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Call for Exploratory Research Proposals, FY2023



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Updated January 2023: Meet the awardees of the EMSL Call for FY2023 Exploratory Research


FY23 EMSL Exploratory Call Awardees


EMSL’s Call for FY2023 Exploratory Research Proposals is seeking leading-edge research activities that employ certain highlighted capabilities, detailed below, to advance scientific understanding in EMSL’s science areas. A letter of intent is required prior to submitting a proposal, and full proposals may only be submitted by invitation. Successful proposals will include well-described research plans that can be completed within the ten-month project period. A template is available for full proposals and is not required for letters of intent. EMSL is piloting a dual anonymous peer review process for the FY2023 call. Letters of intent will not be anonymized.

Focus topic areas

Proposals should be clearly aligned with one or more of the three EMSL science areas. Proposals must also employ one or more of the highlighted capabilities listed below as an integral enabling capability. As guide, approximately 30% or more of the research effort should focus on the highlighted capabilities, in terms of requested hours or samples analyzed.  

Highlighted Capabilities  

  • EMSL’s new single-cell transcriptomic workflows elucidate intercellular signaling, communication and ensuing heterogeneity that underpin the behavior of complex multicellular/multispecies assemblages including microbial communities and host-microbe systems. (Contact: Alex Beliaev).   

  • Chemical biology – EMSL is developing capabilities in chemical biology to probe enzyme function and characterize biochemical pathways. For example, EMSL recently developed a probe library to broadly profile amidase activity, which targets both canonical (peptide-like) and non-canonical amide hydrolase activity. EMSL is seeking users to utilize this library or work with us to develop probes for other activities. (Contact: Sankar Krishnamoorthy, Kris Brandvold)  

  • Synthetic soil habitats – EMSL has developed a suite of synthetic soil habitats to measure the impact of target soil parameters on ecological interactions. This suite includes pore scale micromodels, mineral-amended microfluidic habitats, RhizoChip, Bioprinted Synthetic Soil Aggregates, and EcoFAB platforms. These synthetic habitats are ideal for multiomics characterization and multimodal imaging of the spatial organization of soil communities (plant, bacteria, and fungi) and mapping molecular exchanges between organisms. (Contact: Arunima Bhattacharjee, Jayde Aufrecht, Kirsten Hofmockel

  • EMSL has integrated new capabilities for studying root-system architecture. These are: optical coherence tomography (OCT), a gel root imaging system, and x-ray computed tomography. These approaches are ideal for non-destructive studies of root development in plants. A new 3D root cartographic platform can be used to index and prepare samples for these 3D imaging methods. (Contact: Amir Akhami, Tamas Varga)    

  • Three-dimensional BGC characterization of soils: EMSL has developed a workflow for high-resolution characterization of intact/undisturbed soil aggregates or cores for morphology (texture, porosity), chemistry (mineralogy, organic matter, organo-mineral associations), and hydrology (pore network connectivity, flow properties) in three dimensions (3D) using multimodal probes.  (Contact: Emily Graham, Odeta Qafoku

  • We encourage proposals that focus on developing artificial intelligence/machine learning aided methods to mine information from 2D chemical maps, process multimodal data, help co-register spatial data from different instruments, or to expand 2D chemical info to 3D space. (Contact: Jay Bardhan, Tamas Varga

Review criteria

User proposals are peer reviewed against the four criteria listed below. For each criterion, the reviewer rates the proposal as Outstanding, Excellent, Good, Fundamentally Sound, or Questionable Impact as well as provides detailed comments on the quality of the proposal to support each rating, noting specifically the proposal's strengths and weaknesses. The reviewer also provides overall comments and recommendations to support the ratings given. These scores and comments serve as the starting point for Proposal Review Panel (PRP) discussions. The PRP is responsible for the final score and recommendation to EMSL management.

Criterion 1: Scientific merit and quality of the proposed research (50%)

Potential Considerations: How important is the proposed activity to advancing knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields? To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative and original concepts? How well conceived and organized is the proposed activity? If successful, would the proposed research deliver high-impact products (for example, be publishable in high-impact journals)?

Criterion 2: Relevance of the proposed research to EMSL's mission (20%)

EMSL’s mission is to accelerate scientific discovery and pioneer new capabilities to understand biological and environmental processes across temporal and spatial scales. EMSL leads the scientific community toward a predictive understanding of complex biological and environmental systems to enable sustainable solutions to the nation’s energy and environmental challenges.

EMSL supports the mission of the BER program in the DOE to achieve a predictive understanding of complex biological, Earth, and environmental systems for energy and infrastructure security, independence, and prosperity. BER seeks to understand the biological, biogeochemical, and physical processes that span from molecular and genomics-controlled scales to the regional and global scales that govern changes in watershed dynamics, climate, and the Earth system.

Starting with the genetic information encoded in organisms’ genomes, BER research seeks to discover the principles that guide the translation of the genetic code into the functional proteins and the metabolic and regulatory networks underlying the systems biology of plants and microbes as they respond to and modify their environments. This predictive understanding will enable design and reengineering of microbes and plants underpinning energy independence and a broad clean energy portfolio, including improved biofuels and bioproducts, improved carbon storage capabilities, and controlled biological transformation of materials such as nutrients and contaminants in the environment.

BER research further advances the fundamental understanding of the dynamic, physical, and biogeochemical processes required to systematically develop Earth system models that integrate across the atmosphere, land masses, oceans, sea ice, and subsurface. These predictive tools and approaches are needed to inform policies and plans for ensuring the security and resilience of the Nation’s critical infrastructure and natural resources.

Note: Projects with direct relevance in these areas will have the best chance for selection. Other projects of scientific significance are also welcomed, but the applicant should clearly outline how the project will further a DOE mission or other areas with economic or societal impact.

Potential Considerations: What is the relationship of the proposed research to EMSL's mission? Does the research project significantly advance the mission goals? How well does the project plan represent a unique or innovative application or development of EMSL capabilities?

Criterion 3: Impact of the proposed research on one or more EMSL Science Areas (20%)

Potential Considerations: Will the proposed research advance scientific and/or technological understanding of issues pertaining to one or more EMSL Science Areas? To what extent does the proposed research suggest and explore creative and original concepts related to one or more EMSL Science Areas? How strongly does it relate to the Science Area's focused topics as outlined in the most recent Call for Proposals? How well will it advance EMSL along the directions specifically outlined in the focused topics?

Criterion 4: Appropriateness and reasonableness of the request for EMSL resources for the proposed research (10%)

Potential Considerations: Are EMSL capabilities and resources essential to performing this research? Are the proposed methods/approaches optimal for achieving the scientific objectives of the proposal? Are the requested resources reasonable and appropriate for the proposed research? Does the complexity and/or scope of effort justify the duration of the proposed project—including any modifications to EMSL equipment to carry out research? Is the specified work plan practical and achievable for the proposed research project? Is the amount of time requested for each piece of equipment clearly justified and appropriate?