Email Print Share
NSF 22-119

Dear Colleague Letter: Submission of Proposals to NSF Programs that Address the Interdisciplinary Topics of Theoretical Physics Approaches to Aging, Cancer Biology, and Neurodegenerative Disorders

September 8, 2022

Dear Colleagues:

The fields of aging, cancer biology, and neurodegenerative disorders have been dominated, historically, by researchers with classical training in the basic and clinical life sciences. More recently, these fields have expanded to include physical and engineering scientists, whose background and expertise are complementary to those possessed by life scientists. This expansion leads to the recognition that significant advancements in the fundamental understanding of aging, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases are possible through multidisciplinary research that involves experts in physics, chemistry, applied mathematics, materials science, computer science, and engineering disciplines.

Emerging and burgeoning opportunities for collaborative research using theoretical physics approaches to the life sciences have been identified through several NSF workshops ( over the past years, including the following: Physical Mechanisms in Neurodegenerative Disease, June 2022; Physics of Wear, Tear, Aging and Failure in Living and Nonliving Systems May, 2015; Connecting the Biological and Physical Principles of Mammalian Aging , May 2014; Physics and Cancer II: Theoretical Foundations of Drug and Immune Resistance in Cancer, 2012, Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, Physics and Mathematics of Cancer, 2012, and Physical Principles of Human Cancer Imaging, 2013. In addition, the National Academies conducted the first decadal survey: Physics of Life and has concluded that “Biological physics, or the physics of living systems, has emerged fully as a field of physics, alongside more traditional fields of astrophysics and cosmology, atomic, molecular and optical physics, condensed matter physics, nuclear physics, particle physics, and plasma physics.” The National Academy of Sciences has also published similar studies, including those entitled "Research at the Intersection of the Physical and Life Sciences" (, "A New Biology for the 21st Century" (

In summary, significant advances may be expected as the result of continued investments in inter- and multi-disciplinary research at the intersection of the physical sciences and the life sciences with a focus on advancing the fundamental understanding of the physical principles governing aging, cancer, and neurodegeneration. Knowledge obtained will underpin convergent research that promotes the prevention, detection, and treatment of these conditions. In that respect, theoretical physics, now aided by machine learning and AI, is expected to bring a significantly enhanced conceptual framework to the life sciences.

The Physics Division, through the Physics of Living Systems program, already accepts and reviews investigator-initiated proposals on the interdisciplinary topic of theoretical physics in cancer biology. With this DCL we announce the expansion of the topics of these proposals to include aging and neurodegenerative diseases. Proposals may involve joint efforts between investigators from theoretical physics and researchers from the biomedical community, although the focus of the project must be on the role that physics plays in the effort.

Proposals should be submitted to the Physics of Living Systems program in the Physics Division in response to NSF 21-593. The scope of submitted proposals should be commensurate with that which is typical for proposals entertained by these programs involving a single Principal Investigator (PI) or multiple investigators. Merit review of submitted proposals will follow standard NSF practices and procedures.

The primary contact for this activity within the Physics Division is:

Dr. Krastan B. Blagoev
Physics of Living Systems Program
Physics Division
National Science Foundation
(703) 292-4666

Dr. Angel E. Garcia
Physics of Living Systems Program
Physics Division
National Science Foundation
(703) 292-8897


Sean L. Jones
Assistant Director
Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Science