NSF revises big data research grant process

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Governments on both sides of the Atlantic are investing in big data research. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being made available to scholars and researchers to explore the potential of big data to, in the words of the U.S. National Science Foundation, “enable breakthrough discoveries and innovation in science, engineering, medicine, commerce, education, and national security -- laying the foundations for US competitiveness for many decades to come.”

Every year the NSF reviews more than 50,000 research grant proposals and funds close to 11,000 annually. Big data researchers, then, are standing in a long line to get their projects funded. But some are getting significant support. For example, in October, researchers at the University of North Carolina, in collaboration with Harvard scholars, were awarded $1.5 million for something called DataBridge, a social network to help scientists locate relevant data and research across a variety of scientific fields. Another recent $1.3 million NSF grant went to researchers at Iowa State University, Stanford, and Virginia Tech “to develop core techniques and software libraries for high-throughput DNA sequencing to address challenges in human genetics and metagenomics—a field that studies DNA samples of diverse cultures found in the environment.”

These are ideal government-funded big data projects that probably would not have elicited much support from private companies. Whether they bear fruit or not, only time will tell.

Thinking of applying? A word to the wise: Government agencies, just like corporations, follow their own business processes. But sometimes, just as in business, those processes change. According to the NSF, its Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures GUIDE (PAPPG) has been revised. So, if you're putting together a project grant proposal and plan to submit it to the NSF on or after 14 January of 2013, you must use the new PAPPG.

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