The federal agencies providing support for AMO science do so in a variety of ways: through competitive grants to researchers at universities (NSF or DOE); through grants to peer-reviewed programs at the national laboratories (DOE); through support of in-house research efforts not open to outside competition (largely NIST); or through a mixture of these ways (the defense agencies). In some cases, pass-through funding plays a role. Some agencies rely heavily on peer review, others not at all. These differences are important to keep in mind when making comparisons.
The agencies were asked to provide data showing the evolution in the funding of their AMO programs over the past 10 years (see Table 8–1), to provide information on their average grant sizes for awards in experimental AMO and theoretical AMO science, to estimate the ideal size of a grant in experimental AMO and in theoretical AMO, and to estimate how much it would cost to raise all grants to this size. Finally, they were asked if the number of grants of the same quality level as the ones funded in recent years had dropped due to budget shortfalls, and by how much the AMO budget at their agencies would have to expand to maintain the previous grant levels. The agency responses are given below,1 and conclusions based on this information are given in Chapter 8.
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE FUNDING AGENCIES
The emphasis at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the Army Research Office (ARO), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) on engineering applications, often with quick turnaround, has led to significant pressure to downsize funding for basic research (6.1 funds) in favor of funds for applications work (6.2 and 6.3 funds). It was reported to the committee that in many cases 6.1 work requires continuous advocacy to be included in agency programs. The effect is exacerbated by the fact that the overall DOD funding for research has been constant or declining in recent years. These funding shifts have a substantial impact in the university community, which tends to focus on longer-term basic research. Nonetheless, these agencies contribute more than $45 million per year to AMO research activity, roughly $30 million of it from DARPA alone. A significant amount of the DOD funding goes to multidisciplinary research under the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program. Additional funding to support the purchase of research instrumentation is available to the AMO experimental community through the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program. Through this program, AFOSR, ARO, and ONR awarded more than $43 million in FY2004.
The information from the DOD agencies supplied to us and reported below was mostly anecdotal. Detailed year-by-year trends were not provided.
Air Force Office of Scientific Research
AFOSR funding for its Atomic and Molecular Physics Program has stayed mostly flat over the past decade at about $4 million per year. About 70–75 percent of these funds go to universities. The rest is spent at Air Force research labs such as the one at Wright-Patterson. The program’s optical science component is growing and represents about 20 percent of the funding. There is also a separate Optics and Lasers Program that provides about $1.5 million per year for researchers in AMO science. Thus, total funds going to AMO from these two AFOSR programs are about $5.5 million per year. These funds support two MURIs in AMO science at present. There are also AFOSR programs in electro-optics and in nanoelectronics (including work in negative index materials), which are not discussed here.
Average grant sizes in AFOSR core AMO funding are about $125,000 per year for experiment (ranging from about $85,000 to $250,000) and about $100,000 per year for theory. AFOSR staff report that budget pressures have kept grant sizes lower than they should optimally be. Experimental grants could be twice their present size and theoretical ones about 20 percent larger. This would improve research and personnel throughput substantially.
AFOSR is now seeing more proposals from people who used to be funded by ONR and NASA. The quality of proposals is high. Program officers believe that the AFOSR budget for AMO research could easily be doubled before there would be a noticeable change in the quality of work funded.
Army Research Office
ARO core funding in what could be broadly construed as AMO physics has stayed mostly flat over the past decade, at about $2 million per year. This includes some interdisciplinary areas such as photonic band gap materials and imaging science. Basic AMO physics is estimated to be funded at about $1.5 million per year. This also has not changed appreciably over the decade.
Other than core funds, money from special programs, as well as from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, has fluctuated greatly over the decade. Special programs have come and gone. In these programs the actual awards that have gone to AMO-related topics have likewise fluctuated. For example, in the case of MURI awards, there have been anywhere from 1 to 5 active MURIs (at $1 million per year each). Though there have been significant fluctuations, on average about $2 million to $3 million per year of special program monies for AMO has gone to centers of various kinds. At the peak, in 2001, there were three quantum information MURIs focused on AMO topics, two MURIs focused on atom optics, and a number of smaller awards (for equipment, internal centers, etc.). The total funding for special programs amounted to about $5.5 million. Thus, overall AMO physics funding has fluctuated from about $3 million per year at its lowest to about $7 million per year at its peak. For the purposes of this report, the average is taken to be $5 million per year. These funds are spent entirely at universities.
The average grant sizes in ARO core AMO funding are about $140,000 per year for experiment (ranging from about $80,000 to $200,000) and about $80,000 per year for theory (from about $50,000 to $120,000). On the other hand, the MURIs are all fixed in size at $1 million per year. ARO staff believe that grant sizes should all be significantly larger: experimental grants by about 50 percent, and for theory, nearly 100 percent.
There has not been an appreciable drop in the number of grants funded, but the pool of potentially great science has grown, so the AMO budget would have to grow to fund even the very tip of the top proposals. Program officers state that the ARO budget could easily be tripled before the quality of the work funded would slip below current standards.
Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency
DARPA does not maintain a specific program in AMO science. Rather, it involves this work in its characteristic multidisciplinary way as a part of achieving its mission for the DOD (see Appendix D). However, DARPA estimated that funding for AMO-related areas in 2005 totaled over $30 million. This estimate does not include pass-throughs from other agencies, as DARPA typically does not pass funds through but distributes them to other agencies, which act as contracting agents. The complexity and variability of funding patterns at DARPA make it impossible to give an accurate funding history for AMO science from this agency. The funds are predominantly spent at universities, but also by the private sector and by government laboratories.
Because DARPA funds are allocated to achieve a stated mission, it would be misleading to focus on the average size for a research project—there is simply too large a variation in project size and composition for this number to be meaningful. Further, the tendency in DARPA to focus on a particular problem and on multiple disciplines in pursuit of solving that problem often leads to mixing theoretical and experimental tasks within a given research project.
DARPA will continue to be a good, growing source of funding for university AMO researchers, but in a multidisciplinary context, of which AMO science is a very important part. However, there is significant variability in DARPA programs from year to year.
Office of Naval Research
Over the last decade the ONR program in AMO science changed dramatically. The AM component has declined by a factor of 2 and the optical part has been eliminated, leaving about $1.5 million for a core program in AM science only (see also Chapter 8). About two-thirds of the core money goes to university researchers and most of the rest goes to NIST. ONR is unusual in that it does support some overseas performers. ONR also supports four MURIs in AMO science at the present time, as well as a modest Young Investigator Program (each award is for $100,000 per year for 3 years). Total funding of AMO is thus about $5 million per year. Two of the MURIs specialize in the development of new optical frequency standards and optical atomic clocks: one is in quantum control for improved sensing technology and one in new techniques for magnetometry.
Average grant sizes in ONR core AMO funding are about $150,000 per year for experiment (ranging from about $100,000 to $200,000), and about $125,000 per year for theory (ranging from about $100,000 to $150,000). Grant size is sufficient, though program officers believe that the program budget could easily be doubled before there would be a noticeable decline in the quality of work funded.
DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
The average grant sizes in the DOE’s Atomic Molecular and Optical Sciences (AMOS) program are about $137,000 per year for experiment (ranging from about $64,000 to $200,000), and about $104,000 per year for theory (ranging from about $50,000 to $150,000). The ideal size of awards depends on the scope of the project and is best measured in terms of people and equipment available to work on a problem rather than in dollars, because research costs and infrastructure support vary considerably among research institutions. For the typical project that DOE funds at a university, a model grant would provide one month of a faculty member’s summer salary and full support for one postdoc and one graduate student plus modest operating support. DOE makes no distinction between experimental and theory efforts for these core elements of a budget plan. For experimental projects DOE anticipates additional equipment and materials costs of about $100,000 per year over the lifetime of a grant, and it encourages the institution to match this investment.
Programs at the national labs are quite different. There, DOE typically supports a number of Ph.D. staff working in concerted fashion on larger-scale integrated programs. Such programs typically have four to seven professional staff and several postdocs.
Funding at DOE for AMOS rose from 1996 to 2005 by about 67 percent in as-spent dollars and by about 34 percent in FY2005 dollars (see Table 8–1). The number of grants supported at DOE increased slightly during that time, and the quality of the work supported has remained high. The concept of “proposal pressure” is not relevant at DOE because of its mission orientation. That is to say, the scientific profile of supported research does not change in response to the level of interest from the researcher community. Nevertheless, within the mission area there is no shortage of excellent proposals, and many strong proposals are not funded.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY
Funding at NIST for AMOS has risen over the decade by about 55 percent in as-spent dollars and by about 25 percent in FY2005 dollars (see Table 8–1). These funds support a research program that is distributed mostly among six divisions in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and in Boulder, Colorado. NIST does not disburse funds through an unsolicited proposal-based grants program. It does supply some support to universities, about 10 percent of its AMO funds, but this is done in a collaborative way, through both grants and contracts for research and services closely related to its in-house research. At the NIST laboratories, scientists are supported at a level of about $100,000 per year in both experimental and theoretical work, not including overhead or equipment depreciation.
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
The NASA Laboratory Astrophysics program focuses entirely on atomic and molecular spectroscopy relevant to its overall mission of space exploration. The size of the program is ~$3 million per year, and its focus ranges across wavelengths from x rays to the submillimeter. Grant sizes range from ~$50,000 to ~$300,000. The same grants ranged from $30,000 to $80,000 about a decade ago, so there has been considerable growth over that time. About $2 million per year in the Planetary Atmospheres program is spent on the AMO science relevant to that effort. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s effort (about $6 million per year) on atomic clocks, atomwave interferometry, and quantum optics is funded partly by NASA and partly by DARPA. The information from NASA was mostly anecdotal. Detailed year-by-year trends were not provided.
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
The average grant size for an award in the Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics (AMOP) experimental program is about $135,000 per year (ranging from about $100,000 to $300,000). The average grant size for an award in the theory program is about $60,000 per year (ranging from about $35,000 to $90,000). Both programs are in the Physics Division. The committee did not attempt to survey the situation in other parts of NSF (for example, the Chemistry or Materials Research Divisions or in the Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate).
Grant sizes for the same level of effort will vary depending on the university, its location, graduate student salaries, indirect cost rates, etc. Averaging over the entire AMOP experimental program, an ideal grant size would be about $170,000 per year. For theory it would be about $100,000 per year. These numbers are calculated based on requested funding levels for proposals currently under review. To achieve this in the experimental program would require about a 25 percent budget increase; the AMO theory program would require about a 50 percent increase. Both assume that the total number of awards does not change.
Budgets in the overall AMOP science program at NSF have increased by about 90 percent in as-spent dollars and about 50 percent in FY2005 dollars over the last decade (see Table 8–1). These funds have come in support of new centers, of individual investigator awards, and to a small extent in special NSF initiatives (for example, in nanoscience and information technology). However, almost all of the increase has gone to the experimental AMOP program. The theoretical side has remained nearly static in spite of the fact that the Physics Division budget is up by nearly 50 percent over this period.
In spite of these increases, the number of grants supported at the top quality levels has declined a bit. The reason for this is that the experimental program has given priority to increasing grant size as opposed to increasing the number of awards. In addition, the program has given attention to providing significant funds for equipment in order to keep funded projects competitive. The budget decreases that took place, particularly in FY2004 and FY2005, impacted this strategy (that is, increasing grant size and providing more funds for equipment) more significantly than they impacted the overall numbers of awards, which have not changed drastically. From FY1998 through FY2002 it was possible to make awards at the level requested, in some cases increasing existing awards by 30–40 percent. Beginning in FY2004 this was no longer feasible. Moreover, while it was possible to provide essentially all the capital equipment requested from FY1998 through FY2002, after that such funding had to be capped at $80,000 per award. Funding for capital equipment is also available through the NSF Major Research Instrumentation program, though the opportunity is somewhat limited because only two requests for funds are allowed per academic institution.
In FY1996 the theory program budget was at about $3.5 million per year. It peaked at $4.7 million per year in FY2001 and has since declined, to about $4.1 million per year in 2005. With advice from the community, the program has elected to keep awards at nearly the existing amount while having to decrease the number of awards. An increase of about 30 percent in the program budget would be needed to return the program to its dollar level in FY2001 and to make up for inflationary losses.