Applications to join this workshop series are now closed.

For those of you who are participating - use this web page to remind you of key dates and themes as we “hack” the Rules of Life as we consider how we might use those Rules to tackle pressing societal challenges.

The remarkable complexity of life is best revealed when interactions within and between levels of organization – from molecules to ecosystems – are considered. Indeed, Understanding the Rules of Life requires working at multiple scales of biological organization and across multiple disciplines. Such a multi-scale, multi-discipline approach has been central to NSF’s Understanding the Rules of Life Big Idea.

We have a hunch that by better understanding and applying the Rules of Life, we will be more prepared to tackle some of the most pressing societal challenges. We invite you to help us explore what challenges might best be addressed by using knowledge gained from Understanding the Rules of Life principles and then to identify the fundamental research needed to find and develop effective solutions.


In 2016, the National Science Foundation (NSF) unveiled 10 "Big Ideas" - bold, long-term research and process ideas that identified unique opportunities to position our Nation at the cutting edge of global science and engineering by bringing together diverse disciplinary perspectives to support convergence research. One of those, Understanding the Rules of Life, is based on developing a predictive understanding of how key properties of living systems emerge from interactions of factors such as genomes, phenotypes, and dynamic environments (See the link in the box to the right).

Funded projects have addressed “rules” at multiple levels—minimal, interaction, complexity, and emergence—by addressing fundamental questions in life sciences that cross different scales (spatial, temporal, levels of biological organization), produce broadly generalizable results to permit formulating a “rule”, and enable prediction of change in biological systems.

As NSF considers ways to promote use-inspired research that reaches beyond curiosity-driven science, we seek multidisciplinary, community feedback on how researchers can use the emerging Rules of Life to address societal challenges by combining approaches from among all the scientific disciplines, including engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, computer science, geosciences, social, behavioral, and economic sciences, as well as the breadth of biological sciences.

About the Workshops

To this end we are running a series of free Virtual Events centered on Using the Rules of Life to Address Societal Challenges. The goal is to bring together researchers with diverse perspectives - including those from all scientific disciplines, with various levels of experience (from senior scientists to postdocs), from different types of institutions or organizations, and from historically underrepresented groups in STEM - to share ideas about how Rules of Life approaches and data might be harnessed by multidisciplinary teams to tackle pressing societal challenges.

The Town Hall on Using the Rules of Life to Address Societal Challenges held on March 15 produced a plethora of ideas about compelling societal challenges. These ideas have been distilled into the following topics, which will serve as focal points for four workshops. Each workshop will consider how all the STEM disciplines (including biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, geosciences, mathematics, physics, social, behavioral, and economic sciences) could be used to tackle these wicked problems. In addition, the workshops will incorporate cross-cutting themes of diversity, equity, and inclusion and STEM education, training, and workforce development.

Four Workshop Themes

The 4 workshops will be based around the following themes:

  1. Stewarding an Integrated Biodiversity-Climate System We are learning the Rules of Life that govern the essential role of biodiversity in controlling function, maintenance, and adaptation of every ecosystem on Earth. We are also learning that biodiversity and climate are inextricably linked and that everything affecting one affects the other. How might these lessons help us to predict, preserve and harness the benefits of biodiversity for human society and the natural world?
  2. Achieving a Sustainable Future We are learning the Rules of Life that govern the complexity of interconnected living systems at multiple scales, e.g., from natural and synthetic cells to organisms, populations, communities, ecosystems, and the biosphere. As we learn more about the ways that living systems use and re-use natural resources, how might these lessons help us devise strategies to improve sustainability?
  3. Harnessing Microbiomes for Societal Benefit We are learning the Rules of Life that govern the individual and collective metabolism, physiology, signaling, and interaction of different microbiomes, as well as their composition and responses to evolving environments. As we learn more about the roles of microbiomes in all living systems, how might these lessons help us to improve human society and the biosphere?
  4. Leveraging AI and Data Science for Predicting Mechanisms We are learning the Rules of Life that govern the prediction of an organism’s observable characteristics from interactions of its genome with the environment. At the same time, novel research on artificial intelligence and data analytics is providing essential tools for integrating Rules of Life data. How might these lessons help us to improve our ability to use AI and Data Science to apply the Rules of Life for societal benefit?

Application to participate in the workshops closed on Tuesday, March 29. You should hear if you have been successful by April 5.

For those who already registered for the Town Hall, we invite you to apply again for the workshops. We want to create the best balance of skills and expertise at each event and so hope you won't mind if we ask you to go through this final hoop that will allow us to select people for each workshop.

Applications are now CLOSED>>

Click Here if you are a postdoc and want to find out more about the Incubators. >>

Workshop Committee

  • Aleksandr Simonian, NSF/ENG
  • Angel Garcia, NSF/MPS
  • Clifford Weil, NSF/BIO
  • Diana Pilson, NSF/BIO
  • Erika Tatiana Camacho, NSF/EHR
  • Hector Munoz-Avila, NSF/CISE
  • Joanna Shisler, NSF/BIO
  • Justin Lawrence, NSF/GEO
  • Karen Cone, NSF/BIO
  • Krastan Blagoev, NSF/MPS
  • Manju Hingorani, NSF/BIO
  • Matthew Herron, NSF/BIO
  • Patricia Van Zandt, NSF/SBE