top row, left to right: Paula Mabee (Division Director, BIO/DEB), Jim Deshler (Deputy Division Director, BIO/DBI), LV Jia (Deputy Director, Division of Americas and Oceania, Department of International Cooperation, MOST), Matthew Hawkins (Division Director, NSF/BFA Large Facilities Office), WANG Lian (Third Secretary, Embassy of P.R. China), QIAO Jian (Third Secretary, Embassy of P.R. China)
Bottom row, left to right: Karen Alroy (Science Associate, BIO/DEB), Rebecca Keiser (Office Head, NSF/OISE), Jim Olds (Assistant Director, BIO), CAI Jianing (Associate Counsel, Department of International Cooperation, MOST)

NSF Division of Environmental Biology Visits China
NSF Beijing Office

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):

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