The perceived distinction that the presence of a MRSEC gives to the materials research enterprise of an institution, thus attracting more quality students and junior faculty; and
The infrastructure that MRSECs can provide to organize and manage facilities and educational and industrial outreach.
These factors suggest that there are strong positive influences of the MRSEC program on the conception of research ideas and the ability to pursue them quickly and effectively, which in turn have clear, positive implications for maintaining and advancing U.S. research competitiveness in the materials field. This observation must be tempered in the context of the current funding situation, in which MRSECs are asked to take on increasing responsibilities without the availability of commensurate resources.
Conclusion: The committee examined the performance and impact of MRSEC activities over the past decade in the areas of research, facilities, education and outreach, and industrial collaboration and technology transfer. The MRSEC program has had important impacts of the same high standard of quality as those of other multi-investigator or individual-investigator programs. Although the committee was largely unable to attribute observed impacts uniquely to the MRSEC program, MRSECs generally mobilize efforts that would not have occurred otherwise.
MRSECs conduct and publish research with performance characteristics similar to those of other programs. The committee came to believe that MRSECs enable the formulation of some research activities that would not have occurred outside the program. The shared-acilities element of MRSECs has very high value because it represents a significant portion of the National Science Foundation (NSF) investment in midsize facilities for materials research. The MRSEC education and outreach programs clearly benefit from the sharing and pooling of resources; improvements by NSF and the participating communities are needed, however. Although the industrial collaborations that take place within the MRSEC framework are of a character similar to those conducted elsewhere, the activities initiated by MRSECs generally represent efforts that would not have occurred otherwise.
The MRSEC program allows NSF, and thereby the nation, to make a different style of investment in materials research: one that couples group-based research with facilities, industrial interactions, educational programs, and so on. Thus, from the standpoint of diversity of funding mechanisms, if the MRSEC mechanism produces equally high quality results, retaining it enhances the resilience of the overall portfolio.
The committee formed several other impressions quite strongly as a result of its site visits, testimony at meetings, and in its discussions. The committee was