ROLE OF THE NCNR IN THE INTERNATIONAL NEUTRON-SCATTERING COMMUNITY
NCNR is active in the meetings of the Neutron Facility Directors (NFD) in North America, including Chalk River, which have met annually since the inaugural meeting at Los Alamos in January 2003. A valuable aspect of the meeting is rotational hosting, allowing leadership from all laboratories to see sister facilities. This group was established by a recommendation in a report by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Interagency Working Group on Neutron Science to foster inter-facility cooperation, mutual planning, and strategic planning, as well as collaboration and communication. NFD has fostered excellent coordination in outages, outreach activities such as schools, and policies relevant to user needs. There has also been good coordination in adopting facility metrics suitable to both the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Commerce (DOC) cultures.
Recently the NFD has taken the strategic planning recommendation more seriously than in the past. This is welcome news; continued coordination in instrumentation to meet the needs of the user community with both capacity and uniqueness is encouraged. As budgets slim down, technique development may be vulnerable to loss of attention; the NFD could have a role in formulating effective teamwork for advancing techniques in neutron-based research.
In view of its strong standing among facilities for North America, the NCNR has a leadership obligation within NFD, perhaps superseding that of the SNS at this point in time. While this balance may change, the weight of NCNR’s staff expertise, its user group, and its advocacy power should be utilized to the best advantage of the broad neutron and materials research communities.
The NCNR also plays a role in the international neutron scattering community through its participation in meetings of the directors of the world’s major neutron scattering centers. Such meetings are generally held in conjunction with the principal gatherings of the neutron scattering community, such as the quadrennial International Neutron Scattering Conference (ICNS), with the aim of discussing issues of common concern. For example, at the most recent ICNS meeting in Edinburgh in July 2013, the NCNR director led the discussion of future needs and supply of 3He, and he participated actively in debate on other issues, such as detector development and a more coherent approach to establishing meaningful performance metrics for neutron centers.
NCNR INTERACTION WITH THE INDUSTRIAL COMMUNITY
The NCNR has a sizable and diverse industrial user community that includes more than 40 companies with direct access to the facility to perform both publishable and proprietary scientific experiments. These companies span a range of technology space
from petrochemicals to materials and electronics, and, increasingly, to biotechnology and pharmaceuticals as well. The NCNR’s heavy focus on the development of sample stages that allow for the manipulation of sample temperature, pressure, strain, or moisture/humidity is extremely useful for industrial researchers needing to understand performance of materials in situ. These sample manipulation capabilities, along with the performance of the experimental beam lines, place the NCNR among the leaders of neutron science facilities for industrial users.
Many of the industrial user companies access the facility through partnerships with NIST scientists that are tied to larger collaborative programs ongoing within other NIST laboratories, and several companies access the NCNR beam lines directly through the general proposal process. Many industrially relevant problems are being explored in this facility, either through direct collaborations with industry or in partnership with academic researchers. The level of measurement science being developed and expanded is impressive and highly relevant for solving these industry problems. In addition, proprietary research of particular value to many industrial partners is underway. It is impossible to know precisely how many companies benefit from the value of NCNR research either through indirect collaboration with academic or national laboratories scientists who are NCNR users, or through the study of the published scientific output from non-industrial NCNR users, but the number and impact of these initiatives are substantial. The NCNR should work closely with industrial partners to identify and highlight the impact that this facility has had on technology advances and innovation that have resulted in financial benefits for these companies.
Efforts should continue to enhance the impact of the NCNR in supporting the development of new technologies to drive the U.S. economy. For example, over the past 3 years, a new user consortium model for industrial access based on the CRADA (cooperative research and development agreement) framework has been developed, which may prove to be a preferred way to introduce industrial researchers to the value of the NCNR. The first embodiment of this, called nSoft, was initiated in late 2010 and has grown to eight member companies, with at least four more in the process of joining. The goal of nSoft is to develop and share new scientific capabilities based on the consensus priorities of the member companies. Currently, significant progress has been reported. It is too early in the nSoft consortium’s life cycle to assess the impact on its industrial users; this model should be carefully studied and replicated if it is deemed successful over the next few years.
USER GROUP CONSIDERATIONS
The panel discussed many aspects of NCNR User Group (NUG) activities with both NCNR facility management and with the NUG chair. The NUG Executive Committee, about half of whose members were recently elected, evinced an impressive vibrancy and commitment to the work of the committee. Three areas of NUG activity were assessed: advocacy of user needs to NCNR management, advocacy of NCNR facility needs to the U.S. government, and facilitation of the user needs survey.
Users find NCNR management to be receptive and responsive to many and varied concerns, from data acquisition to office space to child care. Since the NCNR expansion, there have been few user concerns to report; nevertheless, several aspects of user
experience have been improved. For example, the facility has implemented a new data access policy that will make retrieval easier from offsite. More significantly, the user community expressed the desire to be more involved with strategic planning and setting a long-term vision for NCNR, perhaps through a user group meeting that could be held despite difficulties arising from current federal travel budget restrictions. Possible approaches include working through regular meetings convened in the areas of materials (MRS [Materials Research Society] and APS [American Physical Society]) and neutron scattering (ACNS [American Conference on Neutron Scattering] and ICNS) to bring NCNR users and potential users into the planning process.
The chair of the NUG Executive Committee evinced the NUG’s impressive commitment to advocacy for neutron science in Washington, D.C. Better articulation of NUG’s role in the National User Facility Organization (NUFO) will help NUG to amplify its voice to law and policy makers. The Neutron Scattering Society of America, in which NUG members are quite active, provides additional advocacy flows to the benefit of neutron scatterers and facilities. The NUG Executive Committee has a good mixture of practitioners and early-career and experienced people for effective advocacy.
The NUG is ready and eager to create a new user-needs survey as a follow-up to surveys in 2007 and 2011. The needs of industrial, academic, and government users should be identified to capitalize on the NCNR’s special mission advantages in serving industry. The NIST deputy director for laboratory programs confirmed an increased emphasis at NIST on serving the manufacturing community.
Beam Time Allocation Committee
In general, the merit review of beam time proposals is effective and efficient. The Beam Time Allocation Committee (BTAC) chair discussed her committee’s work with the panel by phone. The NCNR’s practice to group proposals by similar instruments is working well. The BTAC carries an extraordinarily heavy load in SANS (38 percent) and Large Scale Structure (57 percent) proposals, but recruitment to the committee appears to meet the needs well. Although the BTAC is advisory to the NCNR director, the committee feels empowered in the review process by the openness and freedom in ranking proposals; the chair conveyed the impression that BTAC decisions are not overruled by management.
EDUCATION AND OUTREACH
The NIST education and outreach program is particularly strong and effective. Several NCNR outreach initiatives were highlighted. For K-8, NIST implements a variety of tried-and-true programs (e.g., USA Science and Engineering Festival and Bring Your Sons and Daughters to Work Day); and innovative programs (e.g., Adventures in Science and a Boy Scout nuclear science merit badge). The NCNR’s high school summer intern program has hosted 25 students since 2008, and its strong undergraduate summer research fellowship has hosted 85 students since 2000 with impressive records: 23 publications and 82 percent of eligible students have gone to graduate school. Another vital education program for U.S. science is the CHRNS Summer Neutron Scattering School. NIST also fosters outreach through laboratory tours for a range of student ages.
Other important and innovative outreach activities include a Summer Institute for Science Middle School Teachers and a Research Experience for Teachers. These programs are self-propagating: teaching the teachers is always an efficient way to promote science education in K-12 schools—an area that is important and in need of support in this country. NIST’s efforts in this area are commendable.