Using the Rules of Life to Address Societal Challenges (URoL:ASC)

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Important Information for Proposers

A revised version of the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) (NSF 22-1), is effective for proposals submitted, or due, on or after October 4, 2021. Please be advised that, depending on the specified due date, the guidelines contained in NSF 22-1 may apply to proposals submitted in response to this funding opportunity.

Supports use-inspired research that applies knowledge of the rules of life across a broad array of living systems to tackle pressing societal concerns.


Using the Rules of Life to Address Societal Challenges (URoL:ASC) will support use-inspired research that builds on knowledge from previous investments in the NSF “Big Ideas”, including in the Understanding the Rules of Life program. The Big Ideas were designed to position the Nation at the cutting edge of global science and engineering by bringing together diverse disciplinary perspectives to support convergent research (see details here).  The goal of the Understanding the Rules of Life Big Idea was to develop predictive understanding of how key properties of living systems emerge from interactions of factors such as genomes, phenotypes, and evolving environments. Examples of projects that have examined some of these rules can be found here. Following from the fundamental principles revealed from these and related projects, an important goal of the current solicitation is to use the predictive capability of rules of life to address some of the greatest challenges we currently face as a society.

Through use-inspired research using convergent, multidisciplinary approaches, URoL:ASC seeks to apply lessons learned from studying rules of life across a broad array of living systems to tackle pressing societal concerns. These concerns include but are not limited to:  climate change and associated risks, including geohazards, extreme events, and loss of biodiversity; environmental degradation, including impacts on land and water resources; inequalities in availability of and access to essential natural assets; lack of sustainability, including for food, energy, and waste production; and threats from pandemic disease, among others.

This solicitation differs in key respects from previous solicitations associated with the Understanding the Rules of Life Big Idea.  First, rather than a focus on discovering rules of life, here we seek ideas about how such rules might be used for societal benefit.  Second, underscoring this shift in focus, proposals should begin with a description of the expected outcomes of the research, e.g., the broader impacts, followed by details on the intellectual underpinnings of the convergent research plan.  Third, proposers must adopt a co-production strategy that involves both producers and users of the research outcomes in all phases of the research[1] [2], e.g., in the design, implementation, evaluation, and dissemination of the research impacts (see NSF Strategic Plan). Fourth, projects must integrate innovative education and training activities aimed at fostering convergent research. Fifth, projects should actively promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in all activities by involving members of underrepresented groups, such as the Missing Millions (see National Science Board Vision 2030 Report) and including women and members of groups who are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as PIs, co-PIs, postdoctoral researchers, students, and other personnel. Participation is encouraged from PIs or co-PIs from a broad range of institutions, including (see below) predominantly undergraduate institutions (PUIs), minority-serving Institutions (MSIs) that are not among the nation’s most research-intensive institutions, other institutions classified in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education as R2, D/PU, or M1-3, and institutions in jurisdictions eligible for the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

As in previous Big Idea solicitations, this new activity, URoL:ASC, is a cross-directorate NSF program. Proposals in response to this solicitation must be submitted to the Emerging Frontiers (EF) Division in the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO).  Review will be managed by a multidisciplinary, cross-directorate team of program officers.

[1] Djenontin, I.N.S., Meadow, A.M. The art of co-production of knowledge in environmental sciences and management: lessons from international practice. Environmental Management 61: 885 (2018).

[2] Iwaniec, D.M. et al., The co-production of sustainable future scenarios.  Landscape and Urban Planning 197: 103744 (2020).

Program contacts

Clifford Weil
Program Director (703) 292-4668 BIO/MCB
Ellen M. Carpenter (703) 292-5104 EDU/DUE
Angel Garcia
Program Director (703) 292-8897 MPS/PHY
Justin Lawrence
Program Director (703) 292-2425 GEO/EAR
Hector Muñoz-Avila
Program Director (703) 292-4481 CISE/IIS
Erik Pierstorff (703) 292-2165 TIP/TI
Aleksandr Simonian
Program Director (703) 292-2191 ENG/CBET
Trisha Van Zandt
Program Director (703) 292-7437 SBE/BCS

Awards made through this program

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