Abstract collage of science-related imagery

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

Status: Archived

Archived funding opportunity

This document has been archived.

Important information for proposers

All proposals must be submitted in accordance with the requirements specified in this funding opportunity and in the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) that is in effect for the relevant due date to which the proposal is being submitted. It is the responsibility of the proposer to ensure that the proposal meets these requirements. Submitting a proposal prior to a specified deadline does not negate this requirement.

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). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-018-1028-3

[2] Iwaniec, D.M. et al., The co-production of sustainable future scenarios.  Landscape and Urban Planning 197: 103744 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2020.103744

Updates and announcements

Program contacts

Clifford Weil
Program Director
URoL-ASC@nsf.gov (703) 292-4668 BIO/MCB
Ellen M. Carpenter
URoL-ASC@nsf.gov (703) 292-5104 EDU/DUE
Adrienne Cheng
Program Director
acheng@nsf.gov (703) 292-8440
Sorin Draghici
Program Director
sdraghic@nsf.gov (703) 292-2232 CISE/IIS
Angel Garcia
Program Director
URoL-ASC@nsf.gov (703) 292-8897 MPS/PHY
Justin Lawrence
Program Director
URoL-ASC@nsf.gov (703) 292-2425 GEO/EAR
Erik Pierstorff
Program Director
URoL-ASC@nsf.gov (703) 292-2165 TIP/TI
Aleksandr Simonian
Program Director
URoL-ASC@nsf.gov (703) 292-2191 ENG/CBET
Trisha Van Zandt
Program Director
URoL-ASC@nsf.gov (703) 292-7437 SBE/BCS

Awards made through this program

Browse projects funded by this program
Map of recent awards made through this program