a second or even a third center. In other programs, such centers have been effective mechanisms for strengthening the breadth and depth of a broad scientific area. In the committee's view, there is a very strong argument for expanding program funding to give fusion centers of excellence a strong and durable foundation.
The National Science Foundation should play a role in extending the reach of fusion science and in sponsoring general plasma science.
The mission of OFES, following the restructuring of the program in 1996, has been to establish the knowledge base in plasma physics required for fusion energy, with the result that a substantial number of plasma science issues are being explored within the fusion regime that also have applicability to allied fields such as astrophysics. For this reason, the committee believes that NSF should begin to play a larger role in the solution of these basic plasma science issues. The involvement of NSF could have an intellectual impact on basic plasma science similar to that which it has had on basic research in other scientific disciplines where mission agencies like DOE play the main funding role. NSF involvement would facilitate linkage to other fields and the involvement of new scientists in the program.
Recently, NSF and DOE collaborated on a small but highly effective program to encourage small-laboratory plasma experiments and the theoretical exploration of topics in general plasma science. The large number of proposals submitted to this program is an indication of the need for it. The rationale for the expansion of research in general plasma science was well articulated in the NRC's Plasma Science: From Fundamental Research to Technological Applications, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1995.
The NSF/DOE plasma science initiative, if operated at a dollar level closer to that contemplated in the Plasma Science report (an additional $15 million per year for basic experiments in plasma science), can serve more than one important function:
Stimulating research on broad issues in plasma science that have potential applications to fusion and
Enhancing interagency cooperation and cultural exchange on the approaches used by the two agencies for defining program opportunities, disseminating information on research results to the scientific community, selecting awardees, and judging the outcomes of grants.
The optimal process for this partnership, if there is sufficient funding (as requested in the Plasma Science report), would be an annual solicitation of requests for proposals (RFPs). In particular, this frequency would give new Ph.D.s the chance to enter the field and stay in it, since new Ph.D.s are produced by degree-granting institutions each year and new graduate students enter school each year.
Another limitation of the ongoing NSF/DOE program in basic plasma science is the absence of any provision for modest experiments in the $1 million per year class. Historically, neither DOE nor NSF has funded plasma science experiments of this scale. For this reason, the committee recommends a cooperative NSF/DOE effort to broaden the scientific and institutional reach of fusion and plasma research to obtain valuable scientific results. Increased NSF funding and a stronger focus on fusion as well as plasma science within NSF would be required. As discussed in the preceding recommendation (recommendation 4 in the Executive Summary ), NSF could cosponsor one or more centers of excellence in fusion and plasma science.