Integrative Strategies for Understanding Neural and Cognitive Systems (NCS)

ISSUED BY: National Science Foundation


The complexities of brain and behavior pose fundamental questions in many areas of science and engineering, drawing intense interest across a broad spectrum of disciplinary perspectives while eluding explanation by any one of them. Rapid advances within and across disciplines are leading to an increasingly interwoven fabric of theories, models, empirical methods and findings, and educational approaches, opening new opportunities to understand complex aspects of neural and cognitive systems through integrative multidisciplinary approaches.

This program calls for innovative, convergent, boundary-crossing proposals that can best capture those opportunities and map out new research frontiers. NSF seeks proposals that are bold and risky, and transcend the perspectives and approaches typical of disciplinary research efforts. This cross-directorate program is one element of NSF’s broader effort directed at Understanding the Brain, a multi-year activity that includes NSF’s participation in the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative (http://www.nsf.gov/brain/). NSF envisions a connected portfolio of transformative, integrative projects that create synergistic links across investigators and communities, yielding novel ways of tackling the challenges of understanding the brain in action and in context.

This solicitation extends the NCS program for three years, from FY2018 through FY2020, and offers the FRONTIERS proposal class, for larger projects, in FY2019. Integrative projects will be supported at scales reflecting increasing levels of collaboration and coordination toward strategic, potentially transformative research goals.

The program focuses on four aspects of neural and cognitive systems that are current targets of converging interdisciplinary interests. NCS projects must advance the foundations of one or more of these focus areas, as described further within the solicitation:

  1. Neuroengineering and Brain-Inspired Concepts and Designs
  2. Individuality and Variation
  3. Cognitive and Neural Processes in Realistic, Complex Environments
  4. Data-Intensive Neuroscience and Cognitive Science

Proposals must address both risk and reward: high-risk, high-payoff approaches are expected.  Proposals must also be consistent with the missions of the participating directorates, while going beyond the scope of any NSF core program, or they will not be considered responsive to the solicitation.

NCS will consider three classes of proposals. FOUNDATIONS awards (CISE, EHR, ENG, and SBE Directorates; referred to as INTEGRATIVE FOUNDATIONS in earlier NCS solicitations) will support high-risk, high-payoff projects that advance the foundations of one or more NCS focus areas. FRONTIERS awards (CISE, EHR, ENG, and SBE Directorates; FY2019 competition only) will support ambitious, highly integrative, interdisciplinary projects that advance and connect multiple integrative research threads to tackle challenges that, without a high level of collaboration and coordination, would remain intractable. CORE+ SUPPLEMENTS (CISE, EHR, and ENG Directorates) will provide additional support to existing funded projects in the participating directorates, to enable activities that will connect those projects to significant new integrative opportunities in neural and cognitive systems.


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May 29, 2020


May 29, 2020