Posts about NSF

The PI lacks the experience with the proposed methodology…

A nice post from ScienceWoman: The PI lacks the experience with the proposed methodology…

Well, no kidding. I’m 3000 miles from my old stomping grounds. I’m trying to start an independent research program in a place where the geology/climate are not at all the same. I’m applying for $ for that are specific to Mystery State. Damn straight I’m going to need to learn a few new techniques. (And we’re not talking rocket science here.) But was there nothing in the proposal to suggest that I didn’t understand the techniques or wasn’t properly applying them. Just a lack of a publication record that explicitly used those techniques or occurred in this part of the country.

I suspect that this is a criticism that I’m going to see a few more times before tenure. And I suspect that it’s a criticism that’s not uniquely being leveled at me.

In this case, this criticism isn’t the reason the proposal wasn’t funded. But it’s the one reviewer critique that I can’t surmount on the resubmission. It’s like that itch I can’t scratch. So I guess the resubmitted proposal is just going to have to be so kick-ass in all other respects that there’s no way they can deny me these funds. Better get to work.

Related: Funding for Science and Engineering ResearchersHMMI Nurtures Nation’s Best Early Career Scientists$1 Million Each for 20 Science Educatorsposts on funding in scienceAdvice on Successfully Applying for Science and Engineering Scholarships and Fellowships

World’s Smallest Snake Found in Barbados

photo of Leptotyphlops carlae

The world’s smallest species of snake, Leptotyphlops carlae, with adults averaging just under 4 inches in length, has been identified on the Caribbean island of Barbados. The species — which is as thin as a spaghetti noodle and small enough to rest comfortably on a U.S. quarter — was discovered by Blair Hedges, an evolutionary biologist at Penn State.

Hedges determined that the Barbados species is new to science on the basis of its genetic differences from other snake species and its unique color pattern and scales. He also determined that some old museum specimens that had been misidentified by other scientists actually belong to this new species.

Scientists use adults to compare sizes among animals because the sizes of adults do not vary as much as the sizes of juveniles and because juveniles can be harder to find. In addition, scientists seek to measure both males and females of a species to determine its average size. Using these methods, Hedges determined that this species, is the smallest of the more than 3,100 known snake species.

According to Hedges, the smallest and largest species of animals tend to be found on islands, where species can evolve over time to fill ecological niches in habitats that are unoccupied by other organisms. Those vacant niches exist because some types of organisms, by chance, never make it to the islands. For example, if a species of centipede is missing from an island, a snake might evolve into a very small species to “fill” the missing centipede’s ecological niche.

In contrast to larger species — some of which can lay up to 100 eggs in a single clutch — the smallest snakes, and the smallest of other types of animals, usually lay only one egg or give birth to one offspring. Furthermore, the smallest animals have young that are proportionately enormous relative to the adults. For example, the hatchlings of the smallest snakes are one-half the length of an adult, whereas the hatchlings of the largest snakes are only one-tenth the length of an adult. The Barbados snake is no exception to this pattern. It produces a single slender egg that occupies a significant portion of the mother’s body.

Related: Smart Squirrels Sneaky Snake Strategyposts on evolutionposts on reptilesEvolution in Darwin’s Finchescat spies snake
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Microbes Beneath the Sea Floor

This stuff is cool. Here is the full press release from Penn State, Microbes beneath sea floor genetically distinct

Tiny microbes beneath the sea floor, distinct from life on the Earth’s surface, may account for one-tenth of the Earth’s living biomass, according to an interdisciplinary team of researchers, but many of these minute creatures are living on a geologic timescale.

“Our first study, back in 2006, made some estimates that the cells could double every 100 to 2,000 years,” says Jennifer F. Biddle, PhD. recipient in biochemistry and former postdoctoral fellow in geosciences, Penn State. Biddle is now a postdoctoral associate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

The researchers looked at sediment samples from a variety of depths taken off the coast of Peru at Ocean Drilling Site 1229. They report their findings in today’s (July 22) online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The Peruvian Margin is one of the most active surface waters in the world and lots of organic matter is continuously being deposited there,” says Christopher H. House, associate professor of geoscience. “We are interested in how the microbial world differs in the subsea floor from that in the surface waters.”

The researchers used a metagenomic approach to determine the types of microbes residing in the sediment 3 feet, 53 feet, 105 feet and 164 feet beneath the ocean floor. The use of the metagenomics, where bulk samples of sediment are sequences without separation, allows recognition of unknown organism and determination of the composition of the ecosystem.

“The results show that this subsurface environment is the most unique environment yet studied metagenomic approach known today,” says House. “The world does look very different below the sediment surface.” He notes that a small number of buried genetic fragments exist from the water above, but that a large portion of the microbes found are distinct and adapted to their dark and quiet world.

The researchers, who included Biddle; House; Stephan C. Schuster, associate professor; and Jean E. Brenchley, professor, biochemistry and molecular biology, Penn State; and Sorel Fitz-Gibbon, assistant research molecular biologist at the Center for Astrobiology, UCLA, found that a large percentage of the microbes were Archaea, single-celled organisms that look like Bacteria but are different on the metabolic and genetic levels. The percentage of Archaea increases with depth so that at 164 feet below the sea floor, perhaps 90 percent of the microbes are Archaea. The total number of organisms decreases with depth, but there are lots of cells, perhaps as many as 1,600 million cells in each cubic inch.
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Engaging the YouTube Generation in Hands-on Science

Engaging the YouTube Generation in Hands-on Science

Cherlyn Anderson is one of eight Einstein Fellows spending this academic year at NSF. In her other life, Anderson is an eighth-grade science teacher in South Carolina. She has used an experiment involving Mentos candy and Diet Coke as a teaching tool. The accompanying video offers a demonstration of the experiment, and discusses its benefits for eighth-grade science students.

Follow the link for a webcast. Somewhat ironically the NSF headline mentions YouTube but fails to take advantage of one of the things that has made YouTube (and others sharing videos: TED…) so successful. The ability to embed the videos on web sites, blog posts… The technical quality of the video is very nice (more pixels than YouTube videos).

Related: Einstein Fellowship for TeachersExcellence in K-12 Mathematics and Science TeachingNSF Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 EducationMinistry of Silly Walksmore posts tagged: kids

NSF Graduate Research Fellows 2008

photo of Sarah Lukes

The National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program aims to ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States and to reinforce its diversity. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in the relevant science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees.

This year NSF awarded 913 fellowships: which come with a stipend of $30,000 and $10,500 cost of education allowance. On the ASEE Science and Engineering Fellowship blog, that I manage in my full time job with the American Society for Engineering Education (the Curious Cat Science and Engineering blog is my own and not related to ASEE), we highlight awardees including: Sarah Lukes mechanical engineering graduate working on her PhD at Montana State University; Ben Safdi, engineering physics and applied mathematics dual major at Colorado University РBoulder; Henry Deyoung, computer science major at Carnegie Mellon University, Jennifer Robinson, computer science major at North Carolina State; Lydia Th̩, biology major at Swarthmore; and Julia Kamenetzky, physics major at Cornell College.

Fellows from previous years include: Sergey Brin, H. David Politzer and Eric Maskin.

Related: Proposal to Triple NSF GFRP Awards and the Size of the Awards by 33%Increasing American Fellowship Support for Scientists and EngineersScience and Engineering Scholarships and Fellowships Directory

Secret Life of Microbes

New Window Opens on the Secret Life of Microbes: Scientists Develop First Microbial Profiles of Ecosystems

Nowhere is the principle of “strength in numbers” more apparent than in the collective power of microbes: despite their simplicity, these one-cell organisms–which number about 5 million trillion trillion strong (no, that is not a typo) on Earth–affect virtually every ecological process, from the decay of organic material to the production of oxygen.

But even though microbes essentially rule the Earth, scientists have never before been able to conduct comprehensive studies of microbes and their interactions with one another in their natural habitats.

Because microbes are an ecosystem’s first-responders, by monitoring changes in an ecosystem’s microbial capabilities, scientists can detect ecological responses to stresses earlier than would otherwise be possible–even before such responses might be visibly apparent in plants or animals, Rohwer said.

Evidence that viruses–which are known to be ten times more abundant than even microbes–serve as gene banks for ecosystems. This evidence includes observations that viruses in the nine ecosystems carried large loads of DNA without using such DNA themselves. Rohwer believes that the viruses probably transfer such excess DNA to bacteria during infections, and thereby pass on “new genetic tricks” to their microbial hosts. The study also indicates that by transporting the DNA to new locations, viruses may serve as important agents in the evolution of microbes.

Related: Archaea, Bacteria, Fungi, Protista and VirusesMicrobe FoodBacterium Living with High Level Radiation

NSF CAREER Award Winners

Engineer Roy Choudhury wins NSF Early Career Award

Assistant Professor Romit Roy Choudhury has received a 5-year, $437,000 National Science Foundation Early CAREER award. The distinction recognizes and supports the early career development activities of those teacher-scholars who are most likely to become academic leaders

“A smart antenna is like a spotlight,” Roy Choudhury explains. “It forms a focused beam that can be used to precisely transmit and receive information. This opens up a new realm of possibilities, including concurrent communications, higher transmission range, better information hiding, etc. In contrast,” he said, “old school ‘dumb’ antennas are analogous to lightbulbs. You turn them on and they spread light everywhere, or in this case, interfere with all the other communications around them.”

“Security and privacy are additional advantages of antenna-aware protocols”, said Roy Choudhury. “By focusing your beams intelligently, you may prevent eavesdroppers form listening to your conversation, and even jam them selectively. Such capabilities have obvious implications for national security.”

Through his NSF CAREER project, named Spotlight, Roy Choudhury plans to develop the theoretical basis for antenna-aware networking, design distributed protocols, and implement them on an experimental testbed.

You can get the press releases on CAREER on for 1996-2000? Do they know it is 2008?

Here are some more awardees from this year: Worcester Polytechnic Institute Professor Wenjing LouClarkson University Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Narayanan NeithalathEngineering’s Ghosh Wins NSF Award for Novel Transistor Research at the NanoscaleShengquan Wang is an assistant professor of computer and information science at the University of Michigan-DearbornDr. Glen Jackson, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Bio Chemistry at Ohio UniversityDr. C. Heath Turner, Reichhold-Shumaker assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at The University of Alabama

Related: Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2006)2005 MacArthur FellowsPresidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (2007)

Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers

The Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, established in 1996, honors the most promising researchers in the Nation within their fields. Nine federal departments and agencies annually nominate scientists and engineers who are at the start of their independent careers and whose work shows exceptional promise for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge. Participating agencies award these talented scientists and engineers with up to five years of funding to further their research in support of critical government missions.

Awards were announced today – links to some of the awardees:

  • Jelena Vuckovic, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University
  • Matthew Rodell, Physical Scientist, NASA
  • Katerina Akassoglou, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology, University of California, San Diego
  • Carlos Rinaldi, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez
  • Ahna Skop, Assistant Professor of Genetics, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Krystyn J. Van Vliet, Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, MIT
  • Odest Chadwicke Jenkins, Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science, Brown University

Related: 2006 MacArthur FellowsYoung Innovators Under 35Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2006)NSF Release on 2007 awardees that are also NSF CAREER awardees

NSF Graduate Research Fellow Profiles

Over at my regular job I was finally able to get us to put into place something that I have wanted to for several years: profiles of past NSF Graduate Research Fellows [link broken, so link removed]. We started with probably the most famous and certainly the richest: Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin.

“Obviously everyone wants to be successful, but I want to be looked back on as being very innovative, very trusted and ethical and ultimately making a big difference in the world.”

Sergey Brin, Co-Founder of Google, graduated from University of Maryland with high honors in mathematics and computer science in 1993 and, as a NSF Graduate Research Fellow, went on to Stanford to further study Computer Science. Early in his graduate studies, he showed interest in the Internet, specifically data-mining and pattern extraction…

In his short executive biography, Brin [link broken, so link removed] lists the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship that supported him while at Stanford among his top achievements. Like NSF, Brin understands the importance of research in innovation, and sponsors it in part through Google’s “20% time” program – all engineers at Google are encouraged to spend 20% of their work time on projects that interest them.

Read the full NSF Fellow profile of Sergey Brin [link broken, so link removed].

Related: Directory and Advice on Science and Engineering Scholarships and FellowshipsHow to Win a Graduate Fellowship

$75.3 Million for 5 New Engineering Research Centers

Claire Gmachl

Photo: Claire Gmachl, associate professor of electrical engineering at Princeton, the MIRTHE center director.

NSF Awards $75.3 Million for Five New Engineering Research Centers including the Mid-Infrared Technologies for Health and the Environment (MIRTHE):

The goal of the research is to produce devices that are so low in cost and easy to use that they transform aspects of the way doctors care for patients, local agencies monitor air quality, governments guard against attack and scientists understand the evolution of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

will combine the work of about 40 faculty members, 30 graduate students and 30 undergraduates from the six universities. The center also is collaborating with dozens of industrial partners to turn the technology into commercial products, and is working with several educational outreach partners, which will use MIRTHE’s research as a vehicle for improving science and engineering education.

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRF) is now accepting applications (through early November). The NSF GRF is the largest and most prestigious graduate fellowship program for the sciences in the USA. Approximately 1,000 fellowships, which cover tuition and pay a $30,500 stipend for 3 years, will be awarded again this year. Previous winners include Sergey Brin, Google co-founder (he list winning in his 3 paragraph bio on Google’s site).

The main site for the NSF GRFP includes the solicitation with details on applying and eligibility etc.. I can’t figure out how you find the application from the main site but here is the link to apply for the fellowship.

Advice is available online for applying for the fellowship: How to Win a Graduate Fellowship, Advice for Applicants to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and the University of Missouri provides a guide for completing an NSF FRF application.
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