Characteristics of Science and Engineering Instrumentation in Academic Settings: 1993


The Survey of Academic Research Instruments and Instrumentation Needs is a Congressionally mandated program that serves as the primary source of information on the need, stock, cost, and utilization of research and development equipment within academia in the United States. This section discusses the study methodology as well as various other technical aspects that the reader should consider when interpreting the data presented in this report, which is based on the fourth cycle of the survey and presents 1993 data. Where relevant, the discussion includes references to the three previous cycles of this survey.

Definition of Terms Used in this Report

Department - a degree-granting academic unit.

Facility - a non-degree-granting academic unit

Faculty - includes tenured, non-tenured, teaching, and visiting faculty and researchers of faculty-equivalent rank and does not include post-doctorates.

Maintenance/repair costs - includes maintenance agreements, service contract costs, salaries of department- or institution-provided maintenance/repair personnel, and costs of supplies, equipment, and facilities for servicing research instruments.

Research instrument (or equipment or instrumentation) - any item (or interrelated collection of items comprising a system) of non-expendable tangible property or software used wholly or in part for research and having a useful life of more than two years and a cost of $500 or more.

Supersystem - a large, specialized research unit that is built around or consists of a single integrated instrument system (such as a computer center, observatory, nuclear reactor, or oceanographic research vessel), information for which cannot be meaningfully disaggregated for the survey data collection.

System - an interrelated collection of instrument items that effectively comprise one single instrument.

Unit - a term used in this report to denote either a department or a facility.

Throughout the narrative of this report, the words "equipment," "instruments," and "instrumentation" are used interchangeably to describe the same concept. In discussing instruments by particular detailed type, the words "instrument" and "instrument system" are used interchangeably to mean a single instrument, which in some cases is a stand-alone piece and in others is an interrelated collection of instrument items that effectively comprises one single instrument.

Definition of Instrument Types Used in This Report

For tabulation purposes, instruments were categorized into broad types. The instruments included in each type were as follows.

Computers and Data Handling Equipment

Included in this category were all research computers with an original cost over $20,000, including work stations and supercomputers, graphics/computer assisted design/imaging computer systems/components, and image analyzers/processors and visualization systems. Also included to the extent possible to collect the data are peripheral (not stand-alone) equipment such as storage devices and networking equipment such as modems, switches, ports, and gateways.


Included in this broad category were instruments such as electron/auger/ion scattering spectrometers, UV/visible/infrared spectrophotometers, X-ray diffraction systems, NMR/EPR spectrometers, electron spectroscopy/photo induced emission elemental analyzers, gas/liquid chromatographs, and other chromatographs and elemental analyzers.


Included in this category were electron microscopes and all other microscopy equipment.

Bioanalytical Instruments

Included in this category were cell sorters/counters, cytometers, centrifuges and accessories, DNA/protein synthesizers/sequencers/analyzers, scintillation/gamma radiation/counter/detectors, and growth/environmental chambers.

"Other" Instruments

Included in this category were a wide variety of miscellaneous instruments such as electronics equipment (including cameras), lasers and optical equipment, robots and manufacturing machines, and temperature/pressure control/measurement equipment. Also included in this category were "major" systems, which included items such as telescope/astronomical instruments, nuclear reactor/nuclear science instrument systems, molecular/electron/ion beam systems, wind/wave/water tunnels, research vessels, planes, and helicopters. All other instruments not elsewhere classified were also included in this category.

Scope of the Survey

The scope of the Survey of Academic Research Instrumentation was limited to non-fixed equipment. Fixed equipment, such as fume hoods, lab benches, cold rooms, and building infrastructure (central heating/cooling, plumbing, power etc.), is covered in a separate NSF survey, entitled Survey of Scientific and Engineering Research Facilities at Universities and Colleges.[1]

The Instrumentation Survey is a sample survey of academic institutions that perform a large amount of separately budgeted research and development. The universe of in-scope institutions were the 214 colleges and universities that had more than $3 million in non-medical R&D expenditures in FY 1991 and the 104 medical schools that received at least $3 million in extra-mural awards for research from NIH in FY 1991.

Within these institutions, instruments were considered in-scope for the 1993 survey if they were used (even partially) for research, had an original cost of at least $20,000, and were within one of the following fields: agricultural, biological, computer, or environmental sciences; chemistry; physics/astronomy; or engineering.

The Instrumentation Survey excluded any equipment assigned to any of the university-administered Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) as well as any assigned to laboratories that might be housed on a university campus but not administered by the university.

Sample Design

A three-stage sample design was used. The first stage consisted of academic institutions, the second stage consisted of research units (departments and research facilities) within those institutions, and the third stage consisted of research instruments costing $20,000 or more within the sampled departments and facilities.

1. Institutions

The survey's panel of 79 institutions was divided into two samples:

These two samples were selected independently. There is some overlap in institutional affiliation between the two samples, but no overlap in units or research instruments covered. For example, 15 of the 55 institutions selected to be in the sample of R&D colleges and universities are affiliated with a medical school which was independently chosen to be in the sample of 24 medical schools. If an institution in the sample of 55 R&D colleges and universities had a medical school that was not independently selected to be in the sample of 24 medical schools, data for that medical school were not collected for the Instrumentation Survey. The institutions in both of these samples are listed in Appendix B.

Changes Over Time to Institutional Coverage
With slight additions to coverage in 1986-87, the survey has been collected from the same panel of institutions since data collection began in 1983. Cycle I of the Instrumentation Survey was conducted in 1983-84. This baseline survey had a panel of 67 institutions: 43 colleges and universities and 24 medical schools. In Cycle II, conducted in 1986-87, the sample of colleges and universities was expanded to 55 schools, for a total of 79 in the panel of institutions. This same panel of 79 was used in both Cycle III, conducted in 1989-90, and Cycle IV. The results of Cycle IV's 1993 survey, conducted in 1994, are presented in this report.

For each cycle that this survey has been collected, the results from the panel were generalized to the known universe of institutions that performed a minimum of $3 million in R&D in that year. For each survey, this population in total accounted for more than 90 percent of the expenditures for academic R&D in science and engineering in the United States. Over the years that the survey has been collected, there has been a gradual increase in the number of institutions defined as part of the sample frame by virtue of their performing over $3 million in R&D. This factor contributes to a slight upward bias in trend estimates for the total values of the variables over time. For the 1993 survey, there were 318 universities, colleges, and medical schools that performed over $3 million in R&D.[2] In Cycle III (1988-89), the survey's panel of 79 institutions represented 287 of these types of institutions that annually conducted over $3 million in R&D. In Cycle II (1985-86), it represented 174 such institutions, and in Cycle I (1982-83), it represented 155 institutions.

2. Departments and Facilities ("Units")

Within the sampled institutions, departments and facilities were considered in-scope for the survey if they:

  1. Had at least one instrument used for scientific research that had a minimum purchase price of $20,000; and
  2. Were in the science and engineering fields of agriculture, biology,[3] computer science, environmental sciences, chemistry, physics/astronomy, and engineering.[4] (A list of the sub-fields included under these major fields is included in Appendix C.)

The sampled institutions contained a total of 1,541 in-scope departments and facilities. From these, a sample of 996 were selected to be surveyed. Systematic random sampling at the departmental level was done in those S&E fields that had large numbers of research units (engineering and the agricultural, biological, and environmental sciences). In the remaining fields—chemistry, computer science, and physics/astronomy—all of the eligible departments/facilities were selected with certainty.

3. Instruments

The sampling of instruments began with the receipt from each of the sampled departments and facilities of an inventory of their research instruments costing at least $20,000. These inventories were then stratified into three cost strata: $20,000 to $49,999, $50,000 to $99,999, and $100,000 or more. The number of instruments selected within each department and cost stratum depended upon the total number of instruments owned by the particular unit in the cost stratum. Systematic random sampling was used to sample the instruments.

A total of 34,442 instruments were identified as being within scope in the sampled units; a sample of 8,788 instruments was selected from those in-scope instruments and respondents were sent an Instrument Data Sheet.[5] Of these surveyed instruments, 5,837 were found to be in scope for the survey. (The most prevalent reasons that an item selected from an institution's inventory was found not to be in scope include: the instrument was inactive or inoperable, the instrument could not be located or no longer existed, the identified instrument was not the principal component of an instrument system; and the instrument was not yet in service.)

The detailed sampling plan for selecting the instruments and departments and facilities is available in a separate methodology report, entitled National Survey of Academic Research Instruments and Instrumentation Needs, 1993: Methodology Report.[6]

Data Collection

Data collection in each institution was administered by institutional coordinators appointed by the presidents or chancellors. In each cycle of the survey, two types of data were collected from two different sets of respondents within each of the institutions:

Changes in Data Collection Procedures for Cycle IV[8]

The data collection procedures used in the Cycle IV 1993 survey differ from those used in earlier cycles of the Instrumentation Survey in several ways, as follows.

Survey Data Reference Periods
Data for the previous survey cycles (I-III) were all collected over a two-year period. Data for half of the included fields were collected via the Instrument Data Sheet in each year. The data for each field were collected with the date referring to the fiscal year which preceded the period of that particular survey collection. Therefore, engineering, chemistry, physics/astronomy, and computer science instrumentation data were collected as of the years 1982, 1985, and 1988. Instrument data for agriculture, biology, environmental sciences, and multidisciplinary areas were collected as of the years 1983, 1986, and 1989.

In Cycle IV, all the fields were surveyed in the same year, so that all instrument data in the 1993 survey cover the year 1993.

Minimum Instrument Purchase Price Criterion
To be eligible for inclusion in the three previous survey cycles, a department or facility must have had at least one research instrument with a purchase price of $10,000 or more. Similarly, only those research instruments with a purchase price of $10,000 or more were eligible for inclusion in the instrument sample. In Cycle IV, the $10,000 minimum purchase price criterion was increased to $20,000 to reduce respondent burden. This led to a decrease in the database of the estimated total number and total dollar cost of the stock of instruments in the first three cycles of the survey.

Trend data in this report were adjusted to accommodate this change in information collected. Data from the 1982-83, 1985-86, and 1988-89 surveys were standardized using the same minimum purchase price criterion of $20,000 in constant 1993 dollars, according to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) implicit price deflator.[9]

The GDP adjustment factors are shown in the following Text Table 1. Adjustments were made to the data in previous surveys by dividing the original purchase price of each instrument in the database by the adjustment factor for that year. For example, to compute the 1993 constant-dollar-equivalent price for an engineering instrument that was in the Cycle III database, the purchase price value in the database was divided by 0.8391. (The 1988 deflator was used in this instance because engineering data were collected in 1988.) If the resulting amount were $20,000 or more, the instrument would remain in the database. If it were less than $20,000, the instrument was dropped from the database. The deflators used to adjust the data were as follows:

Text Table 1. GDP Deflators Used to Determine the Instruments that Would Have Had an
Original Purchase Price of $20,000 in 1993 Constant Dollars
Cycle I Cycle II Cycle III Cycle IV  
Phase 1 Phase 2 Phase 1 Phase 2 Phase 1 Phase 2  
FY 82 FY 83 FY 85 FY 86 FY 88 FY 89 FY 93
0.6765 0.7046 0.7637 0.7864 0.8391 0.8764 1.0000

The methodology described above was used only to determine the number of instruments that would remain in the database. After the adjusted database was derived, there was no further adjustment of the resultant inventory for inflation or for depreciation. Thus, in comparing the findings from the 1993 survey with those from the previous cycles, all data in this report are presented in current dollars, based on the cost of each instrument (at the time of its purchase) that remained in the database.

This increase in the minimum purchase criterion to $20,000 in Cycle IV led to a decrease in the total number of instruments and the corresponding dollar estimates of the stock of instruments covered by the survey. See "Changes in Data Collection for Cycle IV," below, for a more detailed explanation. Because of these changes to instruments in the database, trend data for this report, based on the Instrument Data Sheet questionnaire, cover only the two latest surveys: 1988-89 and 1993. For the report based on the Department/Facility Questionnaire,[10] trend data are available beginning with the first survey in 1982-83.

Comparability of Data
Several aspects of the change in the minimum purchase price criterion must be understood to put the comparability of data in perspective. 1. In the first three cycles of the survey, by keeping the $10,000 minimum purchase price criterion stable and not adjusting for inflation, more lower-priced instruments were in-scope (in terms of inflation-adjusted prices) in each of the two successive surveys. 2. On the other hand, through the adjustment made in Cycle IV—deflating the price of the instruments in the database using a standard 1993 price deflator and a $20,000 minimum purchase price—an increasing number of lower-priced equipment was eliminated from the databases for each preceding survey. Thus, for the trend data in this report, the effect of the standardization (point 2) tended to mitigate the effect of the stable purchase price criterion (point 1).

Change in Data Reporting Formats for Cycle IV

Data presentations in this report are different from those used in previous reports in this survey series to accommodate several changes in data collection first made in the 1988-89 (Cycle III) survey.

Change in Purchase Price Criterion

A three-part format in the trend Table A-1, displaying expenditure trend data since 1982-83, allows a display of the longitudinal data series since 1982 for the instruments costing under $1 million. The table also shows data on the instruments costing at least $1 million beginning only in 1988-89.[11] Where appropriate for analysis, selected instrument tables—such as Table A-4—have also been separated between the two price categories.

Presentation of Supersystem Data

Many academic institutions own and administer large, specialized research units that are built around or consist of a single integrated instrument system, such as a computer center, observatory, nuclear reactor, or oceanographic research vessel. On certain campuses, these integrated systems are utilized as "instruments," are individually inventoried, and are treated as one of many items of instrumentation within an academic unit. On other campuses, the same types of integrated systems are administered as virtually indistinguishable from the academic unit itself. When instruments costing $1 million or more were added to Cycle III (the 1988-89 survey), it was very difficult to collect qualitative information about some of the latter integrated systems in a form needed for this survey. Consequently, these integrated systems were labeled "supersystems" for the survey, and data collection was handled differently from information on the other instruments.[12] Expenditures and needs data for these units were collected as usual from the unit heads via the Department/Facility Questionnaire, but a special supersystem survey questionnaire, the Supersystem Data Sheet, was developed in order to collect inventory-type data from the same unit heads. For continuity of data, the Supersystem Data Sheets were also used for those types of integrated systems found in the administration of the 1993 survey. This questionnaire collected only limited data, such as the total cost of the supersystem[13] and the fields in which it was used. None of the detailed qualitative questions on the regular survey (such as research status of the system or number and types of users) were included in the Supersystem Data Sheet.

Response Rates, Estimates, and Sampling Errors

Response Rates

Data were received from 54 of the 55 institutions in the sample of colleges and universities and from all 24 institutions in the sample of medical schools.

Of the 996 science and engineering departments and facilities in the sample, 796 proved to be eligible and responded to the survey (84.0 percent). The response rate for the questionnaire items ranged from 81.8 percent to 100.0 percent.

Of the 8,788 instruments in the sample, 4,533 proved to be eligible and responded to the survey (78 percent). The response rate for the questionnaire items ranged from 71.6 percent to 100.0 percent.


The findings are presented as national estimates calculated using department and facility data statistically weighted to represent all research departments and facilities in agriculture, biology, environmental sciences, chemistry, computer science, physics/astronomy, and engineering. The results from the departments and facilities at the panel of 79 institutions were generalized for the 1993 survey to the universe of 318 institutions that performed a minimum of $3 million in R&D in 1991 (the latest year for which data were available at the time of calculation).

To assure that the reported estimates fully represented all intended institutions and department/facilities, the final weights for the department/facility (unit) estimates are the product of the institution sampling weight (for each stratum),[14] the department sampling weight,[15] and the non-response adjustment factors for both the institution and for the department or facility. The final weights for the instrument estimates are the product of the above weight components for units, and the instrument sampling weight and the non-response adjustment factor for the instrument.

Sampling Errors

The estimates presented in this report are based on samples and are subject to variability due to sampling error. Most overall estimates (not broken down by field) have sampling errors (coefficients of variation) that range from 4 percent to 10 percent. This implies a 95-percent confidence interval of twice that magnitude (i.e., the true value would be found within plus or minus 8 percent to 20 percent of the reported estimate). Estimates for the detail data (i.e., estimates by field of science) have sampling errors two to three times larger than those for all fields combined.[16]

Standard Error (SE) and Coefficient of Variation (CV) for the Total Aggregate Cost of Instruments (Total System Purchase Price-SPC) from the Instrument Data Sheet Questionnaire: 1993
(Dollars in millions)
ALL INSTRUMENTS $6,255 $278 4.4%
All instruments costing less than $1,000,000 4,366 106 2.4%
All instruments costing $1,000,000 or more 1,889 377 19.9%
Engineering 1,399 74 5.3%
Chemistry 678 19 2.8%
Physics/Astronomy 1,062 192 18.0%
Environmental Sciences 696 66 9.6%
Computer Science 1,135 170 15.0%
Agricultural Sciences 25 1 5.8%
Biological Sciences 1,150 21 1.8%
Other, Multidisciplinary 108 16 14.8%
Engineering 1,303 83 6.4%
Chemistry 651 16 2.5%
Physics/Astronomy 501 22 4.3%
Environmental Sciences 502 28 5.6%
Computer Science 157 15 9.7%
Agricultural Sciences 25 2 6.1%
Biological Sciences 1,118 21 1.9%
Other, Multidisciplinary 108 17 15.9%
Engineering 97 N/A N/A
Chemistry 27 N/A N/A
Physics/Astronomy 561 N/A N/A
Environmental Sciences 193 N/A N/A
Computer Science 978 N/A N/A
Agricultural Sciences 0 N/A N/A
Biological Sciences 33 N/A N/A
Other, Multidisciplinary 0 N/A N/A
Academic Departments 103 9 9.0%
Computer Facilities 1,032 249 24.1%
Instruments Costing Less than $1,000,000      
Academic Departments 100 11 11.0%
Computer Facilities 56 14 25.6%
Instruments Costing $1,000,000 or More      
Academic Departments 2 N/A N/A
Computer Facilities 976 N/A N/A
NOTE: Details may not add to totals because of rounding.



[1] For the latest report from this survey, see Scientific and Engineering Research Facilities at Universities and Colleges: 1996 (NSF 96-326). This report is on the Web at Hard copies may also be obtained by calling (301) 947-2722 or by sending an e-mail to

[2] NSF's Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Colleges and Universities was used as the source of data on research and development at academic institutions. At the time of the 1993 instrumentation survey, 1991 was the latest year for which expenditure data at academic institutions were available.

[3] The field of biology encompasses such subfields as biochemistry, cell biology/genetics, microbiology, pathology, pharmacology, physiology/biophysics, and other biology. Clinical departments and non-medical health professional schools were not included.

[4] Engineering as a discipline encompasses such subfields as aeronautical, chemical, civil, electrical, and mechanical.

[5] The total of in-scope instruments included 67 supersystems, which received a Supersystems Data Sheet questionnaire instead. See "Presentation of Supersystems Data" above for further details on supersystems.

[6] A copy of this report may be obtained from Jennifer R. Held by calling (703) 306-1772, or via e-mail at

[7] This report is available on the Web at Copies may also be obtained by calling (301) 947-2722 or by sending an e-mail to

[8] A detailed analysis of these changes and their effects on survey data is also included in the previously cited separate methodology report, National Survey of Academic Research Instruments and Instrumentation Needs, 1993: Methodology Report.

[9] For a more complete description of the methodology used to standardize the data, see the Methodology Report.

[10] Academic Research Instruments: Expenditures 1993, Needs-1994.

[11] For the first two cycles of this survey, data were collected only for instruments with an original purchase price between $10,000 and $999,999. Beginning in Cycle III, data were also collected for instruments with a purchase price of $1 million or more.

[12] Because the first two cycles of the survey collected data only for instruments with an original purchase price of $10,000 to $999,999, supersystems were not represented in the instrument data in those surveys, since they generally cost over $1 million.

[13] The entire cost of a research vessel, including construction costs and all fixed and movable equipment, is included in the total cost estimate of research vessels in the supersystem category. The total cost for all other supersystems includes only the cost of the movable research equipment in the unit.

[14] The institution sampling weight is equal to the number of eligible institutions within an institution stratum divided by the number of sampled institutions.

[15] The department/facility sampling weights are approximately equal to the inverse of their sampling rates. Strata were determined by field of science and the number of research instruments in the department/facility. Department/facility sampling weights were calculated as the number of units in a strata divided by the number of units sampled in that strata.

[16] For example, the estimated total annual expenditures for the purchase of academic scientific research instrumentation in the biological sciences were $283 million in 1993. Assuming a sampling error of 10 percent, there is a 95 percent chance that the true amount of expenditures for research instrumentation will be found within the interval of $226 million to $340 million.

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