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Midsize Facilities: The Infrastructure for Materials Research
even spawn new ventures. Thus, midsize facilities play a critical role in the materials research enterprise.
The ubiquity of these facilities is one of their greatest strengths: as research needs are identified and as researchers coordinate their activities, it is possible to initiate such a facility, although doing so is becoming more difficult. That is, midsize facilities represent sufficiently small levels of investment that they can be (and have been) spread widely around the country. Most importantly, this characteristic allows smaller and nonelite research institutions to participate and contribute effectively.
As the role of midsize facilities has expanded, the need for a systematic and careful assessment of best principles for successful operation has grown, especially in a fiscally constrained era. In response to this need, the National Research Council formed the Committee on Smaller Facilities in 2003, with support from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, to examine the broader issues of optimizing current and future investments in the facility infrastructure of materials research. The committee was charged to examine facilities in the range between “small” and “large,” to identify the key features of success, and to recommend strategies for effective operation and utilization.
In its analysis, the committee defined “midsize facility” as follows: A midsize facility maintains and operates one or more pieces of equipment at a university or national laboratory and has the following characteristics:
Facilitates scientific and/or technological research for multiple users;
Provides services on local, regional, or national scales;
Is open to all qualified users subject to generally agreed-upon rules of access;
Has a resident staff to assist, train, and/or serve users; and
Has a replacement capitalization cost of between approximately $1 million and $50 million and an annual operating budget (including staff salaries, overhead, supplies, routine maintenance and upgrades, and so on) in the range from about $100,000 up to several million (2004) dollars.
Federal program managers, university administrators, and the media have blurred the distinction between a “center” and a “facility.” The committee distinguishes these entities in the following manner:
A center is a collection of investigators with a particular research focus.
A facility is a collection of instrumentation, equipment, or physical resources that enables investigators to conduct certain appropriate activities.
Facilities provide sets of tools that expand the capabilities of groups of researchers. Throughout this report, however, the committee argues that a successful midsize