Long-term infrastructure affects every aspect of a facility’s long-term viability, ranging from the ability to plan for instrument acquisition and replacement to the retention of skilled staff and the ability to define and carry out a sound management plan. A related challenge for midsize facilities is that of publicizing their capabilities to attract the best research. As discussed in Chapter 4, current funding models (within agency programs) do not address these needs well.
Midsize facilities in materials research have been traditionally thought of as independent units that function individually. Because of growing opportunities and increased demands, there is an increasing need for efficient networking and interaction between facilities in order to avoid unnecessary duplication—and to ensure that instrumentation is present in regional or local facilities in proportion to the needs of the regional or local communities. There is currently no framework to facilitate these types of interactions for planned or existing facilities.
Another common challenge involves the difficulty of balancing competing purposes, such as training versus research. A key strength of midsize facilities is their flexibility, but this characteristic can also be a weakness—efforts to maximize usage, train students, and facilitate world-class research (for instance) can interfere with one another.
Finally, the close parallels between midsize facilities and commercial analytical service laboratories in materials research can provide challenges. Compliance with federal guidelines and regulations in these areas is critically important to maintaining a healthy symbiosis between midsize facilities and commercial ventures.