Physics Frontier Centers (PFC)

Predrag's edits Nov 27 2001

NSF 01-112


    1. Proposal Preparation Instructions
    2. Budgetary Information
    3. Deadline/Target Dates
    4. FastLane Requirements
    1. NSF Proposal Review Process
    2. Review Protocol and Associated Customer Service Standard
    1. Notification of the Award
    2. Award Conditions
    3. Reporting Requirements


Program Title: Physics Frontier Centers (PFC)

Synopsis of Program:
The Physics Frontiers Centers (PFCs) program supports university-based centers and large groups in cases where this mode of research is required to make transformational advances in the most promising research areas. Proposals will be considered in areas within the purview of the Division of Physics, broadly interpreted, e.g., atomic, molecular, optical, plasma, elementary particle, nuclear, astro-, gravitational, interdisciplinary, and emerging areas of physics. Interdisciplinary physics is taken here to mean research at the interface between physics and other disciplines, e.g., biophysics, quantum information science, mathematical physics. The purpose of the PFC program is to enable major advances at the intellectual frontiers of physics by providing needed resources not usually available to individual investigators or small groups. PFCs make it possible to address major challenges that require, e.g., combinations of talents, skills, and/or disciplines; specialized infrastructure; large collaborations; and centers/institutes that catalyze rapid advances on the most promising research topics. The successful PFC will demonstrate: (1) the potential for a profound advance in physics; (2) creative, substantive activities aimed at enhancing education, diversity, and public outreach; (3) potential for broader impacts, e.g., impacts on other field(s) and benefits to society; (4) a synergy or value-added rationale that justifies a center-like approach.

Cognizant Program Officer(s):

For questions related to the use of FastLane, contact: Applicable Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) Number(s):



A. Proposal Preparation Instructions B. Budgetary Information C. Deadline/Target Dates D. FastLane Requirements


Physics addresses an inspiring range of phenomena, from quarks to the cosmos, from the Big Bang to the end of the universe, and all length and time scales in between. The results of physics research touch everyone's life every day and promise solutions to some of our most daunting challenges. In a very real sense, advancing the intellectual frontiers in science, generally, and physics, in particular, is vital to the nation's health, prosperity, and defense.

Major advances in physics are produced by efforts of all sizes, from the individual investigator to the large collaborations with hundreds of members. Over time, the small research group has been the most important producer of ideas and innovations, and the large collaborations of today are needed to address certain problems involving large-scale tools, e.g., particle accelerators, large-scale detectors at colliders, gravity-wave detectors, and satellite-based observatories. Within this context, an increasingly important mode of discovery-class research involves intermediate-sized collaborations that involve a mix of disciplines and/or talents, infrastructure for shared use, and center activities. It is this mode of research that the Physics Frontiers Centers program is designed to address.

The PFC program will enable university-based investigators to address research areas that require more resources than are normally available to individual investigators or small groups. PFCs make it possible to address major challenges that require, e.g., combinations of talents, skills, and/or disciplines; specialized infrastructure; large collaborations; and centers/institutes that catalyze rapid advances on the most promising research topics. The PFC program therefore complements but does not substitute for NSF support for individual investigators, small groups, national user facilities, and instrumentation.

Physics Frontiers Centers will address the most exciting questions at the very edge of current understanding. Such activities frequently take new research directions and always involve considerable technical risk. Organization of such activities will vary widely, depending on the particular needs of the research. It follows that maximum flexibility in the design of PFCs is essential. The PFC program will therefore be defined by rather general boundaries, leaving the specific organization to the creativity of the principal investigators. The PFCs will be judged by the two standard NSF criteria of intellectual merit and broader impact, plus the synergy and value added that justifies center-level support.

PFCs are expected to provide an exceptionally stimulating environment for education. Students will benefit from interactions with a large, often interdisciplinary, group of scientists at all career levels. PFCs should strongly attract the most talented and motivated graduate and undergraduate students and postdocs and provide them with broad educational experiences. They should also reach out to involve younger students and the public in ways that increase science interest and literacy.

The purpose of the PFC program is to support timely, aggressive, and forward-looking research that has the potential to lead to a major advance in physics and, thereby, to advances in other fields and to benefits for society. Proposals will be considered in areas within the purview of the Division of Physics, broadly interpreted, e.g., atomic, molecular, optical, plasma, elementary particle, nuclear, astro-, gravitational, interdisciplinary, and emerging areas of physics. Interdisciplinary physics is taken here to mean research at the interface between physics and other disciplines, e.g., biophysics, quantum information science, mathematical physics. Research in condensed-matter physics and materials science is supported primarily by the Division of Materials Research. Proposals using experimental, theoretical, or computational methods, or any combination will be considered. PFCs will address problem(s) at the frontiers of physics and may involve more than one subdiscipline of physics as well as other disciplines of science and engineering.


PFCs are supported to enable research at the frontiers of physics of a scope and complexity that would not be feasible with standard individual investigator or small group support. The primary purpose of the PFCs is to provide the means necessary for university researchers to form centers or large group efforts that lead to major new ideas, discoveries, or broad advances in physics or at the boundaries of physics with other disciplines. Proposals for PFCs may address any area normally within the purview of the Division of Physics, including interdisciplinary and emerging areas of research.

Since PFCs represent research at the intellectual frontiers, new types of centers may be needed to address the most promising problems. Therefore, preconceived specifications are kept to a minimum. In all cases, however, a center must demonstrate that the whole is substantially greater than the sum of the parts; and there must be a management and governance plan to indicate how the PFC will operate. Such a plan must contain information on how decisions are made, the existence and makeup of any advisory board to be used, principal investigators responsible for different parts of the PFC's activities, including education, diversity, outreach activities, etc.

The main characteristics of a PFC are tailored by the principal investigators to most effectively address the chosen physics goals. Therefore, every PFC will be different, and the concept of "center" in this context is meant to be broad. Nevertheless, it is useful to point out some characteristics of successful centers in physics and other fields. In no particular order, these are: (1) combining talent, skills, or facilities required for a major advance in physics; (2) combining groups, departments, institutions, etc. required to make a major advance; (3) providing critical mass or specialized infrastructure needed for an advance by the center, and often the broader field; (4) providing the context and/or organization to bring together leaders and students to initiate work in a promising new area, a new interdisciplinary field, an important application, or a new facility of strategic importance to physics; (5) making available specialized infrastructure to others; and (6) creation of innovative projects to promote education, diversity, and public outreach using the center as a focal point.

The combination of PFC support with other support will be handled in the following way: If the existing individual support is for work not related to the PFC, it must be listed in the proposal to indicate the context of the proposed work. If an existing grant is related to the objectives of the proposed PFC, that support could be considered to be a base for the incremental PFC support that would then enable the additional benefits of the PFC. (Here, we are referring to typical individual principal investigator grants and not to large group grants that are already on the PFC scale.) If no related support exists, or if the PIs so choose, the PFC budget can include all support for the activity. Examples of both approaches exist, and the PIs are encouraged to discuss such matters with the cognizant Program Director prior to submitting the pre-proposal.


A single institution must accept overall management responsibility for the PFC.


Estimated program budget, number of awards and average award size/duration are subject to the availability of funds.

Individual PFC awards are expected to range in size between $0.5 million/year and $4 million/year, with an average award size of approximately $2M/year. Awards will be made for five years. The number of awards in FY 2002 is expected to be in the range 3-5, depending upon the availability of funds and the quality of proposals received. In future years, renewal proposals from previously funded PFCs will be evaluated in open competition with new proposals.

Anticipated date of awards: On or about August 1, 2002.


A. Proposal Preparation Instructions

Proposals submitted in response to this program announcement/solicitation should be prepared and submitted in accordance with the general guidelines contained in the NSF Grant Proposal Guide (GPG). The complete text of the GPG is available electronically on the NSF Web Site at: Paper copies of the GPG may be obtained from the NSF Publications Clearinghouse, telephone (301) 947-2722 or by e-mail from

A full proposal may be submitted only by invitation, based on the evaluation of the pre-proposal. All full proposals must be submitted via NSF FastLane. The proposal must be single spaced in 12-point type and must contain the following items in the order indicated. Proposals that exceed the page limitations will be ineligible for consideration and will be returned without review. Items 3 through 15 described below should be entered in the "Project Description" FastLane form, with the exception of Item 5, which should be entered on the "Add/Modify Non CO-PI Senior Personnel" form.

1. the two-page NSF Cover Sheet. Indicate the total amount requested for the five years of NSF support in the box entitled "requested amount."

2. a summary of the project, including scientific thrusts, educational activities, and other information necessary to provide a concise overview of the PFC activities; enter in the "Project Summary" FastLane form.

3. Table of Contents. Will be generated automatically by FastLane.

4. Executive Summary. Provide a clear rationale for and description of the proposed PFC and its potential impact. Briefly describe the institutional setting of the PFC, its proposed scope and organization, activities in research and education and their integration, development of human resources, any shared experimental facilities, any collaborative activities with industry or other sectors, links with related major research centers on or off campus, and management plan. Limit: 3 pages.

5. List of Participants. List each senior investigator (faculty level or equivalent), by full name, and his or her institutional and departmental affiliation. Enter in "Add/Modify Non CO-PI Senior Personnel" FastLane form.

6. Achievements Under Prior NSF Support. Describe achievements under prior NSF support that pertain to the present proposal. Limit: 5 pages.

7. Major Research Components (MRCs). The PFC may encompass one or more MRCs. For each MRC proposed, provide a concise description of the long-term research goals and intellectual focus, and describe the planned research activities in sufficient detail to enable their scientific merit and significance to be assessed. Describe the role and intellectual contribution of each senior participant in the MRC, and briefly outline the resources available or planned to accomplish the research goals. The need for a center-type approach involving several investigators and the means of achieving this should be clearly established. Place the MRC in the context of the PFC as a whole, and describe interactions with other groups and institutions. At the beginning of each MRC section in the proposal, name the senior personnel who will participate, and state the proposed number of postdoctoral and undergraduate and graduate student participants. Limit for each MRC: 10 pages.

8. Education, Human Resources, Diversity, and Outreach. Describe the proposed activities of the PFC in education and human resource development, including plans for participation by undergraduates, pre-college students and teachers, and members of underrepresented groups, as appropriate. Outline plans for seminar series, colloquia, workshops, conferences, summer schools, and related activities, as appropriate. Describe any additional outreach programs not included in other sections of the proposal. Finally, describe means that will be used to measure and/or document the impact of these activities. Limit: 3 pages.

9. Shared Facilities. Describe the shared facilities and infrastructure to be established, including specific major instrumentation, and plans for the development of instrumentation. Describe plans for maintaining and operating the facilities, including staffing, and plans for ensuring access to outside users. Distinguish clearly between existing facilities and those still to be acquired or developed. Limit: 3 pages.

10. Collaboration with Other Sectors. Describe any proposed interactions and collaborations with industry, and, where appropriate, with other institutions and sectors, including national laboratories. Define the goals of the collaboration, and describe the planned activities. Describe the roles of the senior participants, the mechanisms planned to stimulate and facilitate knowledge transfer, and the potential long-term impact of the collaborations. Limit: 3 pages.

11. International Collaboration. Describe the nature of any planned international collaboration and the expected international and scientific or engineering benefits to the research and education programs. Include a description of the research facilities at the foreign site, as appropriate, and of the division of effort and expertise among the collaborators. Limit: 1 page.

12. Seed Funding and Emerging Areas. Through this mechanism, NSF intends to provide flexibility for the PFC to respond quickly and effectively to new opportunities. Briefly describe emerging research plans and related activities, showing clearly how they are related to the mission of the PFC. These may include (but are not limited to): seed support for junior faculty and for investigators changing fields; high-risk research projects; emerging areas of interdisciplinary research; programs to link the university effort in physics with industry and other sectors; the development of tools for remote access to instrumentation; and innovative educational ventures. Seed funding through the PFC is not intended to provide a substitute for NSF individual investigator funding: the criteria and mechanisms for selecting and evaluating projects must be clearly addressed in the management plan. Include the names of key personnel for the first year. Limit: 3 pages.

13. Management. Describe the plans for administration of the PFC, including the functions of key personnel and the role of any advisory committee, executive committee, program committee, or their equivalent. Describe the procedures and criteria used to select, administer, and evaluate the Major Research Components and other research programs of the PFC, including seed funding and collaborative programs with other groups and institutions. Plans for administering shared facilities should be described under item 9. Describe plans for administering the educational programs and outreach activities of the PFC, as appropriate. Limit: 4 pages.

14. Institutional and Other Sector Support. Outline institutional and other commitments to the PFC, including cost sharing, space, faculty and staff positions, capital equipment, access to existing facilities, commitments for collaboration and outreach programs, and other commitments. Limit: 1 page.

15. Letters of Support. Include only official letters of support verifying specific commitments of resources from participating institutions. Note: scan your signed letters and upload as a PDF file. Do not send originals.

Additional Information

· Biographical Information.

Include a biographical sketch for each senior participant, listing up to ten publications most pertinent to this proposal. Limit, 1 page for each senior investigator. Enter in the "Biographical Sketch" FastLane form.

· Current and Pending Support.

List current and pending support for each senior investigator. Enter in the "Current and Pending Support" FastLane form.

· Reviewer Information.

Enter the following information into the FastLane "List of Suggested Reviewers" form: (1) a list of individuals (and their affiliations) outside the participating institutions whose participation in the review of the full proposal might constitute a conflict-of-interest through association with the participants, and (2) a list of individuals who are suitable to serve as impartial reviewers. Concurrently with the above submission, send an e-mail to with the above information; include the title of the full proposal, the submitting institution(s), and the name(s) of the PI(s).

Proposers are reminded to identify the program solicitation number (NSF 01-112) in the program announcement/solicitation block on the proposal Cover Sheet (NSF Form 1207). Compliance with this requirement is critical to determining the relevant proposal processing guidelines. Failure to submit this information may delay processing.

B. Budgetary Information
Cost sharing at a level of 15% percent of the requested total amount of NSF funds is required for all proposals submitted in response to this solicitation. The proposed cost sharing must be shown on Line M on the proposal budget. Documentation of the availability of cost sharing must be included in the proposal. Only items which would be allowable under the applicable cost principles, if charged to the project, may be included in the awardee?s contribution to cost sharing. Contributions may be made from any non-Federal source, including non-Federal grants or contracts, and may be cash or in kind (see OMB Circular A-110, Section 23). It should be noted that contributions counted as cost sharing toward projects of another Federal agency may not be counted towards meeting the specific cost sharing requirements of the NSF award. All cost sharing amounts are subject to audit. Failure to provide the level of cost sharing reflected in the approved award budget may result in termination of the NSF award, disallowance of award costs and/or refund of award funds to NSF.

Indirect Cost (F&A) Limitations: In accordance with Federal Negotiated Rate

Other Budgetary Limitations: Five-year awards are expected to range in size between $0.5 million/year and $4 million/year, with an average award size of approximately $2M/year. The budget for the full proposal may not be larger than the pre-proposal budget.


Complete budget pages for each year of support (1-5) and a five-year summary budget justification. A five-year budget summary will be automatically generated by FastLane. Provide separate budget pages for the PFC as a whole and for each participating institution.

Also, in tabular form as follows, summarize the overall support levels planned for each of the major activities of the PFC as a whole. (Note: The Table below should be entered in the "Project Description" FastLane form.)
Summary Table of Requested NSF Support 
Activity Year One  Five Year Total 
Major Research Component (MRC) 1 (Title)    
MRC 2 (title) (repeat for each MRC)     
Shared Facilities     
Seed Funding and Emerging Areas     
Education and Human Resources     

For each entry in the Table, include indirect costs. Column totals must equal the total budget requested from NSF for the period shown. Include major capital equipment under shared facilities. Support for graduate students should normally be included under research, not under education and human resources.

C. Deadline/Target Dates

Full Proposals by 5:00 PM local time: January 25, 2002

Full proposals MUST be submitted electronically by 5:00 PM, local time, January 25, 2002.

D. FastLane Requirements

Proposers are required to prepare and submit all proposals for this Program Solicitation through the FastLane system. Detailed instructions for proposal preparation and submission via FastLane are available at: For FastLane user support, call 1-800-673-6188 or e-mail

Submission of Signed Cover Sheets. The Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) must electronically sign the proposal Cover Sheet to submit the required proposal certifications (see Chapter II, Section C of the Grant Proposal Guide for a listing of the certifications). The AOR must provide the required certifications within five working days following the electronic submission of the proposal. Further instructions regarding this process are available on the FastLane website at:


A. NSF Proposal Review Process

Reviews of proposals submitted to NSF are solicited from peers with expertise in the substantive area of the proposed research or education project. These reviewers are selected by Program Officers charged with the oversight of the review process. NSF invites the proposer to suggest at the time of submission, the names of appropriate or inappropriate reviewers. Care is taken to ensure that reviewers have no conflicts with the proposer. Special efforts are made to recruit reviewers from non-academic institutions, minority-serving institutions, or adjacent disciplines to that principally addressed in the proposal.

Proposals will be reviewed against the following general review criteria established by the National Science Board. Following each criterion are potential considerations that the reviewer may employ in the evaluation. These are suggestions and not all will apply to any given proposal. Each reviewer will be asked to address only those that are relevant to the proposal and for which he/she is qualified to make judgements.

Principal Investigators should address the following elements in their proposal to provide reviewers with the information necessary to respond fully to both of the above-described NSF merit review criteria. NSF staff will give these elements careful consideration in making funding decisions. A summary rating and accompanying narrative will be completed and signed by each reviewer. In all cases, reviews are treated as confidential documents. Verbatim copies of reviews, excluding the names of the reviewers, are sent to the Principal Investigator/Project Director by the Program Director. In addition, the proposer will receive an explanation of the decision to award or decline funding.

B. Review Protocol and Associated Customer Service Standard

All proposals are carefully reviewed by at least three other persons outside NSF who are experts in the particular field represented by the proposal. Proposals submitted in response to this announcement/solicitation will be reviewed by Mail and/or panel review.

Reviewers will be asked to formulate a recommendation to either support or decline each proposal. The Program Officer assigned to manage the proposal's review will consider the advice of reviewers and will formulate a recommendation.

In all cases, after programmatic approval has been obtained, the proposals recommended for funding will be forwarded to the Division of Grants and Agreements for review of business, financial, and policy implications and the processing and issuance of a grant or other agreement. Proposers are cautioned that only a Grants and Agreements Officer may make commitments, obligations or awards on behalf of NSF or authorize the expenditure of funds. No commitment on the part of NSF should be inferred from technical or budgetary discussions with a NSF Program Officer. A Principal Investigator or organization that makes financial or personnel commitments in the absence of a grant or cooperative agreement signed by the NSF Grants and Agreements Officer does so at its own risk.


A. Notification of the Award

Notification of the award is made to the submitting organization by a Grants Officer in the Division of Grants and Agreements. Organizations whose proposals are declined will be advised as promptly as possible by the cognizant NSF Program Division administering the program. Verbatim copies of reviews, not including the identity of the reviewer, will be provided automatically to the Principal Investigator. (See section VI.A. for additional information on the review process.)

B. Award Conditions

An NSF award consists of: (1) the award letter, which includes any special provisions applicable to the award and any numbered amendments thereto; (2) the budget, which indicates the amounts, by categories of expense, on which NSF has based its support (or otherwise communicates any specific approvals or disapprovals of proposed expenditures); (3) the proposal referenced in the award letter; (4) the applicable award conditions, such as Grant General Conditions (NSF-GC-1)* or Federal Demonstration Partnership (FDP) Terms and Conditions * and (5) any announcement or other NSF issuance that may be incorporated by reference in the award letter. Cooperative agreement awards also are administered in accordance with NSF Cooperative Agreement Terms and Conditions (CA-1). Electronic mail notification is the preferred way to transmit NSF awards to organizations that have electronic mail capabilities and have requested such notification from the Division of Grants and Agreements.

*These documents may be accessed electronically on NSF's Web site at Paper copies may be obtained from the NSF Publications Clearinghouse, telephone (301) 947-2722 or by e-mail from

More comprehensive information on NSF Award Conditions is contained in the NSF Grant Policy Manual (GPM) Chapter II, available electronically on the NSF Web site at The GPM is also for sale through the Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office (GPO), Washington, DC 20402. The telephone number at GPO for subscription information is (202) 512-1800. The GPM may be ordered through the GPO Web site at

C. Reporting Requirements

For all multi-year grants (including both standard and continuing grants), the PI must submit an annual project report to the cognizant Program Officer at least 90 days before the end of the current budget period.

Within 90 days after the expiration of an award, the PI also is required to submit a final project report. Approximately 30 days before expiration, NSF will send a notice to remind the PI of the requirement to file the final project report. Failure to provide final technical reports delays NSF review and processing of pending proposals for that PI. PIs should examine the formats of the required reports in advance to assure availability of required data.

NSF has implemented an electronic project reporting system, available through FastLane. This system permits electronic submission and updating of project reports, including information on project participants (individual and organizational), activities and findings, publications, and other specific products and contributions. PIs will not be required to re-enter information previously provided, either with a proposal or in earlier updates using the electronic system.



OMB control number: 3145-0058.