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1 The Charge to the Panel and the Assessment Process At the request of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Research Council (NRC) has, since 1959, annually assembled panels of experts from academia, industry, medicine, and other scientific and engineering environments to assess the quality and effectiveness of the NIST measurements and standards laboratories, of which there are now six,1 as well as the alignment of the laboratories’ activities with their missions. NIST requested that three of its laboratories be assessed in 2011: the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST), the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR), and the Information Technology Laboratory. Each of these was assessed by a separate panel of experts; the findings of the respective panels are summarized in separate reports. This report summarizes the findings of the Panel on Neutron Research. For the fiscal year (FY) 2011 assessment, NIST requested that the panel focus on the following criteria as part of its assessment: 1. Assess the degree to which laboratory programs in measurement science, standards, and services achieve their stated objectives and fulfill the mission of the operating unit (laboratory); 2. Assess the technical merits and scientific caliber of the current laboratory programs relative to comparable programs worldwide; and 3. Assess the alignment between laboratory research and development (R&D) efforts and those services and other mission-critical deliverables for which the laboratory is responsible. The context of this technical assessment is the mission of NIST, which is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve the quality of life. The NIST laboratories conduct research to anticipate future metrology and standards needs, to enable new scientific and technological advances, and to improve and refine existing measurement methods and services. In order to accomplish the assessment, the NRC assembled a panel of 11 volunteers whose expertise matches that of the work performed by the NCNR staff.2 The panel members visited the NCNR facility at Gaithersburg, Maryland, on March 14- 16, 2011, for 2.5 days, during which time they attended presentations, a tour, a poster session, and interactive sessions with NCNR staff. The panel members also conducted interactive sessions with NCNR managers and with leaders of NCNR user groups and 1 The six NIST laboratories are the Material Measurement Laboratory, the Physical Measurement Laboratory, the Engineering Laboratory, the Information Technology Laboratory, the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, and the NIST Center for Neutron Research. 2 See http://www.ncnr.nist.gov/ for more information on NCNR programs. Accessed June 14, 2011. 5
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met in closed sessions to deliberate on the panel’s findings and to define the contents of this assessment report. The approach of the panel to the assessment relied on the experience, technical knowledge, and expertise of its members, whose backgrounds were carefully matched to the technical areas of NCNR activities. The panel reviewed selected examples of the technological research covered by the NCNR; because of time constraints, it was not possible to review the NCNR programs and projects exhaustively. The examples reviewed by the panel were selected by the NCNR. The panel’s goal was to identify and report salient examples of accomplishments and opportunities for further improvement with respect to the following: the degree to which the NCNR programs achieve their stated objectives and fulfill the NCNR mission, the technical merit and scientific caliber of the NCNR work, and the alignment between NCNR R&D efforts and NCNR services and other mission-critical deliverables. These examples are intended collectively to portray an overall impression of the laboratory while preserving useful suggestions specific to projects and programs that the panel examined. The panel applied a largely qualitative rather than a quantitative approach to the assessment, although it is possible that future assessments will be informed by further consideration of various analytical methods that can be applied. For its assessment, the panel relied primarily on presentations made by NIST and NCNR managers and staff and by other researchers associated with NIST projects and programs, and on informational notes prepared by NIST and NCNR staff for use by the panel. Posters by various researchers involved with NCNR activities were also presented to the panel during its visit to the NCNR. This report does not contain extensive citations of technical articles and reports. Other documents and resources used by the panel are cited in the report, as appropriate. The comments in this report are not intended to address each program within the NCNR exhaustively. Instead, this report identifies key issues. Given the necessarily non-exhaustive nature of the review process, the omission of any particular NCNR program or project should not be interpreted as a negative reflection on the omitted program or project. The preceding Summary highlights major issues that apply to the center as a whole and presents the panel’s key findings and recommendations for the NCNR. Chapter 2 presents a more detailed overall assessment of the NCNR, including a comparison of the center with other neutron research centers. Chapter 3 provides an assessment of the scientific and technological research conducted at the NCNR. Chapter 4 discusses the adequacy of the facilities and human resources that support the center, and Chapter 5 discusses the center’s role as a user facility. The panel’s general conclusions are presented in Chapter 6. 6