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Advanced Research Instrumentation and Facilities 5 Overview of Conclusions, Findings, and Recommendations In this chapter, the committee summarizes its responses to the questions in its charge on the basis of the findings and recommendations presented in earlier chapters. GENERAL FINDINGS Instrumentation is essential to research in that it enables scientists to observe and measure the world in ways far beyond the capabilities of our senses. It is a major pacing factor for research; the productivity of researchers is only as great as the tools they have available to observe, measure, and make sense of nature. In recent years, the instrumentation needs of the nation’s research communities have changed. Instrumentation is increasingly advanced, pushing the boundaries of our science and engineering knowledge and our technologic capabilities. The need for particular types of instruments and facilities has broadened, crossing scientific, engineering, and medical disciplines. The growth of interdisciplinary research that focuses on large-scale problems demands more instrumentation. Instruments that were once of interest only to specialists are required by a wide array of scientists to solve critical research problems. The need for new types of instruments—such as distributed networks, cybertools, and sensor arrays— is increasing. Researchers are increasingly dependent on advanced instruments that require highly specialized knowledge and training for their proper use.
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Advanced Research Instrumentation and Facilities The committee developed the following definition for the instrumentation and facilities that are the subject of this study—advanced research instrumentation and facilities (ARIF)—which encompasses instrumentation used for research, including collections of closely related or interacting instruments, networks of sensors, databases, and cyberinfrastructure. ARIF is distinguished from other types of instrumentation by the capital cost and in that it is commonly acquired by large-scale centers or research programs rather than individual investigators. The acquisition of ARIF by scientists often requires a substantial institutional commitment, depends on high-level decision-making at both institutions and federal agencies, and is often managed by institutions. Furthermore, the advanced nature of ARIF often requires an expert technical staff for its operation and maintenance. The following sections provide the committee’s response to its charge. CONGRESSIONAL CHARGE Congress requested the study in the following language in Section 13(b) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Authorization Act of 2002: NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES ASSESSMENT ON INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH AND ADVANCED INSTRUMENTATION CENTERS. Assessment—Not later than 3 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Director shall enter into an arrangement with the National Academy of Sciences to assess the need for an interagency program to establish and support fully equipped, state-of-the-art university-based centers for interdisciplinary research and advanced instrumentation development. Transmittal to Congress.—Not later than 15 months after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Director shall transmit to the Committee on Science of the House of Representatives, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate, and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions of the Senate the assessment conducted by the National Academy of Sciences together with the Foundation’s reaction to the assessment authorized under paragraph (1). In assessing the question of interagency activity, the committee found that the acquisition of ARIF often requires support from multiple funding sources, and this poses a substantial burden on the researchers and institutions seeking federal funding for such instruments and facilities. The committee recommends that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), as part of its National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) activities, enhance federal
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Advanced Research Instrumentation and Facilities research agency coordination and cooperation with respect to ARIF to reduce the burden on these researchers and institutions and enable agencies to leverage their resources whenever possible and learn from each other. Through NSTC, OSTP should Foster discussion between agencies of the amount to be allocated for federal ARIF programs on the basis of consideration of the appropriate balance between people, tools, and ideas. The proceedings of such discussion could become part of the regular OSTP-Office of Management and Budget budget memorandum. Serve as a clearinghouse for agencies to discuss best practices for the support of ARIF. Allow researchers in diverse disciplines to present their case for ARIF that would be used in many fields to multiple agencies simultaneously. Encourage the federal research agencies to work together to develop joint solicitations for proposals. The committee does not see a need for “an interagency program to establish and support fully equipped, state-of-the-art university-based centers for interdisciplinary research and advanced instrumentation development.” A mandatory interagency program is not practical; it is challenging for federal agencies to coordinate their efforts, because their missions and support mechanisms differ greatly. The establishment of a mandatory interagency program also is not necessary because research agencies already cooperate to some extent by cofunding ARIF. RESPONSE TO CHARGE QUESTIONS This section presents the committee’s response to the specific questions that were part of its charge. What are the current programs and policies of the major federal research agencies for advanced research instrumentation? The NSF Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) High End Instrumentation (HEI) program each support instrumentation with capital costs of up to $2 million, although award amounts are frequently far less in NSF’s case. In FY 2004, the last year for which there are data, the success rate for proposals was 39%, and the average award amount was $344,000. NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account funds research equipment whose capital costs are in the ten to hundreds of millions
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Advanced Research Instrumentation and Facilities of dollars (spread over many years). Between those two cost ranges, several NSF division programs support instrumentation with capital costs over $2 million in particular research fields and programs that are capable of partial funding and less formal mechanisms for support. There is no MREFC program at NIH for major equipment and facilities, but NIH supports biomedical technology resource centers (P41), which focus on the development of new technologies and instrumentation. The Department of Defense, through its Defense University Research Instrumentation Program, funds projects whose capital costs are up to $1 million. The average grant size in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science program is about $100,000, with instrumentation development awards as high as $2 million. The Department of Homeland Security and the US Department of Agriculture support relevant instrumentation development projects through formal and informal proposal processes. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) focus their instrumentation funds on their national research facilities, which include a number of instruments categorized as major research equipment. Because of the missions of the two agencies, support for ARIF instruments is more likely go to upgrades to existing facilities and instrument development. DOE and, to a lesser extent, NOAA support research in universities in support of agency missions and goals. What is the current status of advanced midsized research instrumentation on university campuses? How are such instruments currently designed, built, funded, operated, and maintained? The committee performed a preliminary survey of academic research institutions, requesting information on recently acquired ARIF and any issues and concerns regarding ARIF. The committee was surprised by a low response rate from the nation’s largest research universities, which may not have had sufficient time to complete the survey or perhaps receive the funding for their instruments from nonfederal sources because of a lack of appropriate federal funding. Few of the responding academic institutions reported having recently acquired ARIF; of 51 respondents, only 18 (35%) had any ARIF. More than three-fourths of institutions with ARIF have only one or two such instruments or facilities, and none has more than four. Because of the high number of responses from smaller institutions and some incomplete surveys from institutions with which the committee is familiar, the committee has no reason to believe that the statistical results of this survey are
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Advanced Research Instrumentation and Facilities representative of the nation’s universities. The committee did give weight to the concerns raised by universities responding to the survey and to common elements among the ARIF reported, particularly the operations and maintenance costs, the sources of initial capital cost, and the ubiquitous need for support personnel. In the same congressional act that authorized this study, the NSF has been asked to conduct a more thorough survey. The committee looks forward to the results of this effort. Of the instruments reported in the committee’s survey, 63% were purchased and 30% of the instruments and facilities were designed and built by institutions or through contracts with manufacturers. Among the future needs anticipated by institutions were many instruments that straddle the $2 million mark and whose state-of-the-art versions are becoming more expensive, including high-resolution transmission electron microscopes, high-frequency nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, and tools for materials and nanoscience, such as lithography systems. The capital cost of the ARIF reported ranged from $2 million (for an infrared camera) to $15 million (for a pulsed electron accelerator, funded by DOE), although more than half the instruments reported had capital costs between $2 million and $3 million, and over 90% of the instruments cost $5 million or less. For more than half the ARIF reported, at least two funding sources were needed to meet the initial capital costs. Almost half (48%) of the ARIF listed detailed the institution as a source of funding, averaging $1.25 million per instrument or facility. The next most common contributors were NSF (28%) and states (24%). The annual cost of operation was generally $100,000-$500,000; a few ARIF cost $1 million-$2 million per year. Most federal agencies do not provide the operation and maintenance costs for ARIF. Support for those continuing costs instead comes from institutional funds and user fees. Obtaining operation and maintenance funding for ARIF was the most common concern expressed in the survey responses. Almost all ARIF require PhD-level technical support staff to achieve consistent high-level performance and facilitate use by researchers. Providing viable career paths for those essential personnel is a critical issue facing universities with ARIF. What challenges do federal agencies and universities identify regarding such instruments? The following are the chief challenges identified by institutions in response to the committee’s survey (in decreasing order by number of institutions indicating the issue):
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Advanced Research Instrumentation and Facilities Locating sources of funding for operation and maintenance costs. Managing the instrumentation. Some institutions remarked that, because of high demand, the administration of instrumentation was particularly challenging—especially resource allocation and scheduling. Maintaining the required environment for the instrument. Many of the instruments reported by institutions require a specially controlled environment for proper operation. Locating sources of funding to support staff costs. Operating an instrument. Some institutions reported that an instrument itself was difficult to run and keep at peak performance. In presentations and interviews with federal agencies, the following major challenges were identified: Balancing the need for instrumentation and research grants in a budget that is stagnant while instrumentation costs are increasing rapidly. Insufficient financial resources to meet demand. A key bone of contention between federal agencies and universities is that federal agencies believe that operation and maintenance costs should be paid by institutions and researchers and academic institutions believe that federal agencies should pay the operation and maintenance costs (including support for staff who operate and maintain an instrument) for a least a few years as part of the initial grant. Would an interagency program to fund midsized advanced research instruments that are used by researchers funded by many agencies help respond to these challenges? If so, what should be the components of such a program? The committee does not believe that an interagency program is necessary. The committee does, however, believe that that NSTC should elevate ARIF as a topic for particular interagency attention to enhance agency coordination and cooperation. Are sufficient federal programs available to provide the intellectual and financial resources necessary to develop new midsized instruments that respond to research community needs? There is an enormous gap in federal programs for ARIF. Although federal agency instrumentation programs exist, only rarely are researchers able to submit
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Advanced Research Instrumentation and Facilities proposals when the capital cost is greater than $2 million. There are no agencywide ARIF programs. Existing instrumentation programs are poorly supported, do not provide funds for continuing technical support and maintenance, and are rarely considered in the context of broad scientific needs. The shortfalls for instrumentation have built up, are met by spasmodic programs that address short-term issues but rarely the long-term problem, and are poorly integrated between or even within agencies. Existing ad hoc ARIF programs are neither well organized nor visible to most investigators, and they do not adequately match the research community’s increasing need for ARIF. Federal agencies need to pay more attention to ARIF than they do now. When a program does not exist for a major need of the research community, the result can be two activities that do not always lead to the best investment of federal research—direct congressional allocations (otherwise known as earmarking) and backroom politics (those who are well known to agency officials are able to lobby individually or as a group). Those outcomes stand in opposition to a well-thought-out program that takes into consideration balance among different fields of research, among different types of tools, and between support for tools and research grants and that affords all proposals an equal chance through a peer-review process. What federal policies could be put into place to enhance the design, building, funding, sharing, operations, and maintenance of midsized advanced research instruments? The committee believes that mechanisms to enhance federal policies are in three categories: Program establishment and centralization. Proposal processing and transparency. PhD-level technical support staff career development and support programs. In the case of program establishment and centralization, the committee believes that each federal research agency should Establish centralized, transparent, and peer-reviewed programs for ARIF that publicly solicit proposals. Fund the operation and maintenance costs associated with approved proposals that demonstrate sufficient need.
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Advanced Research Instrumentation and Facilities Sustain proportional support for ARIF even when agency funding levels are stagnant or declining. Coordinate whenever possible with ARIF programs at other agencies. Joint solicitations and reviews will increase the cost effectiveness of the support and reduce the burden on researchers. In particular, NSF should expand its MRI program so that it includes ARIF instrumentation whose capital costs are greater than $2 million but less than the amount that makes it eligible for the MREFC account. NIH should eliminate the capital cost limit of the HEI program, re-evaluate its balance between support for the ARIF and research grants, and substantially increase its instrumentation investment. The OSTP and NSTC should enhance federal research agency coordination and cooperation with respect to ARIF. In considering and evaluating proposals, each federal research agency should Require that proposals from institutions for ARIF contain a business and management plan that includes information on space, technical staffing, and the source of funding for operation and maintenance costs for the instrument. Develop a set of selection criteria that respond to agency goals, such as effectively sharing instrumentation and supporting research field, geographic, institution, and research diversity. Make it possible for researchers to present proposals to multiple agencies simultaneously. Establish career development and support programs for PhD-level technical research support staff so that instrumentation is optimized and maintained. Although this question is directed toward federal policies, the committee also believes that university policy regarding ARIF can be enhanced, specifically, by Reviewing an institution’s financial support, in addition to its planning and budgeting processes for ARIF, to ensure that funds are identified to support existing instrumentation properly. Structuring the funding and management of ARIF so that they have institution-wide or even user community-wide characteristics and are reviewed regularly on the basis of performance.
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Advanced Research Instrumentation and Facilities Enhancing the career paths of the technical research support staff essential for ARIF by establishing long-term and stable staff positions for the lifetime of an instrument. Continuing to discuss the issue of federal agency support for operation and maintenance costs for instruments with the Research Business Models Subcommittee of OSTP’s NSTC. SUMMARY The health and progress of the science and technology research enterprise depend on many types of instrumentation, including the advanced instrumentation and facilities discussed in this report. The committee believes that by taking the steps recommended here, the nation will optimize its investment in research and thus the benefits that research provides to society.
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