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

Funding Agency:
National Science Foundation

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, 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.


Full Proposal Deadline Date: Feb. 15, 2023

Agency Website

Eligibility Requirements

Proposals may only be submitted by the following:

  • Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) - Two- and four-year IHEs (including community colleges) accredited in, and having a campus located in the US, acting on behalf of their faculty members. Special Instructions for International Branch Campuses of US IHEs: If the proposal includes funding to be provided to an international branch campus of a US institution of higher education (including through use of subawards and consultant arrangements), the proposer must explain the benefit(s) to the project of performance at the international branch campus, and justify why the project activities cannot be performed at the US campus.
  • Non-profit, non-academic organizations: Independent museums, observatories, research labs, professional societies and similar organizations in the U.S. associated with educational or research activities.

A minimum of one PI and one co-PI must be named on a proposal, representing expertise in different disciplines pertinent to at least two of the following directorates: Biological Sciences (BIO), Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), STEM Education (EDU), Engineering (ENG), Geosciences (GEO), Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS), Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE), and Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP) at the National Science Foundation. More than one investigator from within one discipline is permitted, as long as the minimum described above is also met. Expertise may be demonstrated by earned degrees from disciplines, current departmental and center affiliations, or experience, such as papers published in that disciplinary field or research supported by a relevant NSF Directorate(s). Proposals should also explicitly state a minimum of two NSF directorates that map to their proposal in the "Convergent Research Plan" section of the Project Description.

Amount Description

URoL:ASC proposal total budget requests may not exceed $3 million to support a project plan up to five years in duration, although the program anticipates funding projects with a range of budgets and durations.

Funding Type



Women and minorities encouraged


Engineering and Physical Sciences
Environmental & Life Sciences
Social Sciences

External Deadline

February 15, 2023