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Midsize Facilities: The Infrastructure for Materials Research
Midsize facilities provide a stable and user-friendly interface between much of today’s most advanced instrumentation and the research community. A core challenge for midsize facilities is that of maintaining their infrastructure for the long term in order to fully exploit the initial capital investments (often in the tens of millions of dollars in aggregate). Midsize facilities operate best with long-term commitments. Because these facilities necessarily outlast (and transcend) the single investigator’s research project, their sustenance must come from sources that are more stable and long term than is an amalgamation of individual users with an overlapping need. This challenge is especially acute for smaller schools that often do not have the administration and management overhead or experience to develop a sustainable plan for the long-term operation of a midsize facility.
Diverse and Stable Funding
Funding sources for existing successful facilities are highly diverse and often depend on the local environment and the resourcefulness of the persons involved. Funding may come from a combination of federal and state government support, institutional funds (whether state or private), user fees, and donations. Funding is one of the most significant challenges facing midsize facilities for the following reasons:
The escalating costs of instrumentation make it more and more difficult to identify sources of funding for the initial capital investment.
The changing landscape of cost-sharing requirements for federal grants has placed many institutions at a disadvantage for securing the initial capital funds.
In addition to the initial capital investment, a plan for stable long-term funding is necessary to cover the plethora of recurring expenses involved in sustaining facility operations.
The escalating cost of obtaining, operating, and maintaining advanced instrumentation is one of the greatest challenges facing materials research. Instrumentation typically evolves in several directions: it simplifies certain experimental procedures, it automates and standardizes certain techniques, or it provides entirely new functionality and capability through innovation. These forces tend to escalate the cost of instrumentation because of the substantial enhancements in capabilities provided. A common observation is that the cost of flagship tools has increased over time well beyond standard inflationary rates. See Box 3.1, “Escalating Costs of