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September 24, 2012

What has the National User Facility Organization been doing lately? Answer: A lot!

During the past several months, NUFO has been very busy on a number of fronts. In particular, we actively continued to educate scientific colleagues, the general public and Federal representatives on how our national user facilities advance the U.S. scientific enterprise. NUFO not only sponsored information booths at the APS, AAS, AAAS and the American Crystallography annual meetings, we also participated in the second U.S. Science & Engineering Festival, held a User Science Exhibition in Washington, D.C. in both U.S. Senate and House office buildings, and exchanged ideas with NUFO members at this year’s annual NUFO meeting in Santa Fe, N.M. Finally, NUFO representatives were invited to testify before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. In the past few months, NUFO also formed two new Working Groups, benchmarked several processes, and started working on visa and other issues that seriously impact scientists working at our facilities. Below are highlights of these events and initiatives.

US Science & Engineering Festival

In April, NUFO participated in the second U.S. Science & Engineering Festival. While a variety of associated events were held nationally, the primary event was held in Washington, D.C., and NUFO members once again participated, conducting hands-on experiments with the general public and educating them about what scientific user facilities are and how they help the U.S. remain at the forefront of scientific discovery. We worked with children and adults to conduct experiments that were not only fun and informative, but also meant to give a simplified sense of the types of questions scientists at user facilities are trying to tackle. For example, demonstration experiments gave young scientists a sense of how particle accelerators work and demonstrated the unique properties of engineered nanomaterials such as memory-wire and nano-gels. One particular experiment demonstrating how materials behave in a vacuum (in this case marshmallows) was a big hit with one of our booth’s very special visitors (Bill Nye the Science Guy, who was the plenary speaker at this year’s festival). Estimates are that this year’s festival attracted more than 150,000 visitors. Participating NUFO members returned excited and invigorated. We wish to thank all the participants for their efforts. NUFO couldn’t have participated without the following amazing volunteers: Susan Strasser, Les Erwin, and Eric Dufresne (APS), Mihaela Tanase (NIST); Grace Webster (BNL), Brant Johnson (BNL), Susan White-DePace (BNL); and Cathy Knotts (SSRL). .

2012 NUFO Annual Meeting

NUFO’s annual meeting this year was very generously hosted by the Los Alamos National Laboratory and held in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico. The formal report of the meeting will be available on-line shortly and will provide a sense of the very substantive and in-depth discussions held by members. This year’s topics included discussions focused on how NUFO can leverage its resources to better meet User needs and how to better coordinate our educational and outreach efforts in collaboration with Laboratory communicators and other organizations such as the Association of American Universities. To that end, at this year’s meeting NUFO formalized ties with our community relations and government relations personnel at our facilities. These colleagues are eager to assist NUFO in its communications on the importance of the science being done at national user facilities as well in our outreach efforts. There were presentations that highlighted the differences in how our NSF funded facilities operate and how NUFO can better address the needs of their user communities. There were also detailed break-out discussions on cyber and computing affairs and how these issues impact both facility management and users. For example, issues related to user data management such as requirements for access, storing, and managing the increasingly large amounts of data our facilities are generating. There were also discussions on nanotechnology security, and user facility financial best practices; breakouts focused on social media, industrial user outreach, and user administrative affairs,. Los Alamos National Laboratory also very kindly hosted visits to their user facilities and our annual banquet. We sincerely thank Alex Lacerda, Rose Romero, Elena Fernandez and George Dominguez from LANSCE, Natalia Mendiola and Hugh Thomas from the Santa Fe Hilton, and Grace Webster from CFN for helping make this year’s meeting such an enormous success. A formal report on the meeting will be available shortly.

NUFO Testifies at the House

The National User Facility Organization was also invited to testify on June 21 at a U.S House of Representatives Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing on “Department of Energy User Facilities: Utilizing the Tools of Science to Drive Innovation through Fundamental Research”. The invitation was a direct result of our User Science Exhibition held in Washington, D.C. in April, which was attended by subcommittee staffers. Dr. Tony Lanzirotti (U. of Chicago) was asked to testify as Chair of NUFO; also on the panel were Dr. Stephen Wasserman from Eli Lilly (who is also a NUFO Steering Committee appointed representative), Dr. Persis Drell (director of SLAC), Dr. Suzy Tichenor (ORNL), and Dr. Ernest Hall (GE Global). Links to the Subcommittee testimony can be found on our NUFO website. Comments from the Subcommittee members demonstrate the strong bipartisan support and praise for the U.S. Department of Energy national scientific facilities. We’d like to think that’s partly a result of educational efforts and support from NUFO members over the past several years. Thanks to all of you!

NUFO Works on Visa Issues

NUFO currently is working with the Democratic counsel on the Judiciary Committee and the legal firm of Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy to address visa issues for scientists. As part of this process, NUFO surveyed member scientists about their experiences with the U.S. visa process and has received more than 445 responses to date. We additionally surveyed user administrators with respect to institution costs and consequences of users’ visa delays. The data collected through these surveys ultimately will be made available to Congress, to facilitate legislation focused on improved mechanisms for scientific visas and visa processing. If you have not completed the survey, please do so. The survey for users is at https://adobeformscentral.com/?f=QFiRyPshw3cqrBm-uyruSA# and the survey for user facilities is at https://adobeformscentral.com/?f=d9e9XTE38XwfOMnq7peC3w#. The more data NUFO can collect, the more comprehensive our information to Congress will be.

User Facility Forum

In July NUFO was invited to attend a User Facility Forum in D.C. hosted by the NNSA and the Office of Science. The goal of the forum was to share lessons-learned and best practices for user facilities across the department, with the target audience being DOE high-level program managers. A presentation by Pat Dehmer, Deputy Director of the Office of Science (SC) which is responsible for the majority of DOE user facilities, outlined the SC framework for the ownership, stewardship, review, and user management/expectations for SC facilities. Additional topics addressed were funding and stewardship models, technology transfer, new facilities, and oversight models. During discussions, NUFO was mentioned as an organization that represents the users of not only DOE user facilities, but of all those funded by any federal agency. As such, because of this breadth of representation, in the past few years, it has become important and “impactful.” Further discussions with this group are being planned.

NUFO Works with the American Physical Society

In August, NUFO also participated in a round table discussion at the American Physical Society Physics Policy Committee meeting to discuss how to improve the approach by NUFO regarding the attendance of representatives and staffers at the yearly NUFO science exhibitions.