The National Science Foundation (NSF) Convergence Accelerator program addresses national-scale societal challenges through use-inspired convergence research. Using a convergence approach and innovation processes like human-centered design, user discovery, and team science and integration of multidisciplinary research, the Convergence Accelerator program seeks to transition basic research and discovery into practice—to solve high-impact societal challenges aligned with specific research themes (tracks).
NSF Convergence Accelerator tracks are chosen in concordance with the themes identified during the program’s ideation process that have the potential for significant national impact. The NSF Convergence Accelerator implements a two-phase program. Both phases are described in this solicitation and are covered by this single solicitation and corresponding Broad Agency Announcement. The link to the corresponding Broad Agency Announcement can be found at https://sam.gov/opp/0c859c722d1148a983447287ccd81c61/view. The purpose of this parallel funding opportunity is to provide increased opportunities for proposals that are led by non‑academic entities. Proposals that are led by Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs), non-profits, independent museums, observatories, research labs, professional societies and similar organizations should respond to this solicitation. Proposals led by for‑profit or similar organizations should respond to the BAA. Phase 1 awardees receive resources to further develop their convergence research ideas and to identify important partnerships and resources to accelerate their projects. Phase 2 awardees receive significant resources leading to deliverable research prototypes and sustainability plans.
This solicitation for FY 2023 invites proposals for the following Track Topics:
Track K: Equitable Water Solutions
The objective of the NSF's Convergence Accelerator Track K: Equitable Water Solutions is to build upon foundational knowledge and advancements in environmental sciences, geosciences, engineering, computing, social and behavioral sciences, as well as other areas to develop viable solutions for water quality, quantity, and equity issues.
Track L: Real-World Chemical Sensing Applications
The overarching goal of NSF's Convergence Accelerator Track L: Real-World Chemical Sensing Applications is to develop novel energy-efficient and miniaturized or portable biological and chemical sensors for tangible applications.
Track M: Bio-Inspired Design Innovations
The overarching goal of NSF's Convergence Accelerator Track M: Bio-Inspired Design Innovations is to bring together scientists and practitioners to develop concepts, approaches, and technologies that build and control in the same way nature does – capitalizing on millions of years of evolution – to find novel solutions to major societal and economic challenges.
It must be evident how the proposed work will be integrated to achieve success of the entire track. Each proposal should include a description of how the proposed project will contribute to an integrated environment that will deliver beneficial outputs for the track. It should also be clear how the projects will convergently align with the overarching goal of each track rather than as independent projects.
Proposers are required to submit a Letter of Intent in order to submit a Phase 1 Full Proposal. The information required in the Letter of Intent is described in Section V.
Letters of Intent should identify a team with the appropriate mix of disciplinary and cross-sector expertise required to build a convergence research effort. Letters of Intent must identify one or more deliverables, how those research outputs could impact society at scale, and the team that will be formed to carry this out.
Phase 1 proposals must describe the deliverables, a research plan, and the process of team formation that will help lead to a proof-of-concept during Phase 1.
If selected, Phase 1 awards may receive funding up to $750,000 for 12 months duration, of which nine months includes intense hands-on activities, centering around the Program’s innovation curriculum, and three months of other activities, such as participation in the NSF Convergence Accelerator Pitch Presentations.
During the nine-month intensive planning phase, teams will participate in a curriculum that will assist them in strengthening team convergence and accelerating the identified idea toward Phase 2. The curriculum provides modules on innovation processes, including human-centered design, user discovery, team science, and integration of multidisciplinary partnerships. Teams will also be provided with coaches who will support them in Phase 1 and who may continue with them into Phase 2 if the teams choose to continue with the same coach. Alternatively, the teams can request to work with a different coach.
Only awardees of Phase 1 awards under this solicitation may submit a Phase 2 proposal. Phase 2 proposals must outline a 24-month research and development plan that transitions research into practice through convergence activities, multi-sector partnerships, and collaboration with other partners and end-users.
If selected for Phase 2, teams will be expected to apply program fundamentals and innovation processes gained in Phase 1 to enhance partnerships, develop a solution prototype, and build a sustainability model to continue societal impact beyond NSF support.
Phase 2 awards may be up to $5 million for 24 months. Phase 2 proposals must clearly describe deliverables that will be produced within 24 months. The Phase 2 teams must include partnerships critical for success and end-users (e.g., industry, Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs), non-profits, government, and others), each with a specific role(s) in deliverable development and facilitating the transition of research outputs into practical uses. Successful Phase 2 proposals will be funded initially for 12 months, with a second year being provided on the basis of an assessment of performance (see below).
Each Phase 2 team’s progress will be assessed during the year through approximately four virtual and/or in-person meetings with NSF program staff. At the end of 12 months, overall progress will be evaluated based on a report and presentation that the team presents to a panel of internal and/or external reviewers. The review panel will include NSF reviewers and staff, and competing teams only. Phase 2 teams that show significant progress during the first year in accordance with the agreed timetable of milestones and deliverables will receive funding for a second year. Phase 2 teams must plan on completing the effort within 24 months. No-cost extensions are not permitted except under clearly documented exceptional circumstances. Grantees must first contact the cognizant Program Officer prior to submitting a request.
The NSF Convergence Accelerator program is committed to research that derives expertise from and provides broad benefits to everyone. The program places a very strong emphasis on broadening participation by encouraging proposals from, and partnerships with, minority-serving institutions (see U.S. Department of Education).
Aurali E. Dade
Pradeep P. Fulay