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Midsize Facilities: The Infrastructure for Materials Research
how many deans and research provosts will be willing to help support—in cash or in long-term staff—a facility at another site or campus. A federal research agency could assume stewardship through an incentivized role: institutions that collaborate in the siting and long-term staffing, as well as set up a long-term management contract for the running of the facility, could be given priority for support of midsize facilities.
A final important—and rather general—consideration is the role that midsize facilities have in providing research and training opportunities to minorities and traditionally underserved populations—especially those at smaller schools. Because of the large infrastructure burden placed on institutional hosts of midsize facilities, success stories tend to be well correlated with available (but creatively secured) resources. Smaller schools, and especially those without strong research traditions, are increasingly able to obtain sophisticated instrumentation, but because of the combination of the lack of experience, training, and on-site resources, they are often unable to provide the necessary infrastructure to support a successful midsize facility. That is, the infrastructure burden for today’s expensive research tools can discriminate among institutions on the basis of their resources.
A clear advantage of a regional facility network, especially the hub-and-spoke model, is that smaller schools could opt to participate in a larger network, when they choose to create a midsize facility, to fully utilize a sophisticated instrument—thereby leveraging their contribution off the pooled resources and experience of the other participating facilities, especially the hub. By taking on a well-defined role in the region with a specific research and training responsibility and a connection to the hub, a smaller school’s midsize facility initiative could be substantially enhanced—and have broader impact. A well-planned hub-and-spoke model for regional teaming would provide a safety net for smaller schools and empower their participation in the larger research and training enterprise. That is, no school should be too small for a midsize facility if it is well matched to a region’s needs and opportunities.
Implementing a system of regional facilities is challenging in a budget-conscious environment. However, not only is the outlook for federal budgets quite constrained, but the committee was also tasked to consider revenue-neutral solutions. Given these constraints, the committee proposes that facilities participating in the regional network should be chartered with maintaining their capabilities at the state of the art as a whole, and that increased complementarity should be developed at the participating institutions. That is, given the requirement to remain revenue-neutral, the committee identifies formation of and stewardship of a network of regional facilities as a higher priority than that of expanding other single, atomistic facilities.