EPSRC is looking for a research facility with epitaxy capabilities that, with funding support, can be developed into a national research facility (NRF) for epitaxy.
The facility will need to provide services that offer associated expertise to support novel and exciting research in the engineering, biological and physical sciences.
You should aim to begin the project in July 2022.
EPSRC convened a specification panel for the facility. A ‘statement of community need’ was used to develop these detailed requirements, which your facility and service will be expected to meet.
Key requirements for service
Purpose of the facility
The facility will need to be capable of providing:
- epitaxial wafers over a range of materials, primarily using molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) and metal-organic vapour phase epitaxy (MOVPE)
- the UK with state-of-the-art quality and reproducibility in epitaxial materials
- characterisation details that allow the quality and reproducibility to be assessed
- advice, guidance and training or education to the community
- leadership in knowledge exchange with industry, including signposting
- leadership and advocacy in the UK for epitaxial capabilities, including horizon scanning.
The facility should also have procedures in place to maintain the confidentiality of all parties involved.
Instrumentation and technical capability
The service must be able to offer the following technical capabilities:
- MBE or MOVPE growth of epitaxial materials, or both
- calibration of growth rates through in situ and ex situ characterisation and post-growth characterisation
- delivery of wafers, or parts of wafers, to end users together with paperwork detailing available characterisation data from the requested material and related calibration layers
- details of wafer testing that would be available to end users on request prior to wafer shipping, for example, a photoluminescence or Hall effect measurement.
The building housing the facility will need to meet equipment manufacturers’ recommended technical specifications.
The facility and site should be easily accessible to staff and users.
Technical, scientific and training support for users
It is expected by EPSRC that the facility will give all users access to expert advice and support including, but not limited to:
- support by email, including data interpretation and advice regarding results
- face-to-face or remote advice in layer sequence design, experimental design and feasibility
- support in understanding calibration data supplied
- help with sample preparation and storage.
Staff should be willing to educate the community to understand MBE and MOVPE growth processes, as applicable.
The service should aim to provide:
- fair and transparent access to UK researchers
- timely responses to user requests
- a balance between established and new materials, reflecting user demand
- flexibility of services over the lifetime of the facility, according to the community needs
- an efficient maintenance schedule to minimise downtime and maintain optimised materials quality.
Website, engagement and publicity
The facility should be capable of providing a dedicated website with full details of:
- the technical capability of the facility
- the leadership team
- service level agreements to the academic and industrial communities in the UK and abroad
- training and development opportunities
- an environmental plan
- a health and safety management plan
- equality and diversity policies.
You will need a communication and engagement plan to advocate epitaxy to industry and Her Majesty’s government as well as wider engagement plans for community outreach to the academic semiconductor community.
The facility will also need a plan for providing consultancy and contract research.
The website will need to provide information about the facility and remote access to data, including:
- raw, in situ and ex situ data
- monitoring and characterisation data
- chamber conditions during growth
- expert advice.
Diversification of the user base
The facility is expected to grow and diversify the user base over the lifetime of the grant to bring in:
- new universities
- new research organisations
- different research communities
- new industrial users.
Maintenance, upgrades and servicing
EPSRC expects that the proposed facility will be financially and academically sustainable. You will need a plan in place detailing how the capability of the facility and the related storage, preparatory and ancillary equipment would be maintained.
Any requests for significant capital expenditure for equipment upgrade must be fully justified and costed in the proposal.
It is essential to EPSRC that the proposed facility can be accessed for the full period of the contract by students, post-doctoral researchers and academic researchers in the physical sciences, biological and engineering communities in the UK.
It is important to EPSRC that access to the proposed facility is fair and transparent for all potential users.
The service must be capable of collecting usage statistics in line with relevant regulations and grant conditions.
The service must be able to report quarterly on individual users, recording:
- what equipment and services they used
- the number of growths carried out
- whether they obtained the data they sought.
The usage data should inform decision-making regarding user engagement, service improvements and future provision. This should include:
- materials classes, including new materials
- the proportion of a growth system’s time that is used by the NRF
- turnaround times per growth machine, and by customer and delivery partner
- engagement metrics for activities including:
- industry connections
- pump priming versus grants access
- number of grants following on from pump priming
- commercial income generation.
Contribution to the research community
You should consider how the short and long term impact of the facility, and its contribution to the research community, will be measured. You will need to demonstrate the added value of the facility over the duration of the funding.
You will need to be able to demonstrate at least yearly that the facility has met the community need and the diverse needs of the user base. This could be via case studies published on the facility website.
Data management policy
The facility must have appropriate and robust systems and procedures to ensure data protection during collection, storage, processing, remote access and secure downloads of research data. This includes:
- IP sensitive results
- confidential access to data
- secure downloads.
People and management arrangements
The facilities must be led by an excellent team which is capable of:
- community building
- assessing community scientific needs
- managing the operational aspects of a facility to meet user and staff requirements
- gaining the confidence of the community as experts in epitaxy or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), or in their respective operational roles.
The team will need to work constructively with multiple stakeholders and funders
For grant purposes, your application will need a named eligible principal investigator, with other team members listed as co-investigators.
Technical or operational director
There must be a nominated technical or operational director who will manage and lead the delivery of the service. This may or may not be the same person as the nominated principal investigator.
The governance structure will need to include:
- a management board, including:
- the facility director
- the technical or operational director
- others as appropriate
- an independent steering committee that reflects the user community.
The independent steering committee should include external advisors, international representation, and industry representation. A member of EPSRC must also form part of the committee. The remit of each such body, and their membership and duration of office, are to be published on the facility webpage.
The panel will discuss any specific governance requirements for this facility. This will be monitored for the subsequent grant.
Support and development of professionals
The facility is expected to provide ongoing support and development for research technical professionals and postdoctoral research assistants involved in the running of the facility. UKRI recognises these people as core to the successful running of the facility.
Complaints and feedback
The facility must have a process in place for complaints and for monitoring user satisfaction. Users should be able to raise a request, complaint or issue about any aspect of the service. There should be an acknowledgement of the communication within five working days and a resolution within 10 working days.
EPSRC expects the service to take a leadership role in the physical sciences, life sciences and engineering communities.
Leadership in this context might be:
- demonstrating uniqueness of service, where there is no equivalent elsewhere internationally
- working with others outside the facility
- demonstrating the value of the service to the research community in terms of meeting user needs and high usage
- working closely with others
EPSRC expects the facility to take a leadership role in the community, supporting the development of future roadmaps or strategy and to work with other bodies in the community to facilitate this as a key contributor.
The facility should retain knowledge of the international landscape, where they sit within it, and how this feeds into the facility strategy.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) and service level agreements (SLAs)
The expectation of EPSRC is that as a result of this funding opportunity, any grant awarded will include KPIs and SLAs that the facility will aspire to meet. KPIs and SLAs could be based on:
- the number of users of the facility broken down by expert and non-expert or returning and new users
- the department and university profile of users and number of industry users
- the number of samples processed, with a broad indication of time
- usage figures for different instruments as a percentage of working hours and 24/7, as appropriate
- user satisfaction average scores
- the number of complaints
- list of papers and highlights published
- the number of grant applications submitted and the success rate
- the costs recovered via grants.
Cost sharing and sustainability
EPSRC is committed to providing cost-effective services. You need to give thought to the case being made for the resources requested.
You will need to consider realistic approaches to cost recovery and how it could be applied from the outset and in tandem with the UKRI funding. Different types of user and different costing models should be considered. Any risks to usage of the service need to be mitigated. Thought should be given to how requests submitted by users will be prioritised.
In addition, applicants should address the following points in their proposal regarding longer term funding and sustainability of the service.
A vision for the long-term future sustainability of the service should be presented. This should describe how continuous provision would be achieved if future funding were not available.
If, following peer review, EPSRC considers that insufficient effort has been made to detail a cost-effective facility, it may, in discussion with the principal investigator, alter the profile of a successful grant to return maximum value to UK research users.
The facility should aim for a target by year five that EPSRC’s direct support of the NRF is 50% of the total contribution. In line with other NRFs, EPSRC will not fund the entirety of the facility and requires a proportion (%) of the recurrent (resource) costs for the facility operation to be recovered each year through charged usage.
For the avoidance of doubt, in this context, recurrent costs mean operational expenditure that is not equipment spend. This target must not preclude proof-of-principle and first-time usage.
EPSRC considers the suggested targets below to be reasonable minimum cost recovery targets for an NRF over a five-year funding period.
You may wish to propose alternative targets and are welcome to describe how further savings might be made and used to fund enhanced facility activities and capabilities. These should be reflected in the proposed grant payment profile that will need to be provided as part of the grant application.
||EPSRC contribution to recurrent costs
Progress towards increased sustainability will form a key KPI of the successful grant and will be reviewed by the independent steering committee and at the mid-term review.