the beginning of civilization, the tools humans invented and used
have enabled them to pursue and realize their dreams. New tools
have opened vast research and education vistas and enabled scientists
and engineers to explore new regimes of time and space. Advanced
techniques in areas such as microscopy, spectroscopy, and laser
technology have made it possible to image and manipulate individual
atoms and fabricate new materials. Advances in radio astronomy and
instrumentation at the South Pole have allowed scientists to probe
the furthest reaches of time and space and unlock secrets of the
universe. Communications and computational technologies, such as
interoperable databases and informatics, are revolutionizing such
fields as biology and the social sciences. With the advent of high-speed
computer-communication networks, greater numbers of educational
institutions now have access to cutting-edge research and education
tools and infrastructure.
It is useful to distinguish between the terms "tool"
and "infrastructure." Webster's Third New International
Dictionary provides only one definition of infrastructure: "an
underlying foundation or basic framework (as of an organization
or system)." It provides many definitions of tool, the most
applicable being "anything used as a means of accomplishing
a task or purpose." Given these definitions, it may be useful
to assume that infrastructure not only includes tools but also provides
the basis, foundation, and/or support for the creation of tools.4
"Research infrastructure" is a term that is commonly
used to describe the tools, services, and installations that are
needed for the Science and Engineering (S&E) research community
to function and for researchers to do their work. For the purposes
of this study, it includes: (1) hardware (tools, equipment, instrumentation,
platforms and facilities), (2) software (enabling computer systems,
libraries, databases, data analysis and data interpretation systems,
and communication networks), (3) the technical support (human or
automated) and services needed to operate the infrastructure and
keep it working effectively, and (4) the special environments and
installations (such as buildings and research space) necessary to
effectively create, deploy, access, and use the research tools.
An increasing amount of the equipment and systems that enable the
advancement of research are large-scale, complex, and costly. "Facility"
is frequently used to describe such equipment because typically
the equipment requires special sites or buildings to house it and
a dedicated staff to effectively maintain the equipment. Increasingly,
many researchers working in related disciplines share the use of
such large facilities, either on site or remotely. "Cyberinfrastructure"
is used in this report to connote a comprehensive infrastructure
based upon distributed networks of computers, information resources,
online instruments, data analysis and interpretation tools, relevant
computerized tutorials for the use of such technology, and human
interfaces. The term provides a way to discuss the infrastructure
enabled by distributed computer-communications technology in contrast
to the more traditional physical infrastructure. 5
There can be no doubt that a modern and effective research infrastructure
is critical to maintaining U.S. leadership in S&E. The degree
to which infrastructure is regarded as central to experimental research
is indicated by the number of Nobel Prizes awarded for the development
of new instrument technology. During the past 20 years, eight Nobel
Prizes in physics were awarded for technologies such as the electron
and scanning tunneling microscopes, laser and neutron spectroscopy,
particle detectors, and the integrated circuit. 6
Much has changed since the last major assessments of the academic
S&E infrastructure were conducted over a decade ago. For example:
- Research questions require approaches that are increasingly
multidisciplinary, and involve a broader spectrum of disciplines.
Collaboration among disciplines is increasing at an unprecedented
- Researchers are addressing phenomena that are beyond
the temporal and spatial limits of current measurement capabilities.
Many viable research questions can be answered only through the
use of new generations of powerful tools.
- Enabled by information technology (IT), a qualitatively
different and new S&E infrastructure has evolved, delivering
greater computational power, increased access, distribution and
shared use, and new research tools, such as flexible, programmable
statistics packages, many forms of automated aids for data interpretation,
and Web-accessible databases, archives, and collaboratories. IT
enables the collection and processing of data that could not have
been collected or processed before. Increasingly, researchers
are expressing a compelling need for access to these new IT-based
- International cooperation and partnerships are increasingly
used to construct and operate large and costly research facilities.
With many international projects looming on the horizon, the U.S.
Congress and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) are concerned
about the management of these complex relationships.
- The reality of today's world requires that academe secure
its research infrastructure and institute safeguards for its working
environment and critical systems. Issues are also being raised
about the security of information developed by scientists and
engineers, such as genomic databases.
These changes have created unprecedented challenges and opportunities
for 21st century scientists and engineers. Consequently, the National
Science Board (NSB) determined that a fresh assessment of the national
infrastructure for academic S&E research was needed to ensure
its future quality and availability.
THE CHARGE TO THE TASK FORCE
In September 2000 the NSB established the Task Force on Science
and Engineering Infrastructure (INF), under the auspices of its
Committee on Programs and Plans (CPP). In summary, the INF was charged
"Undertake and guide an assessment of the fundamental science
and engineering infrastructure in the United States
the aim of informing the national dialogue on S&E infrastructure
and highlighting the role of NSF as well as the larger resource
and management strategies of interest to Federal policymakers
in both the executive and legislative branches. The report should
enable an assessment of the current status of the national S&E
infrastructure, the changing needs of S&E, and the requirements
for a capability of appropriate quality, size, and scope to ensure
continuing U.S. leadership." 7
In its early organizing meetings and in discussions with the CPP,
the INF defined the scope and terms of reference for the study.
Because the charge focused on "fundamental science and engineering,"
the INF decided to address primarily the infrastructure needs of
the academic research community, including infrastructure at national
laboratories or in other countries, as long as it served the needs
of academic researchers. The INF also determined that the study
should focus on "research" infrastructure, in contrast
to infrastructure serving purely educational purposes, such as classrooms,
teaching laboratories, and training facilities. However, the INF
recognized that many cutting-edge research facilities are "dual
use," in that they provide excellent opportunities for education
and training as well as research. Such infrastructure was included
within this study.
Finally, while the study was concerned with the status of the entire
academic research infrastructure, the task force decided that it
should provide an in-depth analysis of National Science Foundation's
(NSF) infrastructure policies, programs, and activities, including
a look at future needs, challenges and opportunities. This approach
was taken for the purpose of providing specific advice to the NSF
Director and the National Science Board. While other research and
development (R&D) agencies, such as the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration (NASA), Department of Energy (DoE), Department
of Defense (DoD), and National Institutes of Health (NIH) play an
important role in serving the infrastructure needs of academic researchers,
detailed analyses of their infrastructure support programs are not
provided in this report.
STRATEGY FOR CONDUCTING THE STUDY
In responding to its charge, the Task Force recognized certain
limits in what it could do. Conducting a new comprehensive survey
of academic institutions was not deemed to be practical, in that
it would take too much time to accomplish. As an alternative, the
INF engaged in a number of parallel activities designed to assess
the general state and direction of the academic research infrastructure
and illuminate the most promising future opportunities. The principal
activities were the following:
- The INF surveyed the current literature, including reviewing
and considering the findings of more than 60 reports, studies,
and planning documents.8
- Representatives from other agencies, such as NASA, DoE,
OMB and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) made
presentations to the INF and responded to many questions. In addition,
specialists were invited to address the task force on relevant
topics at several meetings.
- The seven NSF directorates 9
and the Office of Polar Programs (OPP) provided assessments of
the current state of the research infrastructure serving the S&E
fields they support, as well as an assessment of future infrastructure
needs and opportunities through 2010. Senior staff in these organizations
also made presentations and supplied additional material to the
task force and frequently attended its meetings.
- On numerous occasions, drafts of the report were presented
to and discussed with the NSF Director's Policy Group, the NSB
Committee on Programs and Plans, and the full National Science
- The draft report was then released for public comment on the
NSB/INF Web site. Many comments were received. 10
Feedback from a wide range of sources was carefully considered
in producing the final draft of this report, which was unanimously
approved by the NSB on February 6, 2003.