New ‘Understanding the Rules of Life’ solicitation explores emergent networks, invites proposals

An illustration of the infinity symbol comprised of many scenes showing all sorts of living things like plants and animals.

Social, behavioral and economic scientists are invited to submit cross-disciplinary proposals.


February 9, 2021

Intertwined networks connect living things in profoundly complex and oftentimes unexpected ways. From individual cells and organisms to entire ecosystems and industries, the emergence of such networks is the focus of a new solicitation calling for research proposals from a broad range of scientific disciplines, including the social, behavioral and economic sciences.

Proposals to the Understanding the Rules of Life: Emergent Networks solicitation should be submitted by May 10, 2021.

The effort is part of the “Understanding the Rules of Life: Predicting Phenotype” initiative, one of ten transformative “big ideas” supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

“Exploring the vast networks connecting living things and environments can reveal valuable insights and discoveries,” says Arthur Lupia, head of NSF’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. “For example, the chestnut blight of the early 1900s showed how a fungus deadly to a particular tree species can trigger complex ripple effects in aspects of daily life critical for many thousands of people, like their food supply and employment opportunities. By better understanding emerging networks — including those involving human behavior and society — we can strengthen our nation’s resilience and create greater opportunities for innovation and prosperity.”

Understanding the Rules of Life: Emergent Networks is a collaborative initiative involving all NSF research directorates and offices. The new solicitation is an opportunity for researchers in the social, behavioral and economic sciences to partner with colleagues in biology, engineering and other disciplines to develop a predictive understanding of how key properties of living systems emerge from the interactions of genomes, phenotypes and other factors, and how emerging networks of natural, social and human-engineered systems influence their environment.

The solicitation seeks proposals that embody crosscutting, convergent research addressing significant scientific questions by integrating perspectives and approaches from multiple disciplines.

For full details and guidance on award types, amounts and other questions, see Understanding the Rules of Life: Emergent Networks (URoL:EN).

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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