News Release

New report calls for long-term NSF commitment to mid-scale research infrastructure


Mid-scale report cover

Mid-scale report cover
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October 16, 2018

National Science Board responds to congressional request

Just months after its report on operations and maintenance, the National Science Board (NSB) today released a report that looks at National Science Foundation (NSF) investments in mid-scale research infrastructure, including cyberinfrastructure. Both reports underscore that a sustained, agency-level approach to NSF’s infrastructure portfolio is essential.

In response to House Appropriations Committee Report language, the report lays the groundwork for a sustained, transparent approach to funding mid-scale research infrastructure.

“We believe an agency-level commitment is necessary because efforts to sustain mid-scale research infrastructure at the division level have proven challenging during tight budgets and because an agency-level focus is key to ensure a strategic approach,” said Peter Lepage, who led the NSB’s Mid-scale Working Group.

Mid-scale research infrastructure falls in the $10 million to $70 million range. It can enable scientific advances on a shorter timescale than can larger facilities, provide the foundation for innovative, new large facilities, and train early-career researchers in the development, design, construction, and use of cutting-edge infrastructure.

“We know that there is a growing need for more regionalized, integrated suites of mid-scale research infrastructure that can serve multiple communities,” said NSB Chair Diane Souvaine. “We also know that computation and big data are transforming how science and engineering are done and that cyberinfrastructure and data needs in the mid-scale range will continue to grow rapidly across all fields.”

NSB analyzed total award dollars between fiscal year 2008 and July 2018 to develop a picture of the agency’s investment patterns. It found that while NSF funds a sizable number of awards in the $10 million - $70 million range, mid-scale research infrastructure appears to be underrepresented compared to other investments, such as research centers, especially in the $20 million - $70 million range.

The report makes four recommendations:

  • NSF should affirm and sustain its mid-scale Big Idea with a long-term agency-level commitment to mid-scale research infrastructure.  
  • NSF should investigate the feasibility of using the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account as one possible funding mechanism. 
  • NSB and NSF should review existing infrastructure oversight and management structures to ensure they are compatible with mid-scale range investments.
  • NSF, in cooperation with NSB, should determine the full scope of the demand for mid-scale research infrastructure and ensure the agency’s programs and processes address that demand by developing an evaluation and assessment program.

While the NSB calls for a sustained commitment to mid-scale research, it is sensitive to the balance of NSF’s overall portfolio.

“We believe that the investment of $60 million that NSF proposes for its Mid-scale Big Idea in fiscal year 2019 is a good start,” said Carl Lineberger, who chairs the NSB’s Committee on Awards and Facilities. “Part of the idea of running a program for a few years is to get a firm sense of demand and figure out how to ‘right size’ our approach to also preserve space for other kinds of infrastructure, as well as for research and education investments.”

“Bridging the Gap: Building a Sustained Approach to Mid-scale Research Infrastructure and Cyberinfrastructure at NSF,” is available here.

 

Please contact NSB Communications Director Nadine Lymn at (703) 292-2490 or nlymn@nsf.gov for more information.

About the National Science Board

The NSB and NSF’s Director jointly head the agency. The Board identifies issues critical to NSF's future and establishes its policies. The NSB also provides the President and Congress with Science and Engineering Indicators, a biennial report on U.S. progress in science and technology. Members are appointed by the President for six-year terms and are selected for their eminence in research, education and records of distinguished service.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, its budget is $7.8 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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