Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory

A DOE Office of Science User Facility

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Call for FY2017 Proposals for Science Theme Research

Call for FY2017 Science Theme Research -- CLOSED

EMSL's annual Call for Proposals is open January 5 – February 29, 2016 for high-impact user research proposals focused on selected topics in four Science Themes. Award decisions will be made by July 31, 2016 and approved proposals will be granted access to EMSL resources beginning October 1, 2016.

EMSL's Call for FY2017 Proposals is seeking leading-edge research activities that will advance scientific understanding within each of EMSL’s Science Themes. The topics announced below are developed to focus user activities to accelerate results in emerging science areas of interest to EMSL, the Office of Biological and Environmental Research and the Department of Energy. Accepted proposals are valid for two years provided that a summary and extension request demonstrate sufficient progress toward the stated goals for the first year. A select number of lead investigators may be invited to submit project plans to extend the work for a third year.

Access to use EMSL capabilities is highly competitive and requirements change, so be sure to check the Proposal Guidance in Fiscal Year 2016 and fully understand what should be included in your submission. Proposals will be evaluated on a total of five review criteria, following the Proposal Review process, and those that do not adhere to the proposal guidance will not be considered.


EMSL’s mission is to lead molecular-level discoveries for the Department of Energy and its Office of Biological and Environmental Research that translate to predictive understanding and accelerated solutions for national energy and environmental challenges. Preference is given to proposals within the selected focus topics, especially those that describe molecular-scale research that transforms our understanding of key phenomena; couple experiments on synthetic or natural materials/systems with modeling, simulation or theory; integrate multiple techniques to address a relevant science question or problem; or develop and apply new or enhanced computational capabilities to support each science theme's objectives.

Prospective users are strongly advised to contact the relevant Science Theme Lead or Capability Lead to discuss proposal ideas and possible research collaborations with EMSL staff. Prospective users interested in coupling experimental and computational approaches or developing novel computational modeling and informatics methods that support research within the AAS, BDD, or TSE focused topics should contact the Lead Scientist for Multiscale Modeling & High Performance Computing or the Capability Lead for MSC Scientific Consulting.

Applicants should note that there are newer capabilities that offer prospective users opportunities for obtaining exciting and different experimental data sets to further their scientific objectives. Details about these capabilities are available on the capabilities web page and include a variety of in-situ probes for NMR, advanced electron microscopy in quiet space including a dynamic transmission electron microscope, super resolution fluorescence microscopy for live cells, high-resolution mass spectrometers including a 21 Tesla FTICR, a new radiochemistry facility (RadEMSL)nonlinear optical spectroscopy (sum frequency generation), a 3.4 petaflop supercomputer, NanoSIMS, Atom Probe Tomography, and Imaging XPS.

Focused Topics by Science Theme

Atmospheric Aerosol Systems (AAS)

This science theme focuses on molecular scale understanding of atmospheric aerosols that will improve the representation of aerosols in process, regional, and climate models, thereby increasing the accuracy of climate predictions. This understanding requires the knowledge of biological, chemical and physical processes controlling atmospheric aerosol sources, as well as an exploration of dynamic processes such as aerosol formation, growth, aging, and their resulting composition, structure, optical properties and cloud activation.  AAS research includes all forms of atmospheric aerosol and sources (e.g., mineral dust, sea-salt, sulfate, black carbon, organics), with an emphasis on determining the molecular-scale processes that regulate climate-relevant aerosol properties. Proposals addressing the following focus areas are especially encouraged:

  • Quantitative understanding of the interaction of biogenic emissions with anthropogenic pollution to produce secondary organic aerosol.
  • Fundamental properties and formation of organic aerosols to determine their climate impact, including their ability to form new particles, grow to climate-relevant sizes, absorb light (i.e., brown carbon), and their atmospheric lifetime (e.g., mixing state and volatility).
  • Fundamental understanding and subsequent model representations of the processes by which aerosol particles control ice nucleation and crystal formation on aerosol surfaces, both in mixed-phase and ice clouds.
  • The role of land-surface interactions in determining or altering the physicochemical properties of aerosol particles, particularly those properties that determine the particles’ climate impact.
  • Computational elements linking molecular properties of aerosols to their light absorption properties, formation and growth, and roles in cloud formation.

Biosystem Dynamics and Design (BDD)

This theme focuses on intra and inter-cellular complexes and dynamic processes in microbes (archaea, bacteria and algae), fungi and plants. By gaining a detailed understanding of how biological systems respond to and modify their environment, EMSL users can incorporate this understanding into metabolic flux/bioinformatics/molecular dynamics/other types of numerical models, and improve strategies for modifying and manipulating plants, fungi and microbes to advance systems biology for biofuel and bio-based products.

Proposals that address important questions in the following areas are encouraged, particularly as they pertain to plants, fungi, and microbes relevant to biofuel and bioproducts production and biologically-driven carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur cycling processes:

  • Subcellular localization of metabolism and other relevant processes.
  • Carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur flux in relevant biological systems; proposals that couple experiments with computational modeling are encouraged.
  • Inter- and intracellular signaling influencing system-level processes, molecular characterization of energy metabolism and storage pathways, including transport of metabolites within and between cells.
  • Post-translational processes and modifications that regulate carbon cycling or influence energy storage and biomass accumulation.
  • Modeling and simulation of metabolic pathways to support synthetic biology, coupled with data-driven validation.

Energy Materials and Processes (EMP)

This theme focuses on increasing our understanding of energy materials and processes to enable the development of advanced energy conversion and storage systems. The goal is to develop a sufficient understanding of the dynamic and emergent processes that occur at solvent-mediated interfaces to predict the transformation mechanisms and physical and chemical properties needed for new catalysts for degrading biomass and upgrading of bio-produced fuels and renewable chemicals. Solvent-mediated interfacial processes are also critical to addressing components of other EMSL science themes, such as aerosol formation and aging, subsurface mineral-solute interactions, and metabolite transport in biological systems.   

Phenomena of importance to EMP include charge and mass transport, physical and chemical phase transformations, and catalytic reactions especially those that occur at solid/liquid and solid/gas interfaces. Predictive understanding will be facilitated by linking experimental measurements of interfacial processes and materials properties in response to the process/environmental conditions that impact them with atomic-, molecular-, and meso-scale models that can be used to guide efficient design of new systems for sustainable energy.  

Preference will be given to proposals focused on establishing fundamental or predictive understanding in the following areas:

  • Physical and chemical properties of interfaces relevant to degradation of biomass and upgrading of bioproduced fuels and renewable chemicals, including the molecular-level controls of catalysis and the relationship of molecular to mesoscale processes.
  • Dynamic and emergent processes occurring at solvent-mediated interfaces, especially those that impact biomass degradation or energy conversion.
  • Multiscale modeling methods to extend the applicability of atomic- or molecular-scale simulations to meso-scale systems relevant to biomass degradation, energy conversion or other important solvent-mediated interfacial processes.

Terrestrial and Subsurface Ecosystems (TSE)

This theme focuses on obtaining a holistic understanding of environmental cycling of biogeochemical critical elements (e.g. C, N, S, P, Mn, Fe), as well as contaminants in heterogeneous terrestrial and subsurface environments across multiple scales. Development of a mechanistic understanding of biogeochemical, hydrologic, and microbial processes in soils and subsurface sediments, and incorporating this understanding into molecular dynamics/pore-scale/reactive transport and other types of numerical models/gridded simulations enables improved strategies for sustainable solutions to contaminant management and a more complete understanding of the role of key elements in the earth system.

Proposals focused on establishing fundamental and predictive understanding in the following areas are especially encouraged:

  • Molecular-scale mechanisms of the geochemical, biological and hydrological processes that drive C dynamics in soils and subsurface environments, including plant-fungal-soil interactions in the rhizosphere.
  • Mechanisms of the molecular- to pore-scale processes that control the fate and transport behavior of biogeochemical critical elements, contaminants, and radionuclides in terrestrial and subsurface environments.
  • The role of diffusive and advective hydrologic transport processes in the creation of biogeochemical gradients and chemical heterogeneity at the pore- to core-scale in terrestrial and subsurface ecosystems.
  • Environmental chemistry of radionuclides, including surface complexation, nanoparticles, redox reactions, colloid formation and mineral associations that control the reactivity and chemical fate and transport of contaminants under terrestrial and subsurface conditions.
  • Multiscale computational methods to quantitatively link hydrological and biogeochemical processes across molecular, pore, and porous medium scales.

For general proposal inquiries – Terry Law
(emsl@pnnl.gov, 509-371-6003)

For EMSL's Science Theme program – David Stahl
(David.Stahl@pnnl.gov, 509-371-6733)

For Atmospheric Aerosol Systems – John Shilling
(John.Shilling@pnnl.gov, 509-375-6874)

For Biosystem Dynamics and Design – Scott Baker
(Scott.Baker@pnnl.gov, 509-372-4759)

For Terrestrial and Subsurface Ecosystems – Nancy Hess
(nancy.hess@pnnl.gov, 509-371-6385)

For Energy Materials and Processes – Don Baer
(don.baer@pnnl.gov, 509-371-6245)

For multi-scale modeling and high-performance computing – Tim Scheibe
(tim.scheibe@pnnl.gov, 509-371-7633)