advantages of scale and interdisciplinary interaction provided by a campus-based research center.1

Awards granted under the program provide support for a 6-year period; during the last 2 years of this period there is an external review under recompetition requirements in the program’s language. After the original competition in 1994, additional competitions occurred in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2005. At the inception of the program in 1994, 30 full proposals were submitted, and 11 awards were given to 9 universities. Owing to the phase difference in the transition between programs, 13 new MRSEC awards were granted 2 years later.

The program currently funds about 29 MRSECs (26 active MRSECs and 3 on phase-out funding), which split a total of about $51 million with a range of $1.0 million to $5.0 million per institution per year, as shown in Figure 3.1. The awards are fully competed every 6 years but are staggered on the basis of the date of first award. An institution that does not receive continued MRSEC funding after recompetition is provided with phase-out support. The total number of MRSECs funded since the program’s inception in 1994 is as follows:

Year:

1994

1996

1998

2000

2002

2004

No.

11

24

25

27

27

27

A MRSEC provides a forum for researchers to come together and to share thoughts and ideas. Researchers participate because they realize the great advantages of working in an interdisciplinary team with exciting colleagues. The long-term nature of MRSEC support is welcomed because it allows researchers to pursue high-risk but potentially transformative ideas. Those ideas may lead to a new research direction for the MRSEC or may gain funding from other sources. MRSECs also provide a context for pursuing fundamental research that may not have immediately obvious payoffs but that is critical to future discovery. Students working within a MRSEC have a unique opportunity to learn from multiple mentors and to gain experience with techniques and ideas outside their own immediate field. Speaking to the committee, Harvard University MRSEC Director David Weitz emphasized these points by stating, “The most important products of the MRSEC are ideas (science, start-ups, etc.) and well-trained people.”

Evaluating MRSEC research is a daunting task. The committee considered several strategies, realizing that the MRSEC program contributes to the NSF mission in multiple ways even though “short-term research results” are usually considered the primary objective (see Box 3.1).

1

National Science Foundation, Program Solicitation for Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers, NSF 04-580, Washington, D.C., 2004.



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