FINDING: Programs such as the PFC and NAI allow the proposers to define the science objectives, methods, and metrics that together justify the creation of a center. The NASA Heliophysics Explorer program similarly gives proposers the freedom to design the best approach to achieve broadly defined science goals.
CONCLUSION: Transformative HSC outcomes are best achieved by open competition, with selection based on the significance of the proposed science topics, alignment with NASA and NSF goals, compelling justification for a center approach, and a realistic implementation plan likely to achieve the project objectives.
The PFC and NAI programs’ overall structure and management styles provide two different models that NASA Heliophysics may consider as options for the implementation of the HSCs. Primary differences are the requirements for proposer types and for collaborations. The PFC program allows only academic institutions to propose—consistent with NSF’s mission—and it encourages but does not require collaborations between institutions if one location has sufficient multidisciplinarity to achieve the PFC’s objectives. The NAI allows proposers from multiple types of organizations, and although the NAI does not require it, there is much stronger encouragement for broad collaborations across multiple organizations within one team. PFC institutes operate essentially independently from each other with relatively little overhead management of the program. On the other hand, the NAI has a central management structure that represents all of the teams as a large distributed consortium. The NAI management coordinates and integrates the work of teams and provides collaborative tools (e.g., high-definition video conferencing hardware) so that all of the teams’ members can participate in virtual activities that would otherwise be prohibited by the travel complications of so large a group. Central coordination facilitates the sharing of successes, concerns, best practices, and lessons learned to the benefit of concurrent and subsequent teams, as well as to the larger scientific community.
The decadal survey described an HSC program where centers would “consist of multidisciplinary teams with two to three primary institutions,” and resources would “be focused on the core institutions to avoid spreading the resources too broadly and to achieve a focused investigation of the topic.”43 This description is more similar to the PFC management structure. However, the NAI has demonstrated the value of an intensely collaborative environment. A more virtual model similar to that of the NAI, with a small management team to facilitate increased collaboration, is an option not ruled out by the decadal survey recommendation.
HSCs could provide timely opportunities for a “whole greater than the sum of its parts” approach to capitalizing on recent dramatic progress in computational techniques and theoretical understanding and spectacular new observations. The committee’s intention with this report is to provide clarity on the issue of HSC uniqueness from other research programs and to describe some best practices and viable options for the creation of HSCs as an augmentation to existing NSF Geospace and NASA Heliophysics research programs.
43 NRC, 2013, Solar and Space Physics, p. 87.
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