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The National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Program: Looking Back, Moving Forward
have far-reaching implications for many other fields, from medicine to high-energy physics to the economy. The task at hand was to assess the relative performance and impact of MRSEC-supported activities in comparison with other mechanisms for support and to recommend a robust strategy for the future of the program.
MRSECs have enormous perceived impact.
Conclusion: MRSEC awards continue to be in great demand. The intensecompetition for them within the community indicates a strong perceivedvalue. These motivations include:
The ability to pursue interdisciplinary, collaborative research;
The resources to provide an interdisciplinary training experience for thefuture scientific and technical workforce from undergraduate to postdoctoral researchers;
Block funding at levels that enable more rapid response to new ideas, andthat support higher-risk projects, than is possible with single-investigatorgrants;
The leverage and motivation MRSECs provide in producing increasedinstitutional, local, and/or state support for materials research;
The perceived distinction that the presence of a MRSEC gives to the materials research enterprise of an institution, thus attracting more qualitystudents and junior faculty; and
The infrastructure that MRSECs can provide to organize and managefacilities and educational and industrial outreach.
The committee pursued several comprehensive exercises to measure the impact of MRSECs. Constructing algorithms to distinguish the MRSEC-enabled results from others was complicated by the following features:
MRSEC participants are supported by many funding sources;
MRSEC participants engage in multiple activities with multiple collaborators;
Average performance often does not capture the full impact of a portfolio of efforts; and
MRSECs are intended to enhance the conditions for conceiving of research and education activities, and yet most measures of impact examine the results from the execution of these activities.
Conclusion: The committee examined the performance and impact ofMRSEC 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