The agencies were asked to provide information for each of the last 10 years on the number of grantees supported, the number of applicants for that support, and the success rates. They were also asked to comment on turnover, age distribution, and participation by women and minorities over the last decade and whether there have been any noticeable shifts. Finally, they were asked about the number of students supported (graduate and undergraduate), Ph.D.s granted, and postdocs supported each year over the last 10 years. These data are compiled in Table 8–2 and in Figures 8–2 and 8–3, and the committee’s conclusions appear in Chapter 8.
Federal law prohibits collecting some of this information except via voluntary self-reporting, so the discussion below is based on qualitative impressions from the program officers.
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE FUNDING AGENCIES (AFOSR, ARO, DARPA, ONR)
DOD programs operate with several differing proposal review systems, including peer review. For example, the MURI program is reviewed like NSF programs. Other awards are based on their suitability for armed services programs. Program officers have large discretionary powers in making the funding decisions in most cases.
Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Average grant size at the AFOSR is about $ 125,000 per year, so about 20 university PIs are in the program at any one time. Other AFOSR funds support AMO research done at Air Force labs. University funding applications proceed along both informal and formal lines, often beginning with a telephone call or an e-mail. Most ideas are turned away at this stage. But if the idea is interesting, a white paper is solicited or a proposal is requested. If a proposal is requested funding will be supplied if at all possible. Young people are encouraged. Program turnover is about 5 percent per year.
AFOSR does not track demographics in detail, but estimates are that roughly 10 percent of grantees are women and about 7 percent are minorities. The agency does send some funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Roughly speaking, each PI has an associated graduate student, so about 20 are supported in the program. Roughly four doctoral degrees are granted each year.
Army Research Office
A good rule of thumb at the ARO is that there is roughly one grantee per $115,000 of funding (with a range of $80,000 to $200,000). Thus on average, ARO is supporting somewhere between 20 and 60 senior investigators depending on the year. The number of awards hovers around 30. Almost all applications start with a phone call or e-mail. Perhaps 90 percent are not encouraged any further. Of the applicants who submit white papers, perhaps 30 to 50 percent are encouraged to submit a proposal. Of submitted proposals, perhaps 30–50 percent are funded.
Turnover occurs as a result of deliberate changes in direction or a deliberate desire to change the mix of people. Over the last 2 years 50 percent of the atomic and molecular part of the core program has turned over. The Special Programs typically last 3–5 years and are not renewable. Thus they automatically turn over. The average number of new starts per year is perhaps 5 (out of the ~30 awards in place on average). ARO is constantly introducing new young investigators to the program while a seasoned crew ages.
Like its sister agencies, the ARO does not track demographics in detail. Women have averaged about 10 percent of the program over the years. The number of underrepresented minority PIs is probably less than 5 percent but with only about 30 awards the statistics are too poor to be more than simply indicative of very low participation.
Roughly speaking, each $100,000 award corresponds to one graduate student. With an average budget of about $5 million per year, this is approximately 50 graduate students. ARO does not track the number of Ph.D.s awarded but guesses it would be about 10 per year. ARO supports about 30 postdocs each year.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
For the most part, DARPA does not award grants, but it does award contracts. Most of these are awarded and managed through AFOSR, ARO, and ONR.
Office of Naval Research
The average grant size at ONR is about $150,000 per year, so about 30 university PIs are in the program at any one time. Application procedures are essentially the same as at the other DOD agencies.
ONR does not track demographics in detail, and outreach activity is not measured, as it is not a part of the ONR mission. ONR does support some students and postdocs as a normal part of conducting its mission, but it is difficult to estimate reliably how many.
DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
The number of awards at universities fluctuates from year to year, but the average has remained relatively constant over this period. There are multiple PIs on some grants, and a number of PIs are supported by programs at DOE national laboratories. Currently the total number of PIs and co-PIs in the program is 83, including experiment and theory. About 38 percent of PIs are in the theoretical program, but somewhat less than 38 percent of the funds goes to theoretical work.
A typical DOE grant provides full or partial support for a postdoc and one or two graduate students, so at any time there are roughly 150 graduate students and postdocs working with full or partial support from DOE—that is, about 100 graduate students and 50 postdocs. There are some undergraduates working in DOE’s AMOS program, but it is very difficult to estimate the number. It is not large.
Since DOE is mission-oriented, it solicits and considers only proposals in certain areas, so that general notion of proposal pressure from the AMO community is not relevant. It does receive many inquiries about whether DOE’s AMOS program would consider research in certain areas, and many of these are discouraged, though the numbers are not tracked. In the past 2 years, about 20 percent of the encouraged proposals were successful.
The number of grants turning over fluctuates from year to year. In FY2005 there were five new starts and in FY2004 there were two, and in that 2-year period seven grants ended. For the years 2002 through 2004, 83 percent of the grants coming up for renewal (typically after 3 years of funding) were renewed (30 out of 36). In that same period, 34 percent of the new proposals considered were successful (15 out of 44).
Like its sister agencies, DOE does not track demographics, so no quantitative information was provided on trends for women or minorities. But the qualitative belief is that these numbers are low, consistent with the experience of the other agencies.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY
The six NIST divisions contributing to AMO science in Gaithersburg and Boulder employ among them about 200 scientists, 20 postdocs, 30 graduate students, and 20 undergraduates. In addition, there are about 100 guest scientists, mostly from abroad, who collaborate with the permanent NIST staff.
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
In recent years the NASA Laboratory Astrophysics program has supported about 30 senior investigators and a few postdocs and graduate students. The Planetary Atmospheres program supports one-third to one-half that number. The JPL program, which is directed entirely in-house, supports about four graduate students but no postdocs. A problem that NASA foresees is that not enough young people are coming into the area of applied astrophysics. Most of the work is done at centers or at private research institutes, which tend not to focus on training students.
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Between FY1997 and FY2005, NSF’s AMOP experimental program supported an average of 102 senior investigators each year (including PIs and co-PIs) under roughly 86 active awards. However, the average number of senior personnel supported from FY1997 to FY1999 was about 15 percent higher than the average from FY2003 to FY2005 (109 vs. 93). Similarly, the number of postdocs supported declined by about 23 percent over the period, from 51 to 39. However, the number of Ph.D. students supported increased by 18 percent, from 132 to 156. Over the same period the AMOP theory program supported an average of 52 senior investigators, 19 postdocs, and 41 graduate students under about 50 active awards. These numbers have remained essentially constant over the decade. Neither program tracks the numbers of Ph.D.s awarded in any year. An estimate is that about 25–30 doctoral degrees are granted each year in experiment and about 8 in theory.
Between FY2000 and FY2005, the AMOP experimental program supported an average of 97 undergraduate students each year through Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) supplements and through direct awards. In the same
period the AMOP theory program supported an average of 16 undergraduate students each year.
Beginning in FY1997, the AMOP experimental program began giving preference to increasing the size of awards as opposed to increasing the number of awards or the number of investigators supported. This practice has since been maintained. On the other hand, because funding for theory has recently been static or declining, the program has chosen to try and maintain a roughly constant award size. The AMOP experimental and theoretical programs averaged 41 and 46 percent success rates, respectively, over the reporting period.
Both AMOP programs place high value on initiating new grant activities, particularly those of junior investigators. Of new awards made in the experimental program between FY2000 and FY2005, 34 were to scientists within 10 years of their Ph.D. The numbers vary, from four new starts in FY2001 and FY2005 to eight new starts in FY2002. The much smaller AMOP theory program reports a few new starts each year. One reference point is illustrative: Of the 99 scientists listed as PIs on experimental awards in FY1996, 53 were listed as such in FY2005.
Like its sister agencies, the NSF does not track demographics in detail. Like the other agencies, the qualitative response is that the AMOP experimental program is weak with regard to participation by women and underrepresented minorities. Of the 102 senior investigators reported above, eight were women and two were underrepresented minorities. The number of women supported increased over the decade, from four to eight. The number of underrepresented minorities remained the same.
The AMOP theory program has similar experience with women as senior investigators. Of the 52 senior investigators mentioned above, 5, on average, have been women. This number has increased slightly in recent years. One underrepresented minority was funded from FY1999 through FY2002. During the remaining years none were reported. These numbers reflect only self-identified individuals.