National Level Facilities

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Criteria for national (and regional) facilities, including technology and access, and principles for pre-commercial access to technology.

What’s required from a National Level Facility?

Developing and making available new advanced imaging techniques for the life sciences community. In particular, providing facilities that would not generally be available in university departments because of cost, scale, or complexity. Making advanced techniques (e.g. super-resolution, single molecule) available to the non-specialist. These are techniques that might be required for a particular research programme but would require specialist expertise either in sample preparation, data collection, or data analysis.

Acting as a training resource so that new techniques can be “spun out” into the community and established at home institutions as soon as practicable.

Allowing the full exploitation of synergies with other imaging techniques (e.g. co-location with electron microscopy, synchrotron, and neutron facilities).

Work with microscopy companies to speed up access to new instrumentation for the community.

Advantages of National Facilities

1) “Economies of scale”. Easier to justify purchase of more expensive equipment because it has a larger user base than would be found in a single institution.

2) Support infrastructure can be shared between facilities on the same site. For example user accommodation, travel administration, engineering support.

3) As the facility’s reason for existence is to provide access, no conflict between “academic” and “user” requirements. Staff are available to devote 100% of their time to supporting users and developing instrumentation – “full service” mode of operation is possible. Enables non-specialists to quickly get to grips with new techniques, or allows use by researchers who only need a small amount of access to a particular technique and do not wish to become experts in it.

4) National facilities could provide a good career path for instrument developers who do not wish to pursue the traditional academic route.

5) Central funding enables access on a “free at the point of use” basis.

6) Open, peer-reviewed access rather than hand-picked collaborations. Easier for new researchers to start using new techniques.

7) A national scale facility could become a centre of excellence for imaging that is able to compete on an international level with equivalent labs, particularly if located next to other national scale facilities (but need to attract good people to do this - see disadvantage 4 below).

Disadvantages of National Facilities

1) Need to travel to the facility. Inconvenient and probably impossible for some samples.

2) Funding issues – with finite resources, national facilities compete on some level with individual groups for funding.

3) Bureaucratic access mechanisms can make it difficult to get rapid access to facility when needed.

4) Lack of an academic environment could make it difficult to attract world-class people to work at the facility.


* Dave Clarke (STFC/ISC Harwell)





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