This report, based on a study conducted by the National Science
Board (NSB), aims to inform the national dialogue on the current
state and future direction of the science and engineering (S&E)
infrastructure. It highlights the role of the National Science Foundation
(NSF) as well as the larger resource and management strategies of
interest to Federal policymakers in both the executive and legislative
CONTEXT AND FRAMEWORK FOR THE STUDY
There can be no doubt that a modern and effective research infrastructure
is critical to maintaining U.S. leadership in S&E. New tools
have opened vast research frontiers and fueled technological innovation
in fields such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, and communications.
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 twenty
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.
Recent concepts of infrastructure are expanding to include distributed
systems of hardware, software, information bases, and automated
aids for data analysis and interpretation. Enabled by information
technology, 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 data
analysis and interpretation aids, web-accessible databases, archives,
and collaboratories. Many viable research questions can be answered
only through the use of new generations of these powerful tools.
Among Federal agencies, NSF is a leader in providing the academic
community with access to forefront instrumentation and facilities.
Much of this infrastructure is intended to address currently intractable
research questions, the answers to which may transform current scientific
thinking. In an era of fast-paced discovery, it is imperative that
NSF's infrastructure investments provide the maximum benefit to
the entire S&E community. NSF must be prepared to assume a greater
S&E infrastructure role for the benefit of the Nation.
STRATEGY FOR THE CONDUCT OF THE STUDY
The Board, through its Task Force on S&E Infrastructure (INF),
engaged in a number of activities designed to assess the general
state and direction of the academic research infrastructure and
illuminate the most promising future opportunities. These activities
included reviewing the current literature, analyzing quantitative
survey data, soliciting input from experts in the S&E community,
discussing infrastructure topics with representatives from the Office
of Management and Budget (OMB), Office of Science and Technology
Policy (OSTP), and other Federal agencies, and surveying NSF's principal
directorates and offices on S&E infrastructure needs and opportunities.
A draft report was released for public comment on the NSB/INF Web
site. Many comments were received and carefully considering in producing
the final draft of this report (see Appendix C).
PRINCIPAL FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
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
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 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: 3
- 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 under funded, 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
- 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,
- 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
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
- 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.
Rapidly changing infrastructure technology has simultaneously created
a challenge and an opportunity for the U.S. S&E enterprise.
The challenge is how to maintain and revitalize an academic research
infrastructure that has eroded over many years due to obsolescence
and chronic under investment. The opportunity is to build a new
infrastructure that will create future research frontiers and enable
a much broader segment of the S&E community. The challenge and
opportunity must be addressed by an integrated strategy. As current
infrastructure is replaced and upgraded, the next-generation infrastructure
must be created. The young people who are trained using state-of-the-art
instruments and facilities are the ones who will demand and create
the new tools and make the breakthroughs that will extend the science
and technology envelope. Training these young people will ensure
that the U.S. maintains international leadership in the key scientific
and engineering fields that are vital for a strong economy, social
order, and national security.