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The National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Program: Looking Back, Moving Forward F Data-Gathering Tools The MRSEC Impact Assessment Committee conducted numerous data-gathering activities in order to be able to circumscribe the current level of effort in the MRSEC program accurately. Owing to the diverse nature of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSECs) and the program’s numerous requirements, it was necessary to employ multiple approaches to obtain the best (and most) data possible. In addition to requesting the most recent and very first annual reports from each MRSEC—responses were received from 27 of 29 and 25 of 29 MRSECs, respectively—the committee developed and used the data-gathering tools presented in this appendix to conduct its study of the MRSEC program. After receiving the data on a particular request, the committee members and staff compiled the data into a summary form and discussed them at length. As the data suggested particular lines of inquiry, the committee followed up with subsequent data-gathering efforts. DATA REQUEST TO MRSEC DIRECTORS The committee sent a questionnaire to all 29 MRSECs, addressed to each center’s director (see Box F.1). The topics covered the MRSECs’ perceived scientific accomplishment, student output, education and outreach, industrial collaborations, and facilities and instrumentation. The committee received full responses from 23 of 29 MRSECs.
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The National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Program: Looking Back, Moving Forward BOX F.1 Information Request to Center Directors for NRC MRSEC Impact Assessment Committee Please address these questions first and return this form to the National Research Council by Friday, February 24, 2006. *If you would, please send any evaluations as requested in number 2 below as soon as possible. Name of Center: _________________________________________________________________ For the following, please indicate what you believe to be your MRSEC’s top 5: scientific questions currently addressed. lifetime accomplishments. most highly-cited papers. Please list full citation information. most important contributions to materials research science and engineering. most successful students who have gone on to careers in academe or industrial research. Please also indicate their key contributions. If your center has engaged in or commissioned any evaluations of the education and public outreach component, please briefly describe them and attach a copy of the evaluation report. (*Please see above—the committee is quite eager to learn from you!) What Shared Experimental Facilities have been established at your center? What research have they enabled for the MRSEC and beyond? What are the goals of your industrial collaborations? What do you feel would be the optimal outcome of your MRSEC’s industrial collaboration effort if the interaction were as successful as possible? What are the education/outreach goals of your MRSEC? How were the education/outreach goals of your MRSEC determined? How does materials research conducted at your center differ from that typical of single investigators at your institution? What is your impression of the reason for this difference? If you could propose one change to improve the NSF MRSEC program, what would it be and why?
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The National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Program: Looking Back, Moving Forward DATA REQUEST TO NSF MRSEC PROGRAM MANAGERS The committee sent a formal data request to the NSF MRSEC Program Managers (see Box F.2). NSF responded fully to all requests except for request 8(c), for which data were incomplete. BOX F.2 Information Request to NSF MRSEC Program Managers for NRC MRSEC Impact Assessment Committee Please provide copies of the reports of external committees of visitors for NSF/DMR over the past 10-12 years. Please provide copies of external review reports for individual MRSECs over the past 5 years. Please provide a breakdown of budget information in as-spent dollars for each year for the past 15 years for the following categories: Total MRSEC program budget (if there is a standard, few-category breakdown, please provide it as well) Total NSF/DMR budget Fraction of DMR budget spent altogether on centers If possible, please provide a year-by-year total budget for the former MRL program along with any appropriate and reliable breakdown into categories. Please provide the names of the 30 institutions that receive the most NSF/DMR funding in FY2005 (the Tom Weber exercise). Please provide contact info for NSF/DMR counterparts in other countries such as Japan, China, Korea, Germany, France, Netherlands, United Kingdom, and so on. Please use your best judgment! Please provide year-by-year totals for numbers of patents filed under the MRSEC program for the past 10-12 years. Please provide year-by-year totals for the following “head count” metrics, including a description of what is tallied for each metric: Number of (graduate) students at MRSECs and the number of (graduate) students supported by DMR; Number of postdoctoral researchers at MRSECs and the number of postdoctoral researchers supported by DMR; and As available, please also provide year-by-year totals of the number of students who moved on to jobs in academia, industry, or elsewhere. Please provide a copy of the guidelines for MRSEC annual reports. If the guidelines changed significantly over the course of the program, please include a copy of the oldest guidelines as well. Please provide a copy of any past reports that have reviewed the MRSEC program.
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The National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Program: Looking Back, Moving Forward DATA REQUEST REGARDING MRSEC EDUCATION AND OUTREACH The committee sent a data request to the MRSEC directors and education and outreach (EO) coordinators (if applicable) seeking to understand the breadth of EO activities conducted and the mechanism by which MRSECs fund them (see Box F.3). The chart, which was quite instructive to the committee, helped unravel the complex nature of these programs. The committee received 15 of 29 responses for this data request. BOX F.3 Information Request Regarding Education and Outreach for NRC MRSEC Impact Assessment Committee Activity Have done previously Are currently doing Breakdown of total support for activity (approx percent)1 MRSEC support for activity (approx percent)2 Other sources of support Approx # of MRSEC Researchers involved per year Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Other K-12 Teacher Professional Development (including workshops, but not REU) K-12 curriculum development / enhancement Undergraduate curriculum development / enhancement Graduate student curriculum development / enhancement Public Outreach (science museum exhibits, talks for the general public) Other (please describe below) Additional activity Additional activity Additional activity 1Given the entire budget for an activity, what percentage is supported by the MRSEC grant? 2What percentage of the entire MRSEC grant is spent on this activity?
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The National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Program: Looking Back, Moving Forward SITE VISITS As described in Box 3.2 in Chapter 3 of this report, the committee conducted a series of site visits at institutions that either have (or had) a MRSEC or a similar center-based research structure. These site visits consisted of speaking with center leadership, research faculty, students, education and outreach coordinators, and industrial collaboration coordinators, in addition to departmental and university leadership. The committee visited the following institutions: Boston University: Center for Nanoscience and Nanobiotechnology Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems Center for Information Systems and Engineering California Institute of Technology: Center for the Science and Engineering of Materials (MRSEC) Harvard University: MRSEC Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Center for Materials Science and Engineering (MRSEC) Michigan State University: Center for Sensor Materials (MRSEC, now closed) University of California at San Diego: Center for Magnetic Recording Research University of California at Santa Barbara: Materials Research Laboratory University of Florida: Microkelvin Laboratory Nanoscience Institute for Medical and Engineering Technology Major Analytical Instrumentation Center Center for Condensed Matter Sciences Center for Nano-Bio Sensors Particle Engineering Research Center (ERC) Center for Macromolecular Science and Engineering Quantum Theory Project Center for Precollegiate Education and Training South East Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate University of Michigan: Engineering Research Center for Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems (ERC) University of Southern California: Biomimetic Microelectronic Systems (ERC) University of Southern Mississippi: Center for Response-Driven Polymeric Films (MRSEC)
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The National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Program: Looking Back, Moving Forward The committee used a standardized set of questions during the site visits in order to be able to easily compare responses (see Box F.4). Since site visits included several centers outside the MRSEC program, the committee made small adjustments to the document as appropriate. BOX F.4 Questions for Site Visits A. PURPOSES OF THE MRSEC PROGRAM Why should a MRSEC-like program continue as a mode of support at NSF? Why not just have individual investigator grants? The point of this discussion is to determine to what extent the original goals and intentions of the centers have been achieved AND to determine if centers, perhaps in a new mode, are still appropriate or necessary for the future of materials research. We will need as much quantitative data as possible, but also some qualitative information. What is different about the quality or character of MRSEC research relative to single investigator research at your institution? To the extent possible, provide data to support your contentions. Also, please provide a specific example of a research problem in your MRSEC that well exploits these unique characteristics. Why not have individual investigator grants, and let groups “self-assemble” if they think it is important? Are there examples of such “self-assembly” at your institution? If so, how many people are/were involved? Are they interdisciplinary? What is the business model for supporting the shared experimental facilities in your MRSEC? If there are other materials research facilities on campus, in general, how are they managed and supported? B. EVOLUTION OF RESEARCH AND THE ROLE OF MRSECS How and when does the science evolve or develop new themes? Does having a center lead to more or less agility in initiating or exploring new topics? Please identify examples. The point of this discussion is to explore the tension between providing continuing investment in topical areas of critical scientific import and in generating/exploring entirely new topics. There is no “right answer” here, but we need to understand how this tension is managed and why it is managed in the way it is. What is the longevity of the different IRG topics in your MRSEC? How does this compare to the same for single investigator grants in the relevant departments? If you have more than one IRG at your center, in what ways do they come into contact, in terms of science, shared facilities, or students? How and when do the research topics of IRGs change? If your MRSEC supports Seeds or other “startup” ideas, how do they function? What is the typical period of support? When complete, what fraction continue in some way? Within the MRSEC? Outside the MRSEC? Do most new IRGs develop from seeds? Are there other ways that new topics and ideas are introduced to your center? Is it easier to obtain support for new ideas elsewhere? What mechanisms could expand your center’s capability to start work on new topics?
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The National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Program: Looking Back, Moving Forward C. BUDGETS AND RESOURCES The intent of this question is both historical and forward-looking. The budgets at NSF for the past 6 years were very constrained. This has led to a call by some to put a larger fraction (or 100%) of the DMR budget into single investigator grants. If MRSEC-like centers continue into the future, how can they be as effective as possible in their mission within the resource constraints? The cost of supporting a student (tuition, stipend, fringe, overhead) or post-doctoral at most universities has increased at a rate higher than general U.S. inflation. Please provide the yearly costs per graduate students and post-doctoral researcher for participants in your MRSEC since its inception. What has been the average inflation rate for the last five years in those costs? How do you manage the MRSEC budget under 6 years of flat funding (which is steadily eroded by inflation)? Have you eliminated functions or activities in the center as a result of flat funding? What level of support is provided to the center by the university or any other source outside the NSF MRSEC program? In what form is that support made (e.g., cash, space, people, and so on)? Why is this support provided? Would similar support likely be forthcoming without an externally funded center? Please provide examples and counter-examples. (If we have questions after reviewing the appendices from the annual reports.) Averaged over the PIs in your MRSEC, what fraction of their total research support comes from the MRSEC? Over the recent history of your center, what fractions of the budget have been devoted to the following: (a) research, (b) education and outreach, and (c) industrial outreach and collaboration? How and why should this relative balance change in the future? D. FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR THE PROGRAM Given the resources afforded your center, what would be the ideal interdisciplinary research and education center for your institution? Key components of the program? What are “Grand Challenge” topics in materials (science, engineering, technology)? Of these, which do you foresee will require center-like approaches to explore and develop in a timely manner? Some
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The National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Program: Looking Back, Moving Forward view many IRG topics in different centers as rather similar, even duplicative. How can the entire MRSEC program support a broader scope of research? What broader impacts has your center had on the materials research effort at your university? How have you demonstrated success in any of these areas? Has there been a significant change in the materials research program due to the establishment of the MRSEC? (If an MRL predates the MRSEC, how did it shape on-campus culture?) How do you judge success in industrial outreach & knowledge transfer? What criteria and/or metrics are appropriate to evaluating progress? How is the educational experience (for graduate and undergraduate students) enhanced by being part of MRSEC sponsored industrial outreach? Can you contrast to the experience for students not involved in MRSEC industrial outreach? What changes (if any) are needed in your industrial outreach and knowledge transfer effort to respond to changes in the evolving industrial climate? How do researchers feel about the role of EO within their MRSEC program? How does participation in MRSECs EO activities affect researchers? (Ask of faculty and students.) How are you planning on handling expanded mandates for assessment of your EO program? Reflections on the review process: What works well? How would you improve the process? E. MISCELLANEOUS What did we miss? What else do you think is important or should be included in our report and recommendations? Our goal is to understand what (if any) differences exist for students’ educational experience based on their involvement in the MRSEC program (or if the presence of a MRSEC on campus provides comparable benefit to all students doing materials research). F. DISCUSSIONS WITH STUDENTS AND OTHER USERS We would like to talk about some of the following topics with students and other participants in the MRSEC. Compared to your peers, how do you perceive that your experience in the MRSEC is different? What are your aspirations beyond graduate school?
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