Executive Summary
General Notes

Suggested Citation

National Science Foundation, Academic Research Instruments: Expenditures 1993, Needs 1994, NSF 96-324 (Arlington, VA, 1996).

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The 1993 Survey of Academic Research Instruments and Instrumentation Needs and this report were developed and guided by Carolyn B. Arena, Senior Science Resources Analyst, Education and Human Resources Program (EDU), Division of Science Resources Studies (SRS), National Science Foundation (NSF), under the overall direction of Mary J. Golladay, EDU Program Director. Guidance and review were provided by Jeanne E. Griffith, Director, SRS; Alan R. Tupek, Deputy Director, SRS; Cora B. Marrett, Assistant Director of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE), and Jeff Fenstermacher, Executive Officer, SBE. Anne M. Houghton, SRS Publications Manager and Julia Harriston, Assistant Publications Manager, conducted the editorial review.

At NSF, technical assistance was given by Carolyn F. Shettle and Steven Payson of SRS; and John W. Cross, of the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO). Review and comments at NSF were provided by Ann T. Lanier, SRS; Nathaniel G. Pitts, of the Office of Science and Technology Infrastructure (OSTI); and Richard S. Hirsh and John C. Cherniavosky, of the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE).

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided significant financial support of the survey as well as guidance and review under the direction of Paul Seder, NIH Office of Science Policy and Legislation.

Quantum Research Corp. (QRC) of Bethesda, MD, conducted the 1993 survey under NSF contract number SRS 92-12615. QRC staff members who worked on this project were George J. Nozicka, Corporate Officer-in-charge; Thomas L. Trumble, Project Director; Atessa Shahmirzadi, Deputy Project Director; Mary-Jean Clements, Statistician-Programmer; Cynthia R. Wallin, Programmer; Weizheng Xiao, Statistician-Programmer; Luz C. Tatum, Data Collection Coordinator; Claude J. Monaghan, Data Collection Technician; and Elizabeth H. Peto, Publications Manager.

A Special Emphasis Panel gave overall direction for the redesign of the 1993 survey questionnaire and provided comments and review of the survey's final reports. The members of this panel were:

Finally, we acknowledge the indispensable contribution of the coordinators at each of the 79 institutions and the more than 10,000 officials and staff members who undertook the completion of the survey's questionnaires; without them none of the reports would have been possible.

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Executive Summary


The National Survey of Academic Research Instruments and Instrumentation Needs (instrumentation survey) is a congressionally mandated program that collects data concerning scientific research instruments and the academic departments and facilities in which they are located. The survey covers a broad spectrum of science and engineering fields: agriculture, biology, computer science, environmental sciences, chemistry, physics/astronomy, and engineering.

The instrumentation survey is sponsored and conducted by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and is co-sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Data for this survey were collected from a panel of 79 institutions selected to represent the population of all academic institutions that each annually performs a minimum of $3 million in research and development (R&D). For the 1993 survey this population totaled 318 institutions, and accounted for more than 90 percent of the total performance of academic R&D in science and engineering in the United States.

Expenditures for the Purchase of Academic Scientific Research Instrumentation

Total Expenditures.—Total annual expenditures for the purchase of academic scientific research instrumentation were $1,203 million in 1993, an increase in current dollars of 6 percent over the amount spent in the last survey in 1988-89. In constant dollars,[1] however, total expenditures in 1993 were 10 percent below the level in 1988-89.

Sources of Funds for the Purchase of New Instrumentation

Federal Sources.—In 1993, the Federal Government provided $624 million, or 52 percent of the $1,203 million total expenditures for academic research instruments. Three agencies contributed 70 percent of the total Federal contribution:

The National Science Foundation provided $213 million, or 18 percent of total expenditures during 1993. The National Institutes of Health provided $117 million, or 10 percent of the total. The Department of Defense contributed $106 million, or 9 percent of the total.

All other agencies combined contributed $186 million in 1993, an additional 15 percent of total expenditures.

Non-Federal Sources.—In 1993, non-Federal sources provided $580 million, or 48 percent of the total expenditures for academic research instruments. The largest single source of funds was the contribution from the academic institutions themselves, which provided $292 million, or 24 percent of the total. Funding from State grants or appropriations amounted to $102 million, or 8 percent of the total. Industry contributed $80 million, or 7 percent of the total. All other sources (including private, nonprofit foundations, gifts/donations, and bonds) contributed $105 million, or 9 percent.

Expenditures for Maintenance/Repair and Operation

Aggregate expenditures for maintenance/repair in 1993 fell for the first time since the survey began in 1982. These expenditures comprise service contracts and field services, salaries of maintenance personnel, and other costs such as tools and supplies. These expenditures decreased from $289 million in 1988-89 to $234 million in 1993, a decline of 19 percent in current dollars. Expenditures for the operation of existing instrumentation fell 22 percent between the two surveys, from $726 million in 1988-89 to $563 million in 1993.

Overall, expenses for the upkeep of the existing stock of instrumentation totaled 66 percent of the cost of purchasing new equipment. In other words, for every dollar spent in acquiring new instrumentation, an additional $0.66 was spent on maintaining and operating the existing stock.

Adequacy of Existing Research Instrumentation

In 1993, slightly more than half of all respondents (56 percent) reported that there were subject matters in which their faculty investigators were unable to perform critical experiments because needed equipment was lacking. Although a majority of respondents still report this limiting condition, this represents a marked decrease in the percentage of respondents reporting a lack of equipment for critical experiments since the first survey in 1983-84, when 74 percent of the respondents reported such limitations.

Thus, there has been steady improvement in the availability of research instruments to academic researchers, but the continued lack of specific instruments is a significant limitation for the scientific community, where a majority of respondents in all fields but one reported an inability to perform critical experiments because of a lack of instruments.

Computer science was the only field in which less than a majority of respondents (44 percent) cited an inability of their faculty to perform critical experiments due to lack of suitable equipment.

Need for New Research Instrumentation

Overall, 69 percent of respondents reported that their research instrumentation needs had increased in the two-year period since 1992.

Top priority needs by all respondents.—Department chairs and heads of facilities were asked to indicate the three pieces of equipment costing $20,000 or more that were most needed to bring their unit's[2] research equipment up to the full capabilities of their faculty. They were asked to prioritize these items and to estimate the purchase price of each.

If all three of the top priority items reported by each respondent could be purchased, the total estimated cost would be $2,048 million. Of this amount, $942 million, or 46 percent of the total, was the estimated cost of acquiring only the first-priority item.

Overall, 47 percent of respondents in all fields reported that the primary reason they needed the first-priority item was to "upgrade capabilities" for the unit, i.e., to perform experiments that they "cannot do now."

Needs by Respondents Reporting Current Inadequate Instrumentation.—Respondents were asked to rate their unit's instrumentation on a 5 point scale from excellent to poor. Forty-two percent of the respondents reported that the capability of their research instruments to enable the existing faculty to pursue their major research interests was "inadequate" or "poor." This group of respondents was then asked to estimate the cost to acquire sufficient research equipment that would fully support existing faculty.

This group estimated that it would cost $1,438 million to bring their research instrumentation to a point that would fully enable existing faculty to pursue their major research interests.

This amount was higher than the total of their top three priority needs. The 42 percent of respondents reporting inadequate instrumentation estimated that the purchase of their top three priority needs would cost $939 million. This represented 46 percent of the total of $2,048 million estimated by all respondents, nearly the same percentage as their proportion of total respondents.

General Notes

Survey Background and Scope of this Report

The National Survey of Academic Research Instruments and Instrumentation Needs (instrumentation survey) is a congressionally mandated program that collects data concerning scientific research instruments and the academic units in which they are located for a broad spectrum of science and engineering fields. The survey is conducted by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and is co-sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

This report analyzes overall instrumentation issues and trends in all the fields covered by the survey: agriculture, biology, chemistry, computer science, environmental sciences, physics/astronomy, and engineering.

A companion report published by NIH, Academic Research Instruments and Instrumentation Needs in the Biological Sciences: 1994, will give a more detailed analysis of the overall biological sciences field, and of seven major subfields of the biological sciences: biochemistry, cell biology/genetics, microbiology, pathology, pharmacology, physiology/biophysics, and other biological sciences.[3]


During the late 1970s reports came before Congress suggesting that the capability of research instrumentation available to scientists and engineers at leading research universities was often inadequate to meet the needs of cutting-edge research. It was feared that this condition might seriously weaken the quality of the Nation's academic research capabilities. Desiring national data on this issue, Congress directed NSF to " . . . develop indices, correlates, or other suitable measures or indicators of the status of scientific instrumentation in the United States and of the current and projected needs for scientific and technological instrumentation" (Public Law 96-44, Section 7).

To fulfill this congressional directive, NSF, in conjunction with NIH, has conducted four cycles of the instrumentation survey. The surveys focused upon four main aspects of academic research instrumentation in departments and facilities. (For this report, a department is defined as an institutional entity that awards academic degrees; a facility is an institutional entity that does not award academic degrees. Either may have faculty assigned to it. For this report, "unit" is used as a generic term that includes both departments and facilities.) The four main topics are:

With slight changes of coverage, the survey has been collected from the same panel of institutions since 1983. This panel of 79 institutions was selected from, and represents, the population of all institutions that annually each perform a minimum of $3 million in research and development (R&D). In 1993, this population totaled 318 institutions.

Data Considerations

Conducting a survey to quantify the current status and future needs for research instrumentation in a sector as varied as the American higher education system is a difficult task that requires the cooperation of many respondents. Questions about needs and assessments of the adequacy of current instrumentation must be asked at the micro-level, i.e., at the departments and facilities where the research is originating. A complex sampling scheme was developed to minimize the reporting burden on academia.

This survey concentrates on the research-intensive institutions that annually perform more than $3 million in research and development. Therefore, the data on expenditures and needs by this group as a whole, as well as data on the median expenditures per unit, might tend to be larger than the responses that would have been obtained at less research-intensive institutions not canvassed by this particular survey.[4]

The set of questions used in the survey were devised to reflect the diverse needs of different science and engineering disciplines, so that the resulting national totals would give an accurate overall view of the status of research instrumentation needs[5] in academia. The survey questions were devised to obtain different nuances to the evaluation of the adequacy of current research instrumentation that arise from the highly individualized needs of different disciplines: for example, chemistry, physics/astronomy, and certain engineering and environmental sciences typically require large-scale instrumentation to carry out cutting-edge research. In general, the median expenditures, and median needs per unit, are larger in these disciplines than the per-unit expenditures in fields such as biology and agriculture, whose cutting-edge instrumentation is often less costly.

This survey was designed to report on the objective needs of the existing faculty from the perspective of the respondents, and was not intended to produce data for subjective, comparative analyses, such as whether there is a "right" amount of instrumentation needed by units of a certain size faculty. Similarly, the survey reports actual expenditures data such as the amount spent to purchase equipment, but does not report on the total allocation of resources, such as what proportion of total resources available to the unit was spent on instrumentation.

For a more complete discussion of the methodology of this series of surveys, and the changes in methodology made in cycle IV, see the technical notes in section C.

Presentation of Data

As would be expected from a survey fielded to a large cohort of respondents, tabulation of responses to the questionnaires yielded a great amount of data. To preserve the richness of the data, detailed tabulations were prepared that present the data by type of instrument and field of science and engineering. The report is organized to assist both the reader interested in the general overall policy issues, and the researcher wishing to obtain fine detail.

In general, the text will summarize the highlights of each set of data, and indicate the tables where additional detail can be found. The tables that are of most interest to the general reader, i.e., tables that contain trend and/or summary data, are included in the body of the text. Tables offering fine detail of data, that will be of interest primarily to a smaller subset of readers, are presented in appendix A.

The trend tables indicate that there were three years between the first three surveys (e.g., 1982-83, 1985-86) and a longer period between the 1988-89 and the 1993 survey. To relieve respondent burden, only the Department Questionnaire was fielded in 1992. The methodology was so different that trend tables in this report do not contain data for 1992. It is not clear at this time when the next instrumentation survey will be conducted.


[1] Based on the GDP (gross domestic product) deflator and a base year of 1987
[2] For this report, "unit" is used as a generic term that includes both departments and facilities. A department is an institutional unit that awards academic degrees; a facility is an institutional unit that does not award academic degrees. Either may have faculty assigned to it.
[3] This report will be made available over the World Wide Web. Check the NIH home page at for more information.
[4] NSF and NIH have investigated several methods to broaden the coverage of the current survey. A pilot study of the biology departments at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) was conducted in 1995 and the results will be published in 1996. A feasibility study for adding less research-intensive schools, such as the departments at schools that were recipients of NIH's AREA grants, was conducted in late 1994. Results from these studies will be used in re-formatting future instrumentation surveys.
[5] An instrument was classified as "research" if it were used wholly or in part for research. Therefore, the need for dual-use instrumentation is included in the analysis in this report.