Materials Science

“In Materials Science and Engineering, the major type of research instrumentation that falls into the plus $2,000,000 category are aberration-corrected subatomic-level-resolution transmission electron microscopes (TEMs). There is a BES/DOE program involving the major national labs (Oak Ridge, Lawrence Berkeley, and Argonne) to acquire one or more such instruments as ‘user facilities.’ The BES program at DOE has been funding acquisition of TEMs for at least two decades, and possibly longer, arguing that an advanced TEM can be compared to a synchrotron source, and that ‘if you build them, they will come.’ The truth is otherwise. As user facilities, their usage by rank and file academic electron microscopists is in most cases minimal; instead, the users are researchers who have no skills in advanced TEM (arguably the most difficult skill to acquire) and establish a collaboration with staff at one or the other National labs (it is actually a stretch for DOE to show ‘success’ of these TEM-based user facilities). There is nothing wrong with such an arrangement but it doesn’t satisfy the needs of academic materials science electron microscopists, as will be discussed in question 13.”


Policy recommendations made by researchers included the following:

  • “ARI development budgets come from the same directorate and division budgets as large projects. It is necessary (though difficult) to find the right balance between long-term and short-term goals.

  • There should be a recommitment to the physical sciences and to human resources in science and engineering, more so than to more support for instrumentation. If a new instrumentation initiative is put into effect, it should give priority to flexibility of application, perhaps looking into new categories of instrumentation that do not yet exist.

  • Agencies should treat ARI facilities as regional resources that meet national needs.

  • An interagency program supported by the NSF focusing on TEM for physical, not biological applications, which would fund six $5-$10M instruments. (Heuer)

  • An NIH instrumentation grant to support bundled instruments under $100K—an ensemble of low-cost items. NIH should also reactivate the ‘high cost instrument grants program.’

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