FAPESP 2nd Workshop on Multi-User-Equipment (MUE) and Facilities - Scenario

FAPESP has been offering funding for multiuser equipment as a strategic activity since 1999.  From 1999 to 2005 the foundation received MUE grant requests; from 2005-2009 MUEs were supported through a call for proposals announced in 2004; from 2011 to 2014 MUEs were supported as a result of a call announced in 2009; and since 2014 support happens through Thematic and Young Investigator grants that, under well justified proposals, requested equipment considered during the analysis process to fit into the multiuser category. In a growing number of cases MUE has been acquired using funds from the Institutional Part of the Contingency Funds (Reserva Técnica - Parte para Infraestrutura Institucional de Pesquisa) awarded yearly.

Altogether FAPESP invested more than R$ 450 million (calculated at 2015 prices) in MUE equipment since 1999. The Call for Proposals of 2009 represented a milestone in the MUE effort with 170 projects being funded representing an investment of R$ 30 million (at 2015 prices) per year in the following 5 years, from 2010 to 2014. The main characteristic of the call was to emphasize the location of MUE in institutionally operated and supported facilities, and establish new guidelines aiming to facilitate their access by the community. Since 2014 FAPESP has been investing, on average, R$ 37 million per year in MUE grants associated to Thematic and Young Investigator grants.

Present assessment, mostly through the Scientific Reports of each project, allows a more clear view of the success of the different types of MUE laboratories regarding the access to these MUE by external users. The new facilities created have shown impressive results in offering access to sophisticated equipment and technical support to users, covering a wide variety of applications. They joined already existing facilities as the preferential strategy for MUE.

On the other hand, MUE installed in stand alone research laboratories play a different role, even though they tend to be less open to broad access. New ideas have been put into work to facilitate the sharing equipment in research laboratories, such as, e.g., the development of virtual networks of MUE either associated to existing facilities or in research labs. These networks showed to be a viable alternative to actual centralized facilities, when those are not available, being capable to optimize the technical support and facilitate the access to existing MUE. In all cases institutional support remains an essential element necessary for the success of the strategy.

Competitive science requires access to sophisticated equipment, and these are in constant development. Highly trained technical support is fundamental. Adequate access to up-to-date research equipment requires a strong strategy based on sharing MUE, with appropriate institutional support for technical and managerial tasks. This is essential to the effectiveness of research funded by FAPESP in São Paulo. 

To that end, the active participation of the host institution is fundamental, as demonstrated by the experience in foreign countries. Also, user feedback and active user participation is fundamental to build and maintain quality services in MUE facilities.

On the characteristics of Multi-Users Equipment

MUE are installed and operated in different institutional frameworks. They offer different levels of accessibility to the user. The role of these different arrangements and their optimization aiming to offer the most efficient instrumentations capabilities to the community is one of the goals of this Workshop. A possible classification of the organization of the MUE follows:

1. MUE in a National Laboratory: They have the mission to make available to users a complex of laboratories and equipment, frequently high cost installations making it a singular environment. They have a strong focus on the user community. Their organization facilitates the installation of a wide range of MUE operating isolated or as part of a larger installation. In a National Laboratory, in general, the user community has an intense participation in the design and upgrade of the instrumentation available.

2. MUE in Facilities: We consider here multi-user infrastructures that have been developed in some universities in Brazil, some of them already with decades of operation. Universities or their departments found necessary, for efficiency and cost reduction purposes, to aggregate large equipment in central services, accessible to the internal and external research communities. Typical examples are the Analytical Centers organized in many Chemistry institutes. Facilities provide infrastructure and personnel to operate as a multi-user laboratory. They are built as a support installation, providing services to the research community.

3. MUE in Virtual Networks: Many MUE are installed in different research laboratories for several reasons. In some cases, a network structure is organized in order to optimize technical support and accessing capabilities for the users. They may be organized as a single virtual network or associated to existing facilities.

4. MUE in Research Laboratories: Here we consider the stand-alone research laboratory which acquires a MUE as part of its experimental set-up with the commitment to offer time to external users.

FAPESP requirements for the operation of Multi-User Equipments

Since the 2009 Call for Proposals for MUE, FAPESP established the following requirements to be fulfilled by the host institution in coordination with the Principal Investigator of the grant for the operation of Multi-User Equipment:

a. Adequate physical infrastructure;

b. Technical personnel, provided by the host institution, available to guarantee the perfect operation of the equipment, independently of the scientific personnel from the laboratory, whenever this is necessary;

c. Maintenance of the equipment n perfect conditions by the host institution for a period of at least seven years;

d. The establishment of clear and visible regulations and procedures for the access and utilization of the equipment by the research community;

e. The establishment of a User Committee, to oversee the quality of the services and accessibility provided;

f. A Web page making that facilitates access by the research community, including relevant information to understand the procedures for requesting services and utilization of the equipment.

Institutional support is fundamental in two ways: i) for the implementation of the rules of offer, facilitating the access of users to the equipment and ii) to guarantee adequate support to the PI responsible for the grant that acquired the MUE for the perfect management and operation of the MUE or Facility.

FAPESP accepts the establishment of fees for the use of the multi-user equipment.  A fee system will help to guarantee proper maintenance and coverage of operating costs of the equipment allowing a better quality of operation. Funding for paying multi-user equipment charges can be easily incorporated in research proposals applications, or covered through the Contingency Funds (Reserva Técnica) of the projects funded by FAPESP. Good accounting practices by the host institution are fundamental in the operation of multi-user equipment and important advances are already noted in the research system towards this.

The 2nd FAPESP Workshop on Multiuser Equipment and Facilities

The Workshop is expected to deepen the concept of multi-user equipment and their form of organization within the scientific community of the state of São Paulo, and to discuss the role of facilities and other forms of multi-user equipment organization in the daily research. The presentations will cover the different kinds of facilities organization and how they can best promote the access to up-to-date equipment and how they envision their future development looking at the increasing sophistication and flexibility in the experimental set-ups.  The perspective of the users will be emphasized.

In particular, the workshop aims to:

a. discuss all aspects involving MUE, from user equipment requirements to the host institution participation, to understand the most effective way to organize MUE in order to optimize their use considering our local reality.

b. contribute to a better comprehension of the role of the different types of MUE frameworks in particular considering the several tasks required in a research environment such as routine services, advanced technical development, students training.

To illustrate the discussion, a particular case will be analyzed in more detail. From 2000 to 2015 FAPESP acquired 103 Mass Spectrometers, making Mass Spectrometry (MS), dedicated mostly to life sciences research, one of the most demanded MUE in the state of São Paulo. A section of the Workshop will be dedicated to present and discuss the Mass Spectrometry MUE in the state of São Paulo, particularly the participation and impact of multi-user MS in research projects. Future perspectives associated to research projects demands and the best way to comply with the experimental capabilities will be discussed.

Questions to be discussed in the Workshop

1. How to make facilities the main source of equipment or experimental set up for research?

2. What kind of facility or multiuser laboratory is adequate in each case?

a. How to assure the needs for routine experiments?

b. How to promote access to hands-on experiments?

b. How to offer adequate student training environment?

d. How to maintain the facility?

3. Virtual facilities: plain use of multi-user equipment available at the institution.

4. What is the (minimum) role of the universities in the creation, development and maintenance of facilities?