. "2 The Overall Context of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Program." The National Science Foundation's Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Program: Looking Back, Moving Forward. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007.
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The National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers Program: Looking Back, Moving Forward
ful materials research enterprise are, first, patient, long-term support and, second, a large array of expensive analytical, synthetic, and processing equipment.1
Both of these requirements can only be met by long-term, patient funding that is sufficiently centralized to support a full suite of the most advanced analytical and synthetic instruments. Patient research support, combined with major centralized instrumentation, was the formula for the original Materials Research Laboratory (MRL) program that was the precursor of the current Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSECs). In fact, the 1999 National Research Council report Condensed Matter and Materials Physics: Basic Research for Tomorrow’sTechnology stated: “New facilities and instrumentation create new opportunities in condensed-matter and materials physics, and continued support for facilities and for broad access to them must be emphasized.”2
The current guidelines for competition for MRSEC funding have had two effects.3 The size of the average MRSEC award has shrunk, and the funding has been divided into smaller increments that are too small to adequately support the needed analytical and synthetic centralized facilities. As the infrastructure of instrumentation and facilities is subsequently eroded, the scientific benefits of those centers are thereby diminished. The second penalty is that the constant competition for and turnover of the smaller MRSECs prevents the long-range risk taking that is part of the nature of successful materials research. As noted in Midsize Facilities: TheInfrastructure for Materials Research:
The committee recognizes a … need for midsize facilities that have … sufficient size and complexity, either in instrumentation or in the supporting technical staffing or even building infrastructure, to require that significant attention and resources be spent on supporting these core activities. The committee terms these core activities “long-term infrastructure” and recognizes that, as required at the larger national facilities, steady funding and stewardship are required to make midsize facilities work more effectively over the long run.4
In this field, some fraction of the funding must be highly stable in order to allow major risk taking. This risk taking would occur most naturally in the context of a center that is large enough to accommodate both near-term efforts and the
National Research Council, Midsize Facilities: The Infrastructure for Materials Research, Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2006, pp. 3, 38, 78-80.
National Research Council, Condensed-Matter and Materials Physics: Basic Research for Tomorrow’sTechnology, Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1999, p. 304.
The committee gathered information about the operational history of the MRSECs through testimony at meetings, phone interviews, data prepared by the National Science Foundation, and by reviewing the series of program solicitations.
National Research Council, Midsize Facilities: The Infrastructure for Materials Research, Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2006, p. 134.