Following a successful statement of community need bid, EPSRC wishes to support a national material science synchrotron beamline research facility. The facility can be based outside of the UK for national use.
EPSRC will support the facility with a five year grant which will undergo a mid-term review at the two and a half to three year stage.
You should aim to begin the project on 15 November 2023.
Key requirements for the proposed facility
EPSRC convened an expert specification panel to develop the following facility requirements. The statement of community need was considered during the specification panel. Applicants are expected to meet the following facility requirements.
Purpose of the facility
The facility will need to be capable of providing:
- easy access to the experimental infrastructure
- access to support individuals
- follow-up support with data analysis and interpretation
- adequate training, where applicable
It should also:
- complement wider UK capabilities
- minimise individual cost per project
- use the best suited technology for projects, along with best practice
- have procedures in place to maintain the confidentiality of all parties involved
Instrumentation and technical capability
The service will provide researchers with access to a national material science beamline research facility and associated expertise to support novel and exciting research in engineering, biological and physical sciences. The service must therefore meet the following technical requirements:
- provide a flexible system covering a wide energy range that allows multi-modal measurements
- offer a range of techniques, including: spectroscopy, diffraction, reflectivity, and small-angle scattering
- offer a range of sample environments in terms of temperature, atmosphere, and pressure
- offer spatial resolution, time resolution (seconds to minutes), and a sample size range (down to micron scale)
- offer appropriate support for sample preparation and the ability to transfer samples in an inert atmosphere
You should explain how the facility will complement existing UK capacity and fits into the wider research infrastructure landscape for material science.
You should provide details of data processing tools and software that will be available to users and plans for offline tools and data analysis.
You should justify the proposed location or locations of the facility.
You should provide detail on policies and procedures for secure and safe access for external users. You should ensure sites are accessible and reasonable costings are considered for handling samples. You should ensure there are harmonised and robust safety provisions established including provisions for handling hazardous samples and an appropriate mechanism to keep track of samples.
Technical, scientific and training support for users
It is expected by EPSRC that all users will have access to expert advice including but not limited to:
- training provision in equipment use in accordance with their needs, including face-to-face training and support by email
- a process via which users can raise a request, complaint or issue about any aspect of the service, and a procedure for resolution
- site safety training at levels relevant to the users
- experimental design and feasibility
- sample preparation and storage
- data interpretation and advice regarding results
- advice on maximising use of time on equipment including appropriate out of hours support
You should provide detail on training provisions for advanced computational techniques, this may include artificial intelligence (AI), that are appropriate for the range of experimental techniques offered at the facility. You are expected to provide details of user training provision, including the expertise and experience of those involved in training for the different levels of users. You should consider the needs of different user groups, such as:
- academic researchers
- private sector customers
- researchers in or outside the host organisation
- new and experienced users
You should describe the user journey for novice users, experienced users, and expert users.
You should include how the facility will engage with future generations of researchers, including Centres for Doctoral Training and other relevant and complementary research facilities.
The facility should have expert staff across a broad range of application areas with evidence of mitigation against any staff single point failures.
Facility capacity and user access
It is essential to EPSRC that the proposed facility can be accessed for the full period of the contract by students, postdoctoral researchers and academic researchers in the physical sciences, biological and engineering communities in the UK.
You should provide detail on and justify the expected balance of the type of users, the type of experiments, the type of access, and the proportion of time that will be dedicated to experiments, technique development maintenance and calibration.
You should describe mechanisms for prioritisation of applications and how considerations, such as but not limited to scientific quality, diversifying the user base and training new users, will be encompassed in this process. You should refer to the technical requirements for this facility.
It is important to EPSRC that access to the proposed facility is fair and transparent for all potential users. EPSRC needs to understand how access to the proposed facility is and will be managed by the applicants. You should describe the formal procedure for accepting and prioritising applications providing details of the quality assessment of the applications through all access routes. Peer review processes should be in line with EPSRC peer review guidelines.
You should specify the eligibility requirement for access to the beamline facility and consider the EPSRC standard eligibility criteria for a principal investigator on a proposal.
You should give details of any options for a percentage of the facility to be open to researchers in research areas beyond EPSRC’s remit, for example interdisciplinary researchers and business customers.
EPSRC expects that the proposed facility will be sustainable. You should provide details on how the capability of the facility and the related storage, preparatory and ancillary equipment would be maintained. This should include details of agreements with the appropriate equipment manufacturer for upgrading and developing the equipment and facility, and basic details for routine service and preventative maintenance.
You are expected to give a profile for capital investments over the length of the grant to keep the facility at the cutting edge. Any capital investment on this grant is expected to enhance not replicate recent UKRI investments in the area.
It should be specified whether any experiments will be carried out to meet relevant (ISO) standards.
Remote access and web interface
The facility should provide a website fitting for a national research facility and that meets accessibility requirements. This should include:
- information on how experiments can be performed for remote users (desirable)
- promoting the facility and demonstrating the capability it provides
- maintaining data security on the remote platform
- provide information on how to gain remote access to recorded data
- describe details on how to access the software tools for analysing and processing
- showcase world leading outputs, including case studies and research findings
- provide information on the management team
Engagement, publicity, and diversifying the user base
You should provide information on how you will implement a user survey to allow users to feed back their user experience, input on future facility developments and to host two-way user dialogue on facility capability.
You should provide detail on how you will publicise the facility and any planned outreach activities.
The facility is expected to actively grow and diversify the user base, reaching new user communities. You should provide details on how you will engage with the current user base, detail the growth you expect to achieve in the user base, and how you will achieve it. You should provide detail on how the facility will sit within the national and international research landscape and the material science research community.
The facility must collect usage statistics in line with relevant regulations and grant conditions. The facility must be able to report on individual users and record the number and type of experiments carried out, and whether they obtained the data they sought. The facility will be asked to provide an annual report to EPSRC with the usage data. The usage data should inform decision making regarding user engagement, service improvements and future provision.
EPSRC expects the facility to have appropriate and robust systems and procedures in place to ensure data protection during collection, storage and processing.
You should provide detail on how you will ensure appropriate data security measures are in place for proprietary projects. The facility should have a policy with clear and robust intellectual property procedures in place to manage intellectual property for proprietary projects.
The application must include a data management policy that is compliant with the UKRI open data policy and any relevant third party providers and extends beyond the duration of the grant.
You should provide a data management plan that is compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation and describe how you will record and manage data on users and review this to inform your communications plan.
Contribution to the research community
You should consider how the short and long term impact of the facility is measured and used to demonstrate the added value of the facility over the duration of the grant.
You should demonstrate at least yearly that the facility has met the community need and communicated with the diverse needs of the user base. This could be via case studies published on the facility website.
Risk management and contingency planning
EPSRC expects the facility to provide a risk register with appropriate risk mitigations annually.
You should provide details of your risk management strategy. It should focus on achieving the highest productivity and provide appropriate risk mitigations, for example how you will address risks such as staff shortages and equipment failure.
People and management arrangements
The service must meet the following management requirements:
The facility must be led by an excellent team which are capable of:
- community building
- assessing community scientific needs
- managing the operational aspects of a facility to meet user and staff requirements
- working constructively with multiple stakeholders and funders.
For grant purposes the application will have a named eligible principal investigator with other team members listed as co-investigators.
The facility shall be led by an eligible academic who will be the nominated director and will be ultimately responsible for the execution of any grant. EPSRC expects this named person to have an international reputation in material science beamlines and the ability to work constructively with multiple stakeholders and funders. This may or may not be the same person as the nominated principal investigator.
In addition, you may also wish to include a nominated co-director or technical director, with a distinct role. The inclusion and role should be fully justified.
The facility director and senior management will be expected to show evidence of appropriate experience of leading facilities comparable to the existing National Research Facilities. Continuity of management plans must be in place in the event of the proposed director leaving and other senior staff changes.
The governance structure should include a management board and an independent steering committee. You should provide a clear governance structure or chart.
The independent steering committee should be composed of external advisors, including a member of EPSRC, and international and industry representation to monitor the actions of the proposed facility.
The panel will discuss any specific governance requirements for this service that should be included in the funding opportunity and monitored for the subsequent grant.
EPSRC expects the service to take a leadership role in the engineering, biological and physical sciences communities. Leadership in this context might involve:
- uniqueness of the facility, where there is no equivalent elsewhere internationally
- demonstrate value of service to community in terms of meeting user needs and high usage
- owned by the users
- provide mentoring and career development for facility staff
Support and development of professionals
The facility is expected to provide ongoing support and development for research technical professionals and postdoctoral research associates involved in the running of the facility. UKRI recognise this as being core to the successful running of the facility.
Key performance indicators and service level agreements
The expectation of EPSRC is that as a result of this funding opportunity any grant awarded will include key performance indicators and service level agreements that the facility will aspire to meet. These may include but are not limited to those given as standard.
The key performance indicators and service level agreements could be based on:
- the total number of all users broken down to the number of new and returning users
- the number of research groups that have used the facility
- percentage of access requests accepted
- percentage of user enquiries responded to within a stated window
- user satisfaction rating
- the number and percentage of user complaints
- the number of publications
- the number of publicity activities per year
- the uptime of the facility and major equipment
Feedback and complaints
EPSRC expects that a proposed facility will have a process in place for complaints and monitoring of user satisfaction. You should provide details of the proposed feedback processes and describe how feedback will be used to implement improvements.
EPSRC is committed to providing cost effective services.
You should develop a charging model for proprietary research, where any income received should be invested into the facility.
You should describe models for user access to the facility including how travel and subsistence costs will be managed.
Your proposal should present a vision for the long term future sustainability of the service. You 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.
EPSRC approach to equipment funding
Where possible, researchers are asked to make use of existing facilities and equipment, including those hosted at other universities. If equipment is needed as part of the proposal, you must follow EPSRC’s rules for requesting equipment over £10,000 in value.
Individual items of equipment between £10,000 and £400,000 can be included on proposals if the equipment is essential to the proposed activity and if no appropriate alternative provision can be accessed. Where equipment is requested, we expect to see a robust strategic case for how equipment will maximise the impact from research, enable collaboration with business and ultimately drive benefits within the cluster and society in general.
The purchase of equipment to undertake non-impact focused research is out of scope for this funding opportunity. EPSRC will contribute 80% of the final purchase price and will expect the research organisation or project partner to contribute the remainder (20%) from non EPSRC funding.
You must attach a letter of support from the research organisation or project partner detailing the proposed contribution to the cost of the equipment. All requested equipment funding must be identified at the point of application.
More information is available on our guidance for equipment on research grants.
Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be in the ‘directly incurred – other costs’ heading.
See EPSRC approach to equipment funding