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Midsize Facilities: The Infrastructure for Materials Research G Summary of National Science Foundation Workshop on Chemical Instrumentation Following is the executive summary of the final report of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Workshop on Instrumentation, April 16-17, 1999, Arlington, Virginia.1 In today’s climate of increased competitive funding, concern has arisen as to the future of instrumentation acquisition at most academic institutions. Important considerations such as sources of funding, shared vs. single investigator instrument usage and costs associated with personnel to oversee and maintain equipment have become of paramount interest. Obviously, the needs of smaller research active institutions are diverse and different from those of major research universities and thus policies established for one may adversely affect the other. These issues are clearly of importance to NSF. The following is a report generated from an NSF Workshop on [Chemical] Instrumentation, which was held on April 16 and 17, 1999, in Arlington, Virginia. The two-day workshop included approximately 60 scientists from academia, government and instrument manufacturers as well as NSF personnel. The workshop format of morning keynote speakers and afternoon panel discussions was designed to 1) establish a forum for discussing instrumentation issues relevant to NSF and academia, and 2) propose strategies for addressing those issues. The general goal of this workshop was to provide advice, through the medium of discussion, to NSF on funding issues related the [Chemical Research Instrumentation and Facilities] CRIF and [Major Research Instrumentation] MRI programs as regards instrumentation development, acquisition, and infrastructure. 1 The full report, “Workshop on Instrumentation,” is available online at http://www.cchem.berkeley.edu/~mswww/NSF/nsf.html; last accessed June 1, 2005.
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Midsize Facilities: The Infrastructure for Materials Research During this two-day workshop, suggestions and recommendations were put forth regarding the status of instrumentation proposal submission, review and funding. Names, addresses, the agenda and listed speakers are provided as an appendix to this document. All recommendations are listed at the end of each of the ensuing sections that provide detailed information on each of the specific panels. The panel recommendations with highest consensus are listed below: The CRIF program should not be discontinued. Rather, it should continue to provide funds for shared use instrumentation at the current or increased level of funding. An REU [Research Experience for Undergraduates]-CRIF program should be investigated as a possible source of equipment funds for smaller schools and/or undergraduate institutions. In certain disciplines, Regional/National Facilities with extended continuity (greater than five years) can play an important role. Such facilities should be funded appropriately with consideration given to travel and housing costs for those individuals visiting and benefiting from collaborations with such facilities. It is important that NSF fund instrument development proposals. Many suggestions are provided within the following sections on how this might be accomplished more effectively. In particular, instrument development proposals should be reviewed separately from shared instrumentation proposals and a unique set of review criteria for the former should be mandated and implemented. Interagency cooperation is very important and should be encouraged in order to fund high end, expensive instrumentation and national research centers. Support for instrumentation for the individual PI [principal investigator] as well as those applying for shared use instruments must be preserved. The requirement for matching funds should be maintained in order to show institutional commitment. However, more creative sources of matching money should be allowed; i.e. capital development for new buildings, service and maintenance costs and industrial funds should be viewed as matching contribution. It was suggested that matching money be required for equipment in excess of $100K rather than $80K) for undergraduate institutions, thus making it easier for these important institutions to train prospective graduate students as well as future employees to local industry. Although Chemistry as a discipline is rapidly becoming much more equipment-intensive, NSF support for instrumentation is holding at approximately 15% of the Chemistry budget. Therefore, it is essential that NSF maintain at least the current level of support for instrumentation (especially instrument development) in Chemistry. Requests for MRI funds should be limited to $2 million/year per institution rather than the current 2 proposals/year per institution restriction. This would eliminate the bias in favor of large-ticket instrument requests; i.e. a dollar value rather than a restricted number of proposals would ensure equity across the different types of instrumentation.
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Midsize Facilities: The Infrastructure for Materials Research Throughout the workshop it became apparent that many perceptions by the attendees about programs, funding procedures, review processes and interagency interactions may not be accurate. Therefore, it seems clear that NSF needs to turn its attention to better educating the scientific community about programs and review processes. This educational endeavor needs to be more than citing a web site. It requires that NSF personnel and staff become more visible and interactive at scientific meetings, visits be made to chemistry departments at various institutions and that program announcements be more clearly delineated and written. In particular, clarification as to choice of submission to CRIF vs. the MRI program was especially vague among the participants. It also seemed apparent that the Chemistry Division should build more communication and closer liaisons with the Biological Division. In this regard funding for instrument proposals which have a significant biological component, but which are still predominately chemistry research in nature, could be shared between the divisions. Much of chemistry research today is [embedded] in the biological sciences and this natural evolution needs to be encouraged and acknowledged. Recommendations for future workshops of this nature include the following: Educate your participants beforehand; i.e., provide copies of program guidelines that are to be evaluated. Let participants know at least one month prior to the meeting what the issues are that need addressing. Those who are informed a priori will be better prepared to address crucial questions about the issues at hand. Provide a template for the final written report.