The National Science Foundation is inviting grant applications for projects that will contribute to a national resource of digital data documenting existing biological and paleontological collections and will advance scientific knowledge by improving access to digitized information (including images) residing in vouchered scientific collections across the United States.

Knowledge of the planet’s biodiversity documented in vouchered scientific collections represents an area of exploration and discovery carried out over the entire course of scientific history, yet the extent of life on earth is not known definitively. In addition, a digitization bottleneck effectively limits access to information residing in the various existing vouchered collections across the U.S. and the world. It is estimated that U.S. collections contain one billion specimens, but only 10% of these are accessible online.

The goal of the digitization effort is to enhance and expand the national resource of digital data on these collections, in order to produce a resource of lasting value for answering major research questions. Proposals that address specimen digitization through innovative plans, strong collaborations among large and small institutions, and mechanisms to build on existing digitization projects are strongly encouraged. Proposals that increase efficiency of the digitization effort will have a stronger priority for funding. The national resource is structured at three levels: a central coordinating organization (iDigBio, already awarded), a series of thematic networks based on an important research theme, and the physical collections.

This competition supports two types of awards: Thematic Collections Networks (TCN) and Partners to Existing Networks (PEN). TCN awards are collaborations among several institutions that are based on a research theme. This theme may be a grand challenge for biodiversity, a part of a grand challenge, or another important research theme requiring information from existing collections. TCNs will share infrastructure among the collections involved in the project, identify deliverable goals (one of which should be how the data will add significantly to future research within the overall theme of the project) and metrics for assessment, identify specific needs for community support, and reach out to other collections for inclusion in the digitization effort, and will coordinate with the central hub at the University of Florida (iDigBio). PEN projects will partner with and further the efforts of ongoing NSF-funded TCNs (see list of funded TCNS at; proposals must indicate how the partner collection will add information to the ongoing project, fill in gaps in digitized data, and increase value to the efforts for the research theme and broader impacts.

$10 million is available for 4 to 12 awards, distributed among TCNs (unspecified budget for four years) and PENs (up to $175,000 over three years).

An applicant organization may submit no more than one TCN application as lead organization, but may be involved in more than one collaborative effort as a non-lead proposal. An individual may be included in only one proposal as the Principal Investigator or co-PI in a given competition.

Interested applicants are asked to submit a preliminary application to my office by August 29, 2016 via the UCI review application portal. The application should include:

  • Brief proposal (up to three pages),
  • Preliminary budget,
  • Bio sketches (no more than two pages each) of the primary researchers,

If necessary, an ad hoc committee will convene to review the preliminary proposals. The selected PI will be notified in time to meet NSF’s October 14, 2016, deadline for full proposals.

For the complete NSF guidelines, including detailed information about Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections, please refer to Questions about our internal campus review process may be directed to Greg Ruth at or x4-0372.