On December 21 2021, program officers from the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI) within the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) held a virtual office hour session introducing the Research Resources (RR) Cluster in DBI.
The staff provided a brief overview of the RR Cluster and its various programs and were available for questions. Below are some of the questions asked. If you have project-specific questions, please reach out to a DBI program officer (and if you are an awardee, please contact your cognizant program officer).
The slides from this Office Hour are available here:
Q: Is Cheminformatics part of Bioinformatics?
A: If the goal of the proposed cheminformatics research is to advance basic biological research, it can be submitted to the Innovation: Bioinformatics or Capacity: Cyberinfrastructure program. However, if it is relevant to drug design or industrial process, it will not be suitable for either the Bioinformatics or the Cyberinfrastructure program. Those two programs might have overlap and we might co-fund the project depending on the specific project.
Q: For the innovation program, do we have to explicitly chose a single track out of the three?
A: It is certainly helpful if you can choose a relevant track when submitting the proposal. If the proposed research spans more than one track, co-review across different tracks will be carried out.
Q: Would the scope of the Bioinformatics track include the development of new algorithms for a specific biological application, with collaboration between Biologists and Computer Scientists?
A: Yes. Most of the funded projects are inspired by the collaborative efforts between biologists and computer scientists.
Q: Although GEO usually supports marine science research, is the infrastructure support for Marine Science Labs always through DBI?
A: The Field Station and Marine Science Labs program has been a joint program between DBI and GEO, and it is listed under both websites.
Q: For the Capacity: FSML – Do “improvements” need to be done on existing field stations? If a brand-new field station is being built (in the place of an old structure), would it be eligible for funding?
A: The answer depends on whether there is a long history of research and if what you are doing is simply putting some infrastructure in a location where there is pretty creditable history and a lot of well-established researchers working there. We recommend a PI first do a planning grant and spend some time with potential users. NSF is not going to build field stations if you don’t have the resources to do the rest.
Q: Does the field station or marine lab have to be within the U.S.?
A: No, but the recipient of the money does have to be an eligible US institution. There are a lot of field stations on foreign soil that are either managed directly by US institutions or by certain sort of partnership. We may ask for evidence that the recipient of the funding does have the authority to improve the property of the foreign soil and there is assurance that there is long term access to the facility for US researchers.
Q: Do Climate Change Marine Mesocosms will fit within the Infrastructure Capacity for Biology?
A: Yes, it fits the scope. However, our real focus is to provide instrumentation or improvement to a facility where it’s located at least marine research will be performed. If an instrumentation is just going to a building on campus, it is not something we will support. It is also not suitable for MRI program which supports a single piece of shared infrastructure.
Q: With regards to the Capacity: Field Stations program, are there any common pitfalls that applicants make in their proposals that should be avoided?
A: We look for proposals where the improvement would advance research capacity and would like to see things that improve new capacity. We have to pay attention to see if there are bio funded research that will benefit from the improvement. If there is no NSF funded research, it might be difficult to justify funding it, in comparison with another one which has NSF funded research. Our focus here is on a shared infrastructure and we want to see that FSML is open to multiple users going beyond one research lab. Don’t submit a proposal with a bunch of disconnected components. A strong proposal will demonstrate the science it will advance and the infrastructure it needs to do it.
Q: How broad a taxon does the Biological Collections program fund?
A: This varies depending on the type of collections. The expectation for natural history collections is to cover at least one major group of organisms, but many small connections cover many different clades. Collections covering just a single species are typically not supported unless they are in fair demand and fit with NSF-supported community. However, in some cases, the living stocks program will support fairly narrow taxonomic groups.
Q: Would collection digitalization include the digitalization of prior volumes of specialized journals that currently exist only in hard copy?
A: The digitization of biological connections is focused on voucher collection and library connections. It does not support the digitization of published journal volumes. It can support the digitization of archived materials such as field notes if they are explicitly linked to field connections.
Q: For Paleontology collection improvements, is it ever appropriate to apply to Geosciences?
A: You should contact program officers in Geosciences Directorate. There are cases where they have supported collection improvement, but for most part, they will end up in our biological collection program.
Q: Does the Infrastructure Capacity for Biology program support further development of instrumentation? For example, taking a microscope from proof of concept to something ready for commercialization or putting in a user facility.
A: The current Capacity program does not have a dedicated track for commercialization. However, you are encouraged to contact DBIInstrumentation@nsf.gov for more suggestions and feedback.
Q: For grant proposals for cyberinfrastructure grants that would support conferences or symposia – what would be an appropriate website to seek information?
A: For past DBI support of conferences or symposia, please visit https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/. Proposals for such support usually do not go to panel. Please contact program officers before your submission.
Q: The anticipated budget of $18M to $20M for Infrastructure (Capacity) is total or per award?
A: It is the total annual anticipated budget for the entire program.
Q: Is there a due date for the MRI of the DBI?
A: The Major Research Infrastructure (MRI) Program of DBI follows the same foundation-wide submission window which is January 1 – January 19 annually.
Q: Is possible to mix and match Innovation and Cyberinfrastructure tracks? For example, a project might be heavy on cyberinfrastructure and the deployment for users, but still may require some new research development that will facilitate that.
A: The focus and intellectual contribution of Innovation and Cyberinfrastructure programmatic areas are different. Mix and match are not recommended. There is no restriction on the size or the scope for both Innovation and Cyberinfrastructure tracks. You can always split your content and submit them separately.