NSF Releases Facility Plan

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Publication date: 
19 October 2005

There is much of interest to the physical sciences community in the National Science Foundation's 2005 "Facility Plan" released on September 27. Many of the current and contemplated projects in the 61-page plan would provide cutting-edge instrumentation for the conduct of physical sciences research across a broad number of fields.

The report, available at http://www.nsf.gov/publications/pub_summ.jsp?ods_key=nsf05058, is described by the foundation as "an overview of science and engineering research objectives and opportunities that collectively form the context for NSF's current and potential future investments through its Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) budget account." MREFC projects are those requiring 10% or more of the proposing directorate or office's annual budget. In addition, the report states, "Each MREFC candidate project must represent an outstanding opportunity to enable research and innovation, as well as education and broader impacts. Each should offer the possibility of transformative knowledge and the potential to shift existing paradigms in scientific understanding, engineering processes and/or infrastructure technology. Moreover, each must serve an urgent contemporary research need that will persist through the often lengthy process of planning and development."

Descriptions of the projects and their research potential are concise and written for the layman. NSF describes the plan as "a conceptual snapshot of the science and engineering community's views in 2005." This is the first document of this kind; the foundation notes that the plan will be revised and updated "regularly as needed."

The report's first chapter summarizes research that could be performed at facilities with scales ranging from millimeters to billions of light years. The chapter also discusses computer science and mathematics.

The second chapter describes ongoing projects, and includes budget information through FY 2010. The projects are:
Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) Construction
High-performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research (HIAPER)
IceCube Neutrino Observatory
National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)
Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES)
Rave Symmetry Violating Process (RSVP) (with a brief review of the facility's termination)
Scientific Ocean Drilling Vessel (SODV)
South Pole Station
Terascale Computing Systems (TCS)

A separate section of this chapter is entitled "Second Priority: New Starts in FY 2007 and FY 2008." Three facilities are discussed:
Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) (2007)
Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV) (2007)
Advanced LIGO (AdvLIGO) (2008)

There are three additional project categories. There are currently no projects listed in the first two categories: "Status Report on National Science Board Approved New Starts" and "Readiness Stage Projects and Projects Recommended for Advancement to Readiness Stage."

The third category is "Projects Under Exploration." The report explains: "Many NSF programs, divisions, offices and directorates are exploring and funding the preliminary development of concepts that might eventually evolve into MREFC projects. The following projects, which have been brought to the attention of the MREFC Panel, illustrate both the wide variety of concepts being investigated and the various stages of project development. Some are very embryonic and others well-advanced in their planning. Some may become MREFC candidates and others perhaps not, either because they prove infeasible or because better ways of meeting the scientific objectives come to light in the planning process. This chapter is not meant to provide a comprehensive overview of projects on either the near or distant horizon." The facilities discussed are:
Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST)
Collaborative Large-Scale Engineering Analysis Network for Environmental Research (CLEANER)
Coherent X-Ray Light Source
Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL)
Expanded Very Large Array (ELVA) Phase II
GNSS Earth Observing System (GEOS)
Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR)
Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)
Petascale Earth System Collaboratory
South Pole Future Communication Needs
Square Kilometer Array (SKA)
Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT)

The MREFC's budget in FY 2004 was $173.7 million. The Bush Administration requested an FY 2005 budget of $250.0 million which included RSVP funding (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/017.html.) The House voted to provide full funding for the projects ($193.4 million) with the exception of RSVP, which has been cancelled (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/087.html.) The Senate bill provided the same level of funding as the House bill, and also does not fund RSVP (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/103.html.)

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