Enabling forefront science and technology,
Acquiring the necessary research equipment and instrumentation,
Developing new instruments or techniques,
Training technically skilled staff,
Carrying out basic and collaborative research activities,
Educating future scientists and engineers,
Training and assisting users, and
Maintaining and repairing equipment.
Noting the lack of sufficient attention to the components of the midsize materials research facilities, previous studies have stated that, in particular, the training, hiring, and retention of staff as well as equipment maintenance and repair were often inadequate.2 More recently, the escalating cost of instrumentation and the associated large cost-sharing requirements of some instrumentation programs have become a major issue. It is also clear that the high cost of facilities necessarily precludes the establishment of cutting-edge facilities at every research university, government laboratory, and industrial company involved in materials research and development. For example, the replacement costs for the equipment now in place at the 500 or so midsize materials facilities are estimated to be $1 billion to $2 billion. The investment required for the replacement of current equipment is far too great to be realized, leading to the conclusion that sharing facilities and resources is increasingly necessary for the future.
Driving this study is a concern that significant opportunities over a wide cross section of scientific disciplines might be missed if the resources offered by small and midsize user facilities are not fully exploited. The capabilities offered by midsize facilities are generally more wide ranging and much more expensive than are those encountered in a single investigator’s laboratory; the sharing of resources has therefore become a necessity. Yet along with the rapidly increasing capabilities of instruments such as electron-beam writers and electron microscopes has come an escalation of the cost of acquisition and maintenance, to the point that smaller facilities typical of individual institutions can no longer afford their purchase and upkeep.
Most notably, National Research Council, Condensed Matter and Materials Physics: Basic Research for Tomorrow’s Technology, Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1999, p. 25; and National Science Board (NSB), Science and Engineering Infrastructure for the 21st Century, Arlington, Va.: National Science Foundation, 2003, p. 3. The NSB report focuses on the challenges associated with “chronic underinvestment,” however, and the present report focuses on the opportunities for optimizing the current investment.