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Science Alliance Announces COVID-19 Rapid Response Support

In an effort to provide support to faculty in an evolving environment, the Science Alliance has issued a modified Joint Directed Research Development (JDRD) call for proposals focusing on areas of relevance to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Program Description: The Science Alliance was formed to build and enhance relationships between University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT) faculty and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) scientists and engineers. To that end, the Science Alliance established the JDRD program to catalyze new collaborations between UT and ORNL researchers with an emphasis on new scientific or engineering areas of research and largely in concert with the Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) projects.  In its reconceptualized form, the JDRD program focuses on a narrowed field of strategic research interests. Though encouraged, University faculty are no longer required to select a collaborator from a pool of existing LDRD projects, and may instead work with any ORNL scientist, excluding UT-ORNL joint faculty and UT Governor’s Chairs, to address a research problem with far-reaching potential impacts for both the university and the lab.

Key Dates:  The Science Alliance is now accepting proposals for the FY21 JDRD Rapid Response COVID-19 Focus program.  The program will have a continuing deadline for proposals beginning as early as April, 21, 2020 and continuing until July 1, 2020. Funding is anticipated to begin as early as May 1, 2020 and as late as August 1, 2020.  

Award Amount and Duration: Typical awards will be up to $75k based on merit and order of receipt. The number of proposals awarded will be based on merit and availability of funding. Projects will be funded for one year and awardees will be eligible for a second year of funding up to $75K, if the project shows strong promise of receiving new external funding as a result of the collaborative activities.   We expect that an external proposal will be generated as a direct result of the JDRD award and will be a key factor in determining possible second year funding.

Eligibility: Each research team must include a principal investigator from UT and a confirmed collaboration with an ORNL scientist. The ORNL collaborator may not be a UT-ORNL joint faculty member or UT Governor’s Chair. All UT faculty members are eligible to apply, including faculty who have had previous ORNL collaborations and/or have existing joint appointments. The most recent incarnation of the JDRD program worked to align areas of focus with the cross-cutting initiatives identified by ORNL, supporting work in the areas of Artificial Intelligence, Resilient Cyberphysical Systems, and Quantitative Biology and Genome Security. Preference will be given to junior faculty who do not have a joint appointment and/or are establishing a new collaboration with ORNL scientists. UTSI and UTIA faculty members are eligible for JDRD funding.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FY21 JDRD program will pivot to allow an expanded focus, offering support for projects related to the investigation of COVID-19 in any relevant discipline. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has recently announced external funding opportunities for research regarding COVID-19, specifically regarding questions that underpin the COVID-19 response. Any joint opportunities are eligible for funding under this call.

For those not performing research on infectious disease related viruses, this JDRD call will also cover other foci active with the biological sciences program at ORNL although preference will be given to proposal responsive to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some suggested avenues include the following:

  • Developing high-throughput multiplex technologies to characterize virus-host interactions, determine phage resistance mechanisms in nature, identify the degree of specificity for each bacterial resistance mechanisms across diverse phage types, and understand the coevolution of hosts and their phages, which can ultimately be used to design better phage therapeutic treatments and tools for precision microbiome engineering;
  • Improved modeling for understanding natural viral populations and persistence in the environment, as well as predictive modeling for viral stability and evolution in changing environmental conditions;
  • Understanding virus-microbiome community composition, function, and evolution;
  • Synthetic biology of key target viral proteins to rapidly develop improved vaccines or therapeutics
  • Synthetic biology to construct viral genome variants and test viral stability, persistence, and resilience in the environment.


This list is not exhaustive and topic areas are not confined to the areas referenced above. Applicants are encouraged to consider the ways in which DOE user facilities, computational resources, and infrastructure can join with university resources and facilities to address these questions.

Application Format:

Online submission via InfoReady will include completion of the form as well as submission of the following documents: External Funding Strategy, Research Plan, Quad Chart, Budget, Current and Pending Support, and CVs

1. Research Plan– No more than four pages, single-spaced, 12-point font with one-inch margins. [Word or Acrobat Format] Note: References are not included in the 4-page limit. Proposals should include the following sections:

    • Objectives and Significance. State concisely the goals of the proposed research and summarize the expected outcome(s), including the impact that the results of the proposed research will have on the research field(s) involved. Explain the importance of the problem or critical barrier to progress that the proposed project addresses. Describe the scientific premise for the proposed project. (Related review criteria: Merit and Significance)
    • Current State-of-the-Art and Approach. Briefly explain the current state-of-the-art. Describe your overall strategy, methodology, and analyses to be used to accomplish the objectives of the project. Describe the experimental design and methods proposed and how they will achieve robust and unbiased results. Point out scientific challenges and limitations; quantify whenever possible; start broad but most importantly, get down to the root cause of the challenge you are trying to overcome and how you will approach it – detail is helpful. (Related review criteria: Feasibility and Approach)
    • Innovation/Differentiator. Highlight the innovative nature of your proposal by differentiating it from the current state-of-the-art. Point out how and why your research should overcome the challenges and limitations you stated in (b) State-of-the-Art. Be specific and quantify when possible. What’s new about your approach? Is it a first? What specifically differentiates your proposed research from your peers’ research at other institutions?  How might it revolutionize research and advance your field? Why hasn’t it been done before and what leads you to believe that now is the optimal time (ex. an observation, a recent discovery, or a breakthrough in your lab)? (Related review criteria: Merit and Significance)

2. ORNL Collaboration – No more than 2 pages:  PI(s) should connect with ORNL researchers and confirm buy-in for the collaboration. These collaborators may not be UT-ORNL joint faculty or UT Governor’s Chairs:

    • Describe the ORNL project or area of mutual interest and how your work will result in mutual and reciprocal benefits;
    • Describe of all of your prior affiliations, collaborations, and publications with ORNL
    • Describe how this project represents a new interaction in a new scientific/engineering area and how each group leverages the other to advance science

3. External Funding Strategy– No more than three pages: PI(s) should attempt to identify at least one agency that they have not received funding from in the past. At a minimum, applicants should describe how the research may continue beyond the JDRD funding. [Word or Acrobat Format]Strategy should address the following questions:

    • What specific funding opportunity will be targeted for subsequent funding? Specific program?
    • Who is the intended Program Manager/Officer? 
    • What correspondence or interaction has been made or is planned with the Program Manager/Officer or federal agency (include emails and a description of interaction when possible). 
    • What is the proposed timeline and target deadline (if applicable) for applying for external funding?
    • Related review criteria: Sustainability and External Funds

4. Quad chart– One page (see quad chart example template) [PowerPoint Format]

5. Budget with breakdown of cost categories [Excel Format]

6. Collaboration – A letter from the ORNL PI supporting the partnership.

7. Current and Pending Support for PI and senior personnel (see PI Current and Pending Support List template) [Excel Format]

8. CVs– No more than one page per individual investigator [Word or Acrobat Format]

Review Process

Proposals will be reviewed by UT faculty, staff, and may be extended to federal funding agency program managers for feedback. Evaluations will be based on these major criteria:

Merit and Significance: Will the proposed advance research in the field? Does it challenge the current state of art? Will it overcome a barrier to advancing research in this field and broaden the horizon for future research? Is this a major question or problem?  Does the proposal leverage new theories, tools, or applications that will advance the field? Will the proposed project shift the current paradigm in the field? Are technical or intellectual innovations included in the proposal? Does the PI leverage individual or institutional differentiators? (Criteria double-weighted in review.)

Feasibility and Approach: Are the research plans, methods, and analyses proposed appropriate? Will the methods and analyses achieve the objectives of the project? Are adequate resources (expertise, tools, equipment) included in the proposal?

Sustainability and External Funds: Does the project align with the funder identified? Is it reasonable to expect that in addition to alignment, funds will be available in the future (i.e. targeted program is not sun setting and is of continued interest to the funder)? Is the PI viable from target funder’s perspective? Is there potential alignment with other funders not mentioned in the proposal?

ORNL Collaboration: How does this project benefit both ORNL and UTK? What new science is enabled by this collaboration that couldn’t have been accomplished alone?


Apply for the 2020 JDRD Rapid Response COVID-19 Solicitation