3

RESEARCH CAPABILITIES

FACILITIES

All of the facilities visited by the committee (comprehensive site visits at the Salt Lake City Research Center (SLRC), Reno Research Center (RERC), and Albany Research Center (ALRC); site visits related to occupational health research at the Pittsburgh Research Center (PRC) and Twin Cities Research Center (TCRC)) have campus-type atmospheres. The facilities provide good working environments and are clean and well maintained. The committee observed no physical limitations that might otherwise hinder research. Laboratory space ranges from analytical chemistry laboratories to large areas for operating mining and metallurgical equipment in high-bay buildings; there are even experimental underground mines (near Pittsburgh) that permit mine-scale tests to be performed.

The Salt Lake City and Reno research centers are near major universities with interests in hard-rock mining and mineral processing; the Pittsburgh and Twin Cities centers are each about a 30-minute drive to major universities with interests in coal mining and materials research. This proximity alleviates much of the need for the centers to maintain extensive libraries. It also offers the potential for cooperative projects, sharing of major analytical equipment, and student intern programs.

EQUIPMENT

In general, equipment at the various sites is adequate to conduct the types of research normally done within the centers. Much of it has been acquired over the past 10 years and is state of the art or nearly so. Discussions of specific equipment at the various centers are given in Appendix A Appendix B Appendix C through Appendix D. Little, if any, unnecessary duplication of equipment was observed. Several of the centers, because of a specific research focus (e.g., ALRC in surface studies, TCRC in diesel measurements), have unique capabilities that do not exist elsewhere in the bureau. There appears to be



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RESEARCH PROGRAMS OF THE U.S. BUREAU OF MINES—FIRST ASSESSMENT, 1994 3 RESEARCH CAPABILITIES FACILITIES All of the facilities visited by the committee (comprehensive site visits at the Salt Lake City Research Center (SLRC), Reno Research Center (RERC), and Albany Research Center (ALRC); site visits related to occupational health research at the Pittsburgh Research Center (PRC) and Twin Cities Research Center (TCRC)) have campus-type atmospheres. The facilities provide good working environments and are clean and well maintained. The committee observed no physical limitations that might otherwise hinder research. Laboratory space ranges from analytical chemistry laboratories to large areas for operating mining and metallurgical equipment in high-bay buildings; there are even experimental underground mines (near Pittsburgh) that permit mine-scale tests to be performed. The Salt Lake City and Reno research centers are near major universities with interests in hard-rock mining and mineral processing; the Pittsburgh and Twin Cities centers are each about a 30-minute drive to major universities with interests in coal mining and materials research. This proximity alleviates much of the need for the centers to maintain extensive libraries. It also offers the potential for cooperative projects, sharing of major analytical equipment, and student intern programs. EQUIPMENT In general, equipment at the various sites is adequate to conduct the types of research normally done within the centers. Much of it has been acquired over the past 10 years and is state of the art or nearly so. Discussions of specific equipment at the various centers are given in Appendix A Appendix B Appendix C through Appendix D. Little, if any, unnecessary duplication of equipment was observed. Several of the centers, because of a specific research focus (e.g., ALRC in surface studies, TCRC in diesel measurements), have unique capabilities that do not exist elsewhere in the bureau. There appears to be

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RESEARCH PROGRAMS OF THE U.S. BUREAU OF MINES—FIRST ASSESSMENT, 1994 adequate machine shop and other infrastructure support at the centers visited by the committee. The research centers have an informal committee, representing all the centers, that coordinates and schedules the acquisition of major new analyttical equipment. As the bureau proceeds with reorganization, analytical equipment can perhaps be consolidated into centers to maximize cost efficiency while maintaining service to researchers, quality assurance, and turn around time. STAFF The distribution of government service grades (by GS level) and the distribution of highest degrees held by the overall research staff of the bureau are shown in Figure 3.1 and Figure 3.2. FIGURE 3.1 Distribution of general schedule grades (GS level) of the bureau 's research staff within the centers.

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RESEARCH PROGRAMS OF THE U.S. BUREAU OF MINES—FIRST ASSESSMENT, 1994 FIGURE 3.2 Distribution of highest degrees held by the bureau's research staff within the centers. The backgrounds and capabilities of the research staff vary depending on the center or even the program. In some situations they perform excellent work; in others they appear to have a limited ability to adjust to new areas of research. The percentage of researchers with Ph.D. degrees at the ALRC (19%) is significantly higher than at the SLRC (7%) and the RERC (6%). At the three centers, a majority of the principal investigators (those at the full performance level of GS-12 or higher) have at least an M.S. degree. The modest number of advanced degrees held by staff members may not be comparable to other research organizations engaged in more basic research and may be in the low range of many industrial applied research laboratories. Those bureau employees with less than a bachelor's degree include students, technicians, tradesmen, and clerical support. The balance of research support appears to be comparable to other research organizations. The committee did note that at SLRC and RERC many of the staff with advanced degrees are often more heavily involved in the administration of research projects than in doing the actual work. Detailed discussions of the committee's analysis of staff capabilities for the three centers visited are given in Appendixes B, C, and D.

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RESEARCH PROGRAMS OF THE U.S. BUREAU OF MINES—FIRST ASSESSMENT, 1994 In general, the research staff appears to be motivated, perhaps more so in the higher grades. There were differences in how the providers of significant support services were recognized (through coauthorship and acknowledgments in publications) among the three centers. The bureaucratic structure of the centers (fixed employment levels, budget limits) is not designed to respond to an ebb and flow of business. Compared to the structure of a commercial research house, the time needed to respond to a new opportunity seems likely to be much longer (years rather than months). The staff is limited by their ability to interact professionally with outside researchers (primarily through travel restrictions for professional meetings). There are also surprisingly limited opportunities for the staff to interact professionally within or between the different centers for the exchange of views, results, and issues through formal or informal exchange between research groups. At some of the centers, many of the researchers have had little direct experience in the user industries, and this has also limited their backgrounds and views. There do not appear to be any barriers for staff to pursue continuing education activities, usually through the local universities. Some actions that could improve technical communication are (1) implementing informal lunch seminars whereby researchers (both internal and external) can inform colleagues of their research progress and receive constructive comments and (2) increasing the opportunities for the research staff to participate in professional activities and meetings. Judging from the committee's interactions, many of the research staff believe there is a need for a better plan or framework from bureau management for direction on major research areas. This was thought by the staff to be particularly important so that research ideas could be placed into a context related to the bureau's mission, goals, and strategies. The staff also thought that requirements for scientific advancement on the technical career track should be clarified and that explicit expectations for promotions and career grades should be explained. The committee recognizes that the bureau has a dual-ladder system for promotion (one for managerial and supervisory talents and one for research), but there do not appear to be many bureau researchers who have reached the highest rungs of the research ladder or who believe they really can under present procedures.