NSF: Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC)-Thematic Collections Networks (TCN)

This program seeks to enhance and expand the national resource of digital data documenting existing vouchered biological and paleontological collections and to advance scientific knowledge by improving access to digitized information (including images) residing in vouchered scientific collections across the United States. The information associated with various collections of organisms, such as geographic, paleogeographic and stratigraphic distribution, environmental habitat data, phenology, information about associated organisms, collector field notes, and tissues and molecular data extracted from the specimens, is a rich resource providing the baseline from which to further biodiversity research and provide critical information about existing gaps in our knowledge of life on earth. The national resource is structured at three levels: a central coordinating organization, a series of thematic networks based on an important research theme, and the physical collections. The national resource builds upon a sizable existing national investment in curation of the physical objects in scientific collections and contributes vitally to scientific research and technology interests in the United States. It will become an invaluable tool in understanding contemporary biological issues and challenges.

This solicitation focuses on proposals for Thematic Collections Networks (TCN) Improvements to individual collections are supported through CSBR. If an institution has an award from CSBR that includes specimens that are digitized or are being digitized and these are important for the research theme of the TCN being proposed, then that institution may be included as part of the TCN activities and their digitized data should be incorporated into the network. The PI on the CSBR project should be included as a participant in the TCN activities.

Thematic Collections Network (TCN) proposals will be submissions for two-to-four year awards to digitize existing specimens based on a particular research theme. This research theme may be a grand challenge for biodiversity, a part of a grand challenge, or another important research theme requiring information from existing collections. Specimens to be digitized should be of critical importance to the research theme and the criteria for the specimen assessment should be indicated in the proposal. The collaborating institutions will conduct the actual digitization of the specimens (including imaging and mobilization of the data). The length of award and size of award will depend upon the number and size of the collections to be digitized. This solicitation encourages projects of various sizes and duration, although the expectation is that all projects will be collaborative efforts among several institutions. Integration across different types of collections is expected for broad research themes, and proposals should include a description of the metadata to be used to integrate these disparate collections. Integration of disparate collections is needed to provide research support to increasingly collaborative research projects and projects which approach this problem using new methods are encouraged. 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. TCNs may request a maximum duration of 4 years; the budget should support the scope of work proposed. Travel for PIs should include attendance at the first PI summit held by iDigBio after the award is made. Organizational and annual meetings of the TCN personnel can be virtual through iDigBio or in person if necessary. Often adding one day of expenses to an annual meeting already attended by the collaborators in the network is an efficient and cost effective means to hold in-person meetings.

Recipients will perform fundamental collections digitization and other activities within the TCN. They are also expected to be engaged in collaboration with the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections: Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio) at the University of Florida in training activities, outreach, and the development of appropriate technology and standards to produce an interoperable network.

TCNs will partner with iDigBio, participate in iDigBio activities and conform to the standards and practices set through the coordinating groups of iDigBio. Education and Outreach activities should also be coordinated with iDigBio. All data from the TCNs will be made available through iDigBio in a timely manner and projects will report to iDigBio on a regular cycle. TCNs will be required to participate in the development and/or adoption of strategies, standards, and interoperability infrastructure in cooperation with iDigBio and the advisory bodies of the overall national program. TCNs will be required to interact with iDigBio to promote a community of collections, not only through integration of collections data but also through social networking tools, coordination workshops, or synthesis meetings held by iDigBio when appropriate.

Priority is given to proposals that approach the digitization problem in innovative ways, through integration of collections, application of techniques that are innovative, cost effective, and drive down the financial and personnel costs of digitization of specimens and/or speed up the process of digitization.

Number of Applications
Only one Thematic Collections Networks (TCN) proposal may be submitted by any one organization as the lead organization. Organizations may be involved in more than one collaborative effort as a non-lead proposal. An individual may appear as PI or co-PI on
Amount of Funding

Anticipated award amount around $1,000,000 in total costs


Applicants are encouraged to consult with their Associate Deans for Research prior to internal submission to assure they meet eligibility criteria and their projects meet stated program objectives.

Only one Thematic Collections Networks (TCN) proposal may be submitted by any one organization as the lead organization. Organizations may be involved in more than one collaborative effort as a non-lead proposal.

An individual may appear as PI or co-PI on no more than one ADBC proposal submitted to any annual ADBC competition.

This same NSF solicitation also allows for Partners to Existing Networks (PEN) applications, which are not limited by institution. PEN applications and TCN applications both include a limit on the number of proposals per PI or Co-PI: An individual may appear as PI or co-PI on no more than one ADBC proposal submitted to any annual ADBC competition. This means that you my only be named PI or Co-PI on either one TCN or PEN application for the same deadline.

Submission Process

Step 1

Internal Letters of Intent (LOI's) must be one PDF document.

The single PDF document should be one page containing:

  • PI Name,
  • PI Department/Division and School/College,
  • Project title, and
  • Brief summary of the project.

The single PDF document should also include:

  • PI's NSF or NIH style biosketch.

This LOI should be submitted no later than 5:00pm EST on May 15, 2017.

Materials should be submitted as a single PDF attachment to an email sent to Stephanie Endy at stephanie.endy@case.edu.

Step 2

Final nominee will be notified of their selection by May 26, 2017.

Step 3

Final proposal due in the appropriate Research Administration office by 5:00pm EST on October 6, 2017.

Step 4

Final proposal due to Sponsor no later than 5:00pm EST on October 13, 2017.


Abstract or LOI to ORA Chosen Proposal Announced ORA Final Proposal Due Date Sponsor Submission Deadline Days Until Due
05/15/2017 05/26/2017 10/06/2017 10/13/2017 CLOSED