competing needs. At other times, facilities have been proposed at the initiative of an individual scientist or a small group of researchers with a bold vision. NSF program officers and staff foster these initiatives by providing funds for meetings and workshops that facilitate the scientific community’s internal evaluation and maturation of these concepts. In every case, the mission of NSF is to seek out the best ideas and the best scientists and to empower their investigations.

This process of nurturing and maturation of a concept for a facility can take many years to develop fully or it can come together as a funded proposal quite quickly, depending on the nature of the proposal, the immediacy of the scientific need, and the potential payoffs scientifically and for society in general. NSF’s role in this process is reactive and responsive to the scientific community, rather than prescriptive, and this ensures that the highest quality proposals, as determined by peer review within the scientific community, are brought forward for implementation. NSF program officers are the key people who make the requirements for approval of such projects clear to the community.

In identifying new facility construction projects, the science and engineering community, in consultation with NSF, develops ideas, considers alternatives, explores partnerships, and develops cost and timeline estimates. By the time a proposal is submitted to NSF, those issues have been thoroughly examined.


On receipt by NSF, large facility proposals are first subjected to rigorous external peer review that focuses on the criteria of intellectual merit and broad (probable) impacts. Only the highest rated proposals—those rated outstanding on both criteria—survive this process. These are recommended for further review by an MREFC panel that comprises the NSF assistant directors and office heads, who serve as stewards for their fields and are chosen for their breadth of understanding, and is chaired by the NSF deputy director acting in consultation with the director and later for review by the NSB.

Both the MREFC panel and the NSB look for a consistent set of attributes in each project that they recommend:

  • The project represents an exceptional opportunity to enable frontier research and education.


See footnote 1.

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