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Midsize Facilities: The Infrastructure for Materials Research
facility must be more than just a collection of equipment: staff, users, operating funds, specialized environments, and a management plan are some of the essential additional ingredients for successful operations.
Midsize facilities are distinct from small facilities in being large enough to require a dedicated and explicit infrastructure for their sustained success. They are distinct from large facilities in being small enough to be flexible and responsive to the needs of a relatively local user community and in possessing equipment the scale and cost of which allow duplication, when demand merits, in different regions of the nation.
The committee has identified real challenges facing the future viability of midsize facilities. Prominent among these are providing and sustaining long-term infrastructure, networking with other facilities, balancing competing purposes while maintaining a clear mission, and cooperating with commercial interests in compliance with federal guidelines for noncompetition. These facilities are sufficiently sophisticated in structure and content that careful stewardship is necessary: a complex support network (both individually and collectively) is required to maximize their effectiveness.
The committee estimates that there are about 500 midsize facilities nationwide that provide essential instrumentation support for materials research. The aggregated annual operating budget of this collection of facilities is estimated by the committee to be on the order of several hundred million dollars; the replacement cost for the equipment now in place at these facilities is estimated to be several billion dollars.
The committee summarizes its analysis with several conclusions:
Importance and uniqueness. Shared experimental facilities in the form of midsize multiuser facilities are a key component in maintaining the nation at the leading edge of materials research, education, and training. Midsize facilities are everywhere in the materials research landscape, and they offer unique capabilities and benefits, especially when compared with current small-scale and large-scale facilities.
Need for long-term planning and commitment. A continuing and fundamental challenge facing a majority of small to midsize facilities is planning, securing, and maintaining the long-term infrastructure necessary for productivity and success.
Need for systematic program planning. The network of midsize facilities can no longer be treated as atomized and as a set of noninteracting units. There is a substantial opportunity for improved efficiency and effectiveness of the existing network, with increased cooperation, coordination, and consolidation among the individual facilities.