Science and Engineering Infrastructure for the 21st Century


for this reportcommitteensb board membersacknowledment
Last Updated: 09/15/2015



Over the past decade, the funding for academic research infrastructure has not kept pace with rapidly changing technology, expanding research opportunities, and increasing numbers of users. Information technology and other technologies have enabled the development of many new S&E tools and made others more powerful, remotely usable, and connectable. The new tools being developed make researchers more productive and able to do more complex and different tasks than they could in the past. An increasing number of researchers and educators, working as individuals and in groups, need to be connected to a sophisticated array of facilities, instruments, databases, technical literature and data. Hence, there is an urgent need to increase Federal investments to provide access for scientists and engineers to the latest and best S&E infrastructure, as well as to update infrastructure currently in place.

To address these concerns, the Board makes the following five recommendations: 36

RECOMMENDATION 1: Increase the share of the NSF budget devoted to S&E infrastructure in order to provide individual investigators and groups of investigators with the tools they need to work at the frontier.
The current 22 percent of the NSF budget devoted to infrastructure is too low to provide adequate small- and medium-scale infrastructure, and needed investment in cyberinfrastructure. A share closer to the higher end of the historic range (22-27 percent) is desirable. It is hoped that significant additional resources for infrastructure will be provided through future growth of the NSF budget.

RECOMMENDATION 2: Give special emphasis to the following four categories of infrastructure needs: 37

  • Increase research to advance instrument technology and build next-generation observational, communications, data analysis and interpretation, and other computational tools.
    Instrumentation research is often difficult and risky, requiring the successful integration of theoretical knowledge, engineering and software design, and information technology. In contrast to most other infrastructure technologies, commercially available data analysis and data interpretation software typically lags well behind university developed software, which is often not funded or underfunded, limiting its use and accessibility. This research will accelerate the development of instrument technology to ensure that future research instruments and tools are as efficient and effective as possible.
  • Address the increased need for midsize infrastructure.
    While there are NSF programs for addressing "small" and "large" infrastructure needs, none exist for infrastructure projects costing between millions and tens of millions of dollars. This report cites numerous examples of unfunded midsize infrastructure needs that have long been identified as high priorities. NSF should increase the level of funding for midsize infrastructure, as well as develop new funding mechanisms, as appropriate, to support midsize projects.
  • Increase support for large facility projects.
    Several large facility projects have been approved for funding by the NSB but have not been funded. At present, an annual investment of at least $350 million is needed over several years just to address the backlog of facility projects construction. Postponing this investment now will not only increase the future cost of these projects but also result in the loss of U.S. leadership in key research fields.
  • Develop and deploy an advanced cyberinfrastructure to enable new S&E in the 21st century.
    This investment should address leading-edge computation as well as visualization facilities, data analysis and interpretation toolkits and workbenches, data archives and libraries, and networks of much greater power and in substantially greater quantity. Providing access to moderate-cost computation, storage, analysis, visualization, and communication for every researcher will lead to an even more productive national research enterprise. Design of these new technologies and capabilities must be guided by the needs of a variety of potential users, including scientists and engineers from many disciplines. This important undertaking requires a significant investment in software and technical staff, as well as hardware. This new infrastructure will play a critical role in creating tomorrow's research vistas.

RECOMMENDATION 3: Expand education and training opportunities at new and existing research facilities.
Investment in S&E infrastructure is critical to developing a 21st century S&E workforce. Education, training and outreach activities should be vital elements of all major research facility programs. Educating people to understand how S&E instruments and facilities work and how they uniquely contribute to knowledge in their targeted disciplines is critical. Outreach should span many diverse communities, including: existing researchers and educators who may become new users, undergraduate and graduate students who may design and use future instruments, and kindergarten through grade twelve (K-12) students, who may be motivated to become scientists and engineers. There are also opportunities to expand access to state-of-the-art S&E infrastructure to faculty and students at primarily undergraduate colleges and universities.

RECOMMENDATION 4: Strengthen the infrastructure planning and budgeting process through the following actions:

  • Foster systematic assessments of U.S. academic research infrastructure needs for both disciplinary and cross-disciplinary fields of research. Re-assess current surveys of infrastructure needs to determine if they fully measure and are responsive to current requirements.
  • Develop specific criteria and indicators to assist in establishing priorities and balancing infrastructure investments across S&E disciplines and fields.
  • Develop and implement budgets for infrastructure projects that include the total costs to be incurred over the entire life-cycle of the project, including research, planning, design, construction, commissioning, maintenance, operations, and, to the extent possible, research funding.
  • Conduct an assessment to determine the most effective NSF budget structure for supporting S&E infrastructure projects throughout their life-cycles, including the early research and development that is often difficult and risky.

Because of the need for the Federal Government to act holistically in addressing the requirements of the Nation's science and engineering enterprise, the Board developed a fifth recommendation, aimed principally at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC).

RECOMMENDATION 5: Develop interagency plans and strategies to do the following:

  • Work with the relevant Federal agencies and the S&E community to establish interagency infrastructure priorities that rely on competitive merit review to select S&E infrastructure projects.
  • Stimulate the development and deployment of new infrastructure technologies to foster a new decade of infrastructure innovation.
  • Develop the next generation of the high-end high-performance computing and networking infrastructure needed to enable a broadly based S&E community to work at the research frontier.
  • Facilitate international partnerships to enable the mutual support and use of research facilities across national boundaries.
  • Protect the Nation's massive investment in S&E infrastructure against accidental or malicious attacks and misuse.







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