Centers, and other Government agencies.”20 One institution out of the consortium becomes the lead for the proposal. Each team has funding of about $1 million per year for 5 years, and teams are allowed to compete again for funding after 5 years.21
The committee was asked to consider the option of a “virtual” institution. This discussion is often phrased in terms of a choice between virtual versus real (i.e., “brick and mortar”) institutions; however, in practical application, both the PFC and NAI teams have core groups centered at physical institutions, and both use virtual collaboration tools. The differences lie mainly in the degree to which the use of virtual tools is necessitated by widely distributed collaborators. In addition, part of the NAI mission is to explore the use of such virtual tools.
Ensuring the Uniqueness of HSCs
The decadal survey identified a dazzling range of science challenges for heliophysics22 and for addressing societal needs.23 New data from the missions and large observing projects prioritized for the decade 2013-2023 are designed to address many of these challenges, but fully resolving them also requires models that apply state-of-the-art computational methods in combination with forefront theoretical expertise. In this manner, an interactive environment is formed where each component enhances the other in a manner that no single element could achieve on its own.
HSCs are intended to enable progress on the science questions that are too challenging to be solved otherwise, because of inadequate resources to provide the level of effort required, insufficient time to make substantive advances, or limitations on the range of capabilities and expertise of team members required to achieve significant impacts. The following paragraphs describe how HSCs can be made to differ from other NASA and NSF program elements, and how to include unique aspects that will facilitate transformative progress on some of the outstanding challenges of solar and space physics.
The HSC program can be made uniquely cross-cutting, by supporting multidisciplinary science to an extent that is unprecedented for the NASA Heliophysics and NSF Geospace programs.
Traditionally, the heliophysics community characterizes its efforts by one or more of the following categories:
- Physical realm—Sun, heliosphere, magnetosphere, ionosphere, or atmosphere;
- Physical process—turbulence, reconnection, particle acceleration, and wave generation, propagation, or interactions;
- Approach or skill—theory, modeling, observation, data analysis, or information science; and
- Emphasis—forecasting, basic physics, tools and capabilities, and training and education.
These categories are reflected within institutions, professional organizations, and research funding lines. Such regimes, while facilitating communication and allowing groups to efficiently build on each other’s efforts, can create artificial boundaries that impede progress on problems requiring a broader
21 Penelope Boston, NASA, personal communication to the Committee on Solar and Space Physics, March 29, 2017.
22 NRC, 2013, Solar and Space Physics, p. 66, Table 2.1.
23 NRC, 2013, Solar and Space Physics, Chapter 3, pp. 67-74.
multidisciplinary range of expertise. Although some degree of boundary crossing is encouraged by existing NASA and NSF research programs, it does not occur on the scale envisioned by the HSCs.
HSCs can be made to enable new science achievements by bringing together participants with expertise and skills that cross within and between these categories, as well as at the interfaces of heliophysics and other fields such as physics, chemistry, astronomy, planetary, and Earth sciences. This establishes the necessary infrastructure for participants to explore and develop convergent ideas.24 The decadal survey stated that progress can be made more effectively when people from diverse backgrounds work together on common problems. This concept was strongly supported by the contributors to the March 2017 CSSP meeting. To paraphrase a lesson learned from the PFC presentation: Major advances occur when scientists who would not normally work together are brought together.25
The HSC program can be made uniquely comprehensive, enabling transformative scientific investigations of complex problems through levels of investment, breadth, and duration that are not possible with the existing NASA Heliophysics and NSF Geospace programs.
As envisioned by the decadal survey, topics appropriate for an HSC may be intentionally broad or narrow, but inherently require a cross-cutting effort by a large team with multiple skills, ensuring the “critical mass” necessary for sustained innovation. This necessitates a center-level funding model that is larger than what currently exists in the NASA Heliophysics and NSF Geospace research programs. The necessary multidisciplinary skills might not be co-located at a single institution, so centers may propose to span more than one institution. A virtual component, facilitating communication and interaction between institutions, is thus likely. Proposal teams will have to articulate a compelling value-added rationale for the establishment of an HSC, as distinct from what could be achieved with a focused set of smaller grants.
The HSC program can be made uniquely collaborative by facilitating a sustained team environment.
Like the PFC and NAI teams that have 5-year terms, members of an HSC would be able to develop a sense of team identity and purpose. A capable team with a broad complement of skills that works together long enough to develop common language and understanding, working relationships, and effective partnerships catalyzes interactions with researchers across the community at all career levels. Existing teams, such as NASA mission science teams or the focused research teams funded by NASA or the Department of Defense,26 have some stability, but they generally have more directed goals and do not interact with the community-at-large in the manner envisioned for the HSCs. An HSC will provide an institutional “home” for a scientific endeavor that enables participants and visitors to interact in ways that promote collaboration and learning that may not otherwise happen.
The HSC program can be made uniquely impactful through value-adding aspects to be defined by the HSC team.
24 “Convergence,” a concept described by National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine President Marcia McNutt at the 2016 fall American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting, is defined as the integration of engineering, physical sciences, computation, and life sciences in order to bring about profound benefits for health, energy, and environment (L. Guertin, 2016, “Dr. G’s #AGU16 Spotlight—Marcia McNutt and Convergence in the Geosciences,” AGU Blogosphere, December 20, http://blogs.agu.org/geoedtrek/2016/12/20/convergence-in-the-geosciences/).
25 Denise Caldwell, NSF, personal communication to the Committee on Solar and Space Physics, March 29, 2017.
26 For example: NASA H-GCR TMS (Theory Modeling and Simulation), Living With a Star Capabilities and Science Focus Topics, and the DOD Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives (MURIs) programs.
HSCs would possess resources enabling a level of impact on the discipline, the community, and society that is unattainable through existing NASA Heliophysics and NSF Geospace research program elements. For example, the PFC speaker described the palpable difference that centers made to the educational experience for students and postdoctoral researchers.27 The broader impacts of an individual science center are thus an important part of the value-added argument for an HSC proposal. These may include but are not limited to one or more of the following:
- Education of a diverse next-generation workforce, who will have opportunities to explore and work with different disciplines and techniques;
- Development of new capabilities, technologies, or tools;
- Creation of a longer-term imprint on the institution(s) involved in an HSC;
- Visiting scientist programs that expand opportunities for national or international collaboration with the HSC team;
- In-person or virtual workshops, schools, or other forums that advance the HSC science topic; and
- Potential for positive societal impact from new science, technologies, and applications.
The HSC program can be made uniquely nimble by giving HSCs the flexibility to respond quickly to emerging opportunities.
The HSCs would be designed to be flexible in approach, so that the most promising science topics can be pursued in a timely manner. In particular, frequent communication with the funding agencies and partner institutions would allow HSC leaders to adjust their strategy to capitalize on new opportunities and rapidly adapt their approach to what is learned during the course of their project. This ability to modify methodologies or the skill mix during its lifetime would distinguish HSCs from other grant programs.
FINDING: The HSC program defined by the decadal survey has several unique and important characteristics. In particular, the decadal survey envisioned that HSCs would represent a new and more cross-cutting, comprehensive, collaborative, impactful, and nimble mode of research for NASA and NSF solar and space physics.
CONCLUSION: Heliophysics science centers can be made unique by supporting a cross-cutting team approach and achieving the critical mass and agility necessary to tackle problems of greater depth or breadth than can be addressed by existing single investigator or small group programs.
Structure and Scope of HSCs and Lessons Learned from Other Programs
As recommended in the decadal survey, to make the HSC program unique will require equally unique implementation strategies, in particular,
- Multidisciplinarity, involving theorists, observers, modelers, and computer scientists;
- Interagency collaboration involving NASA and NSF;
- Annual funding for each center in the range of $1 million to $3 million for 6 years; and
- Total NASA funding ramping up to $8 million per year, plus increases for inflation.
27 Denise Caldwell, NSF, personal communication to the Committee on Solar and Space Physics, March 29, 2017.
Centers of this scope represent a new opportunity for solar and space physics. The committee notes that national institutions exist with substantial concentrations of heliophysics scientists, such as at some NASA centers, NSF’s National Solar Observatory and High Altitude Observatory, and Department of Defense laboratories. However, these are larger scale and longer term than the decadal survey’s vision for the HSCs. Moreover, they have not been optimized for particular multidisciplinary skill sets targeting specific grand challenge science questions. A closer analogy is the Center for Integrated Space weather Modeling (CISM) that was funded by the NSF Science and Technology Center (STC) program from 2002 to 2013 at $4 million per year. The STC program, however, is still larger than what is envisioned for HSCs and is an NSF-wide competition that includes an emphasis on innovations and the transfer of knowledge or technology, rather than purely on scientific discovery.28 Although not in the same discipline, the PFC and NAI programs are closer examples to what was envisioned in the decadal survey for HSCs, as evidenced by the PFC and NAI presentations and discussions at the CSSP meeting.
Lessons learned from these and other programs are discussed below.
Lesson Learned: The multidisciplinary approach has been essential to successful HSC-like programs.
PFCs involve “combinations of talents, skills, disciplines, and/or specialized infrastructure, not usually available to individual investigators or small groups,”29 and the NAI mission is for “collaborative, interdisciplinary research.”30
Lesson Learned: Successful NASA and NSF partnerships have already led to demonstrated gains for heliophysics.
The NASA and NSF Partnership for Collaborative Space Weather Modeling,31 the Community Coordinated Modeling Center,32 CubeSats,33 and, in collaboration with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies, the National Space Weather Action Plan34 are examples of successful heliophysics partnerships.
Lesson Learned: Successful interagency partnerships require careful coordination.
The success of a PFC interagency partnership between NSF and the Department of Energy was predicated on the establishment of the clear understanding that each organization would use its own mechanism to contribute to the overall goals of the center.35 Relatedly, the NSF Geospace portfolio review underscores the need for NASA and NSF to ensure that “their respective science goals and
28 The NSF Science and Technology Centers program has funded one solar and space physics center out of about 50 centers that have been created since 1989 (NSF, “Science and Technology Centers (STCs): Integrative Partnerships,” https://www.nsf.gov/od/oia/programs/stc/, accessed April 2017).
29 NSF, 2016, “Physics Frontiers Centers (PFC),” Solicitation 16-561, posted May 4.
31 Descriptions of some of the selected proposals can be found in NASA, “Living W/a Star Targeted Rsrch & Tech: NASA/NSF Partnership for Collaborative Space Weather Modeling: Abstracts of selected proposals (NNH05ZDA001N-LWS2),” https://lwstrt.gsfc.nasa.gov/lwsnsf_abstract06.pdf.
33 NASEM, 2016, Achieving Science with CubeSats: Thinking Inside the Box, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
34 National Science and Technology Council, 2015, National Space Weather Strategy, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Washington, D.C., October.
35 Denise Caldwell, NSF, personal communication to the Committee on Solar and Space Physics, March 29, 2017.
eligibility criteria and metrics for proposal selections are well-aligned”36 in undertaking their HSC partnership.
Lesson Learned: Successful programs such as the NAI and PFC have benefited from total grant size, center or project length, and phasing on a scale consistent with the HSC vision in the decadal survey.
The NAI and PFC total grant size varies from center to center or project to project (about $1 million to $5 million per year and about $1 million per year, respectively) but is generally consistent with the HSC range recommended in the decadal survey ($1 million to $3 million per year) and is large enough to foster teams with members possessing a range of skills, expertise, and career stages. Both NAI and the PFC have center or project lengths of 5 to 6 years. The PFC representative noted that it generally took a couple of years to fully evolve from concept to coherent center, implying the need for longer periods of HSC performance than the 2- to 3-year duration of typical small-grant funding.37 The phasing for both the NAI and PFC programs involved new solicitations every 2 to 3 years, with more than one center or project operating concurrently, a cadence that may enable an enriched environment with opportunities for cross-center interactions.
Lesson Learned: Many of the successful multidisciplinary programs discussed at the CSSP meeting allow for renewal of centers or projects but place constraints on the nature and number of such renewals.
The decadal survey did not make specific recommendations about whether and for how many terms HSCs might be renewed. The NSF Geospace portfolio review raised concerns that HSCs may be overemphasized as an “enduring institutional firmament,” as opposed to a model that “solves or makes significant progress in solving the problem and then diminishes in intensity of effort to make way for other pressing strategic research problems.38
The NSF STCs allow renewal for one term but have a “sunset” policy of a 10-year total term. PFCs are commonly renewed for at least one term, provided that substantially new topics are proposed for the second term. Fewer NAIs are renewed, with approximately half of the institutes re-proposing at the next opportunity.
FINDING: The structure and scope of NSF PFCs and the NAI are generally consistent with the decadal survey recommendations for HSCs.
CONCLUSION: The emphasis on multidisciplinarity and interagency coordination in the decadal survey recommendations and the level of funding, project duration, and phasing envisioned therein, are consistent with those of successful HSC-like programs considered by the committee.
The Path Forward: Best Practices and Implementation Options
The decadal survey did not include specific guidance about whether and how to prioritize HSC science topics. Best practices for the achievement of transformative outcomes and lessons learned from other programs are discussed below.
36 NSF, 2016, Investments in Critical Capabilities for Geospace Science 2016 to 2025, p. 100.
37 Denise Caldwell, NSF, personal communication to the Committee on Solar and Space Physics, March 29, 2017.
38 NSF, 2016, Investments in Critical Capabilities for Geospace Science 2016 to 2025, p. 107.
Best Practice: Transformative outcomes are best achieved by openly competing science objectives rather than pre-determining them.
Recent community forums and resultant reports, including the “Quo Vadis” workshop sponsored by NSF Geospace Section39 and an input-gathering CubeSat symposium,40 are excellent ways to rally community interest and support of particular programs and enable broad discussion of potential science topics appropriate to these programs. However, NAI and PFC lessons learned argue that, while such forums and other agency requests for community input may be options to stimulate and inform HSC objectives, forum outcomes need not rigidly define those objectives. The PFC program allows activities in all subfields of physics within the purview of the NSF Division of Physics. The NAI in its 2017 solicitation seeks proposals “responding to the long-term goals and objectives identified in the Astrobiology Strategy and proposals focused on ensuring that the astrobiology science portfolio is prepared to respond to the challenge of planning and implementing these [NASA SMD flight] missions [with astrobiology goals and objectives].”41 The success of the NASA Explorer program also argues for an open competition of science objectives. When allowed to design a science mission within the broad confines of the decadal survey recommendations, the heliophysics community continues to produce a wide range of competitive science missions.
Best Practice: Transformative outcomes are best achieved by allowing proposers to define the specific tools, methods, and team and management structures that they will employ to achieve their science objectives.
None of the aforementioned programs are overly prescriptive about the methodologies to be employed to achieve center, project, or mission objectives. Moreover, NAI and PFC practice suggest that HSCs may benefit from a flexibility that allows for the evolution of methods during the course of the project in response to new developments, subject to an effective communication model between the center leads and their funding agency.
Best Practice: Metrics for success are best customized by proposers and defined up front in HSC proposals, so that they can be explicitly considered as part of selection criteria.
Metrics for HSC success would provide evidence of scientific impact and legacy. In addition to scientific publications and communications, advances in cloud hosting and cyber-informatics now provide mechanisms for projects to provide high-value community resources, including open source code, models or model frameworks, and big-data structures. These mechanisms may be appropriate metrics of success, if so defined in a successful proposal. Broader impacts, as discussed above in the section “Ensuring the Uniqueness of HSCs” may also provide meaningful metrics. Evaluation throughout the HSC lifetime by an external advisory group could be built into the process to ensure quality and give objective perspectives that are in keeping with CISM and NAI practice.42
39 NSF and High Altitude Observatory/ National Center for Atmospheric Research, 2016, Exploring the Geospace Frontier: Quo Vadis?, workshop report, https://www2.hao.ucar.edu/sites/default/files/users/sheryls/QuoVadisWorkshopReport.pdf.
40 The symposium provided input to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Committee on Achieving Science Goals with CubeSats and the resulting report: NASEM, 2016, Achieving Science with CubeSats: Thinking Inside the Box, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
41 NASA, “Cooperative Agreement Notice: NASA Astrobiology Institute Cycle 8,” released February 27, 2017.
42 The committee notes that external advisory groups and proposal reviewers will need to be as multidisciplinary as the proposals themselves.