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NSF/USDA Innovations at the Nexus of Food- Energy and Water Systems (All Initiatives)

Date: September 26, 2018

Time: All Day

Contact: Vanity Campbell

Sponsor: Contracts and Grants

Event Details


NSF/USDA Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (All Initiatives)

Funding Opportunity Number: 18-545

Funding Organization's Deadline: Wednesday, September 26, 2018 at 5:00 PM PT

Discipline/Subject Area: multidisciplinary

ANR Priority Area(s): All initiatives

Funding Available($): 2,500,000


Description:  The INFEWS program seeks to support research that conceptualizes FEW systems broadly and inclusively, incorporating social and behavioral processes (such as decision making and governance), physical processes (such as built infrastructure and new technologies for more efficient resource utilization), natural processes (such as biogeochemical and hydrologic cycles), biological processes (such as agroecosystem structure and productivity), and cyber-components (such as sensing, networking, computation and visualization for decision-making and assessment).  Investigations of these complex systems may produce discoveries that cannot emerge from research on food or energy or water systems alone.  It is the synergy among these components in the context of sustainability that will open innovative science and engineering pathways to produce new knowledge, novel technologies, and innovative predictive capabilities.

The overarching goal of the INFEWS program is to catalyze well-integrated, convergent research to transform understanding of the FEW Nexus as integrated social, engineering, physical, and natural systems in order to improve system function and management, address system stress, increase resilience, and ensure sustainability. The NSF INFEWS activity is designed specifically to attain the following goals:

  1. Significantly advance our understanding of the food-energy-water system of systems through quantitative, predictive and computational modeling, including support for relevant cyberinfrastructure;
  2. Develop real-time, cyber-enabled interfaces that improve understanding of the behavior of FEW systems and increase decision support capability;
  3. Enable research that will lead to innovative and integrated social, engineering, physical, and natural systems solutions to critical FEW systems problems;
  4. Grow the scientific workforce capable of studying and managing the FEW system of systems, through education and other professional development opportunities.

INFEWS proposals must integrate and engage the disciplinary science from three or more intellectually distinct disciplines that represent scientific areas typically supported (one each) by the three participating NSF directorates (ENG, GEO, SBE) or two (or more) participating directorates and USDA/NIFA. Proposals that conduct integrated research on two of the three components (F and E and W), while inadequately integrating the third component in a non-research mode (i.e., applying what you already know) will be returned without review.


This solicitation outlines three tracks of research (numbering differs from previous years): Track 1: Social-Physical Modelling of FEW Systems; Track 2: Research to Enable Innovative Solutions; and Track 3: INFEWS Research Coordination Networks (INFEWS-RCN). A proposal may be submitted to ONLY ONE track per competition. Proposals submitted to more than one track or proposals that fail to specify a track in the title will be returned without review.

Track 1: Social-Physical Modelling of FEW Systems Track 1 aims to significantly advance understanding of FEW systems with advanced modeling that investigates the functioning of coupled social, physical, biotic, abiotic, and engineered systems. The goal is to define and understand the couplings/linkages, feedback mechanisms and processes among the FEW systems components and to elucidate the factors that influence resilience, thresholds and criticalities. Track 1 projects should articulate clear hypotheses and/or describe what anticipated theoretical advancements will likely emerge from the systems modeling efforts. These projects should enable innovative perspectives and advances in understanding and modeling complex systems processes. Development of advanced computational methods and effective means for incorporation of large quantities of disparate data, as implemented in new and novel software and tools, is also appropriate.

Track 2: Research to Enable Innovative System Solutions

FEW systems are facing multiple stresses, including, but not limited to, shifting social, economic and governance norms, increasing global populations, rapid land use change, and escalating climate variability. Heterogeneous resource distribution and access, increasing resource scarcity, degraded resource quality, and diminished ecosystem services also challenge long-term FEW systems sustainability. Track 2 projects will develop and examine innovative solutions that address specific FEW system challenges and aim to enhance FEW systems’ resilience and sustainability. Research on innovative institutional, behavioral, and technological solutions – and the coupled-combinations of solutions – is needed. Track 2 research might explore sustainable management solutions, examine the drivers of resource consumption, and study the means of extending resources via methods such as reducing, recycling, recovery, and reuse, among other topics.

Track 3: INFEWS Research Coordination Networks (INFEWS-RCN)

This track supports the establishment of new networks of interdisciplinary researchers from multiple organizations who will collectively and significantly advance INFEWS concepts, knowledge and new directions through active exchange of ideas, development of new directions in fundamental research and education, and other approaches. .

For projects submitted under this solicitation, 3-5 year durations are required for Tracks 1 and 2. Track 3 projects are required to be 4-5 years.


Additional Information

  • INFORMATION SESSION: If you are interested in learning more about this program, you are already planning to apply, or are looking for proposal partners and collaborators, we are inviting you to join us for an Information Session on Friday, May 11th. The session will be hosted by the UC Davis, Office of Research in Room 129 Office of Research, located at 1850 Research Park Drive. We will be joined via remote conferencing by program officers from NSF and USDA/NIFA: Rachel Melnick, National Program Leader, USDA/NIFA; Brandi Schottel, Associate Program Director, NSF

Please register for the information session here:


  • FAQs:
  1. My proposal encompasses agricultural research that is relevant to USDA/NIFA. Can I use USDA/NIFA supported research to satisfy the interdisciplinary requirement?
    Yes; research supported by USDA/NIFA can count as one of the three required disciplines. However, it is important that each of the disciplines included in the proposal are distinctly different. For example, if you are focusing on agricultural engineering research, then you can consider the ENG Directorate as one of the disciplines and then you will need to incorporate research from at least two other participating directorates (GEO, SBE, USDA/NIFA). You would not be able to count agricultural engineering as both an ENG discipline and a NIFA discipline. Additionally, because the BIO Directorate is not a participant in this solicitation, all “biological” disciplinarity must be satisfied by use of an appropriate USDA/NIFA programmatic area (see NIFA list).

  2. Should proposals be focused exclusively on FEW systems or can proposals investigate more comprehensive topics, like Sustainable Development, where FEW systems might represent a sub-focus that is critical to the project’s success?
    For this solicitation, proposals must focus on food and energy and water systems. Sustainability research could qualify if it is multi-disciplinary (i.e. it includes three or more participating scientific disciplines as stated in the solicitation) and is targeted towards the complex role of FEW systems within a broader context.

  3. I would like to study the health dimensions of FEW systems. Is this feasible under the INFEWS program?
    You will need to make sure that the project meets NSF and the extra INFEWS solicitation requirements. For example, the NSF supports research that examines the social, behavioral, and/or physical and engineering dimensions of systems that cause adverse health outcomes. USDA/BIFA supports research addressing food safety. However, clinical research cannot be supported by NSF or USDA/NIFA and thus “health science” cannot be specifically identified as one of the three requisite “disciplines”. INFEWS could support a project that includes a sociologist or an epidemiologist who plans to quantify adverse health outcomes of people within a FEW system(s). Similarly, INFEWS could support a project that incorporates plans to examine the hydrological, ecological, or behavioral processes that spread human pathogens or other contaminants (e.g. chemicals, nanoparticles, microplastics) within FEW systems.

  4. If a project explores social, behavioral, or economic solutions and/or linkages among food and energy and water systems, does it meet the requirements of this solicitation?
    Yes, so long as it includes research from two other participating directorates (or one other participating directorate and USDA/NIFA. INFEWS defines FEW systems very broadly, incorporating physical processes (such as built infrastructure and new technologies for more efficient resource utilization), natural processes (such as biogeochemical and hydrologic cycles), biological processes (such as agroecosystem structure and productivity), and social and behavioral processes (such as decision making and governance). Therefore, proposals that examine social, behavioral, or economic solutions and/or linkages among FEW systems are encouraged – as long as the projects sufficiently integrate across disciplines (one each) from the participating Directorates (ENG, GEO, SBE) or two participating directorates and USDA/NIFA.

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