but at institutions with larger MRSECs the SEFs often are managed and operated by the MRSEC. If MRSECs did not do this, DMR would need to create some other strong facilities program to support materials research. A large user base is necessary to pay SEF staff salaries that cannot be supported solely by the MRSEC budget. The MRSEC SEFs support a very broad range of materials research (and sometimes other kinds), which is essential to a broad community (including many supported by single-investigator grants), but it is not just altruistic—the MRSECs could not carry out their own research without the user fees generated by these users. Shared facilities are an important resource for the overall community. For instance, individual investigators are unlikely to be able to afford to acquire and maintain a cutting-edge transition electron microscope, whereas a MRSEC SEF would be ideally suited to do so. Such an instrument sited at a MRSEC would be highly leveraged (because of institutional commitments to existing infrastructure and an established user community that would supply fees-for-use) and would greatly expand the opportunities available to the local research community. The committee encourages recent efforts by the centers and NSF to use modest supplemental grants to encourage and promote broader access to these facilities. These instruments are a core part of the value of the MRSEC program and can have enhanced national impact through improved communication and coordination.
As described in the beginning of this chapter, the committee concludes that the merit of the research enabled by the MRSEC program is comparable with the best of the materials research supported by other mechanisms. The committee notes, however, that it focused on measuring the impact of research results and that the ancillary benefits of MRSECs are not reflected by these metrics.