The Molecular Foundry is a nanoscale science research center open to any interested researcher (“user”) through a competitive peer-reviewed proposal process, free of charge for users who intend to publish their results. Learn more about reporting requirements.
The User Program offers users access to all of the Foundry’s instruments and capabilities as well as the expertise of world-class scientific and technical staff.
The program is open to scientists from academia, industry, and research institutes worldwide. Most user projects involve one or more users coming to work on-site at the Molecular Foundry in Berkeley, California, though some projects are conducted remotely. Users join a vibrant community where they can receive training, collaborate with staff and other users, attend seminars, and share their results in informal meetings.
User projects vary in size and scope and may last anywhere from a few days up to a year. Longer-term projects can be accommodated by subsequent follow-on proposals. Learn more about proposal types.
The Foundry is organized into seven research Facilities, which span synthesis, characterization, fabrication, and theory. A user proposal can request resources from multiple Facilities and interdisciplinary work is encouraged. Learn more about what makes a good proposal.
Access to the Molecular Foundry is free of charge for non-proprietary research; the vast majority of projects fall into this category. Onsite users bear their own living, local transportation, and travel costs. The cost of standard incidentals related to the user project (such as chemicals, basic lab supplies, office supplies) is supported by the Foundry. In the case that a user’s project requires consumable items above and beyond what is customary, they will be asked to establish a charge account to handle these more costly incidentals.
Proprietary projects pay a full cost recovery rate during the period when the project is active.
Opportunity Travel Grants
A travel grant to support broad access to Molecular Foundry resources, offering up to $2000 for awardees, to offset costs associated with travel to the Molecular Foundry.
Users must be from an academic institution in the United States that is either a Minority-Serving Institution (link to classification table), an academic institution in an EPSCoR state/territory (link to definition), or an Emerging Research Institution as defined by the DOE (link to classification table), located more than 150 miles from the Berkeley Lab site. Users must access the site in Berkeley, California during the course of an active user project.
Application and Selection Process:
Users complete a travel opportunity grant application at the time of proposal submission in the Spring or Fall standard call for proposals. Travel opportunity grant applications will not be considered as part of the proposal review process.
Twice per year, immediately following the Standard proposal review process, a team consisting of at least the User Program Director, the Chair of the Molecular Foundry IDEA Committee, and a member of the Molecular Foundry Proposal Review Board will review applications from users who have had at least one proposal accepted in the current standard call. The selection team will typically select 2-3 awardees per proposal cycle. Awardees will be notified of their selection approximately 1-2 weeks after proposal review notices are distributed.
Application Form Contents and Scoring Rubric:
1. Institution Type (12 pts): The Molecular Foundry Travel Opportunity Grant seeks to expand access to resources for a broad user base. We wish to include users from institutions that serve students who have been historically under-represented in STEM, and from institutions that have historically received fewer research resources.
What type of institution is the main home affiliation of the user group? (check all that apply)
- EPSCoR (4 pts)
- Minority-Serving Institution (4 pts)
- Emerging Research Institution (4 pts)
2. Molecular Foundry User Experience (6 pts): Among researchers at qualifying institutions, the travel opportunity grant seeks to expand access for new groups of users.
How many accepted Molecular Foundry standard proposals has the Principal Investigator led (not including any proposal under review this call)?
- 0 (6 pts)
- 1 (4 pts)
- 2 (2 pts)
- More than 2 (0 pts)
3. Early Career (2 pts): The Molecular Foundry Travel Opportunity Grant program recognizes that investigators early in their career may be building their funding portfolio, and therefore may benefit from additional travel support for themselves or their team.
How many years has it been since the Principal Investigator of this research team earned a PhD or other terminal degree?
- 0-5 (2 pts)
- 5-10 (1 pts)
- >10 (0 pts)
Using the Award:
Users must work through the Molecular Foundry User Program Office to make plans for airfare, lodging, or other transportation arrangements. The Molecular Foundry will typically pay these costs directly, such as for airfare and lodging at the Berkeley Lab Guest House, rather than reimbursing individual users for their qualifying expenses. This practice ensures compliance with business travel eligibility requirements for Berkeley Lab travel, and reduces out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the traveler.
This program is funded through contributions from SkyDeck, individual donors via the Berkeley Lab Foundation, and other gift and royalty funds at the discretion of the Molecular Foundry Director. The program is subject to cancellation if unawarded funds are required for other projects.
User Agreements between each user’s home institution and Berkeley Lab are required before work on the user project can begin. This agreement forms the contractual basis covering the distribution of intellectual property rights and defines liability for use of DOE User Facilities. Many organizations already have a signed user agreement; if your organization has not established an agreement, the Foundry User Office will support you in setting one up.
In some rare instances, an alternate type of contract between the user home institution and Berkeley Lab may take the place of a User Agreement. To learn about Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADA) and Strategic Partnership Programs (SPP) agreements, see the Berkeley Lab Strategic Partnerships Office.
Non-Proprietary User Agreement
Nearly all user projects at the Foundry are non-proprietary. Under the Non-Proprietary User Agreement (NPUA), all incoming data and data generated is non-proprietary; all results can be freely published and shared; and users are performing work on the project either alone or in collaboration with Foundry staff. There is no cost to users unless the project requires significant staff effort or expenses above and beyond an ordinary user project.
See sample NPUA. Contact the Foundry User Office for more information.
Proprietary User Agreement
The Foundry also offers a mechanism for users to perform proprietary work, which requires an approved, peer-reviewed proposal and a Proprietary User Agreement (PUA). Under a PUA, incoming user data may be proprietary; the user may keep their generated research results private; the user performs all research on the project; and Foundry staff may provide technical assistance but do not generate data. The user pays for the full costs of use of the facility and staff assistance.
See sample PUA. Contact the Foundry User Office for more information.
How Resources are Allocated to Support Users
Staff Support for User Proposals
Research staff at the Foundry split their time evenly between supporting users and developing their internal research programs, in accordance with our “50/50” model. This model incentivizes staff to develop capabilities that are relevant to the user community and keeps them fully engaged in pursuit of problems they are passionate about. Technical staff primarily support user research, but may also be involved in the internal research programs of the staff scientists.
A single point of contact on the Foundry staff is identified as the Assigned Scientist for each user project. The Assigned Scientist may be a member of either the research staff or technical staff and serves as the scientific and safety point of contact for the project.
Resource Allocation to User Proposals
User projects at the Foundry may have widely varying scopes, ranging from brief, intense usage of a single instrument up to year-long projects using a broad array of instruments across several facilities. User proposals are not required to specify exact requirements in terms of instrument usage or staff support, though well considered research plans that include estimates help make proposals more competitive. It is understood that active projects may sometimes require resources beyond those initially anticipated in order to facilitate breakthrough research.
Lab space and equipment time are not allocated to individual user projects and users share access to instruments, workspaces, and other capabilities. The Foundry uses an online instrument scheduler to reserve time on major instruments. Most instruments are available on a first-come first-served basis, but Foundry staff monitor the scheduling calendar to ensure that all researchers are able to secure the time needed to execute their projects. Workspace may be temporarily dedicated to user and staff projects as needed. Users should consult their Assigned Scientist about access to instruments and other resources.
For heavily used, high-demand instruments, such as the TEAM microscopes, and those requiring long periods of dedicated access, such as SPLEEM and WANDA, time allocation for an approved proposal is based on an assessment of several factors, including the user’s experience and expertise and their geographic location. In the NCEM Facility, initial microscope sessions may be scheduled to assess samples and evaluate the user’s capability on a particular instrument and, if needed, to train the user. Users able to demonstrate proficiency in independent use of equipment are generally permitted to access scheduling after hours and on weekends (subject to the working-alone policy), thereby affording them access to broader time bands of instrument schedules. Interim progress discussions occur between the user and Foundry staff members throughout the project lifespan. To minimize travel expense and increase operating efficiencies for both user and facility, sessions for out-of-state users with significant travel time are usually booked in longer increments, leaving time for evaluation, analysis, and redirection, if indicated.
Access to Co-located Facilities at Berkeley Lab
The Molecular Foundry is immersed in a vibrant research environment at Berkeley Lab and the surrounding area. In addition to the Foundry, Berkeley Lab is home to four other national user facilities. Two of these facilities, listed below, have special arrangements with the Foundry. More information about all the facilities can be found on the Berkeley Lab website.
Advanced Light Source (ALS)
Access to beamtime at ALS can be requested as part of a Standard proposal at the Foundry. Beam time for Foundry users has been arranged through a memorandum of understanding and allows Foundry users to request up to three shifts of beam time per proposal. ALS access for approved Foundry projects is contingent on availability. Similarly, ALS users can request access to the Molecular Foundry in support of their ALS activities; this process is described in the ALS user guide.
National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC)
Access to NERSC can be requested in a user’s Molecular Foundry proposal and is managed by the Theory Facility Director, who each year receives an allocation of NERSC resources for Molecular Foundry user needs.
All proposals submitted to the Molecular Foundry should include written acknowledgment of, and agreement with, the Molecular Foundry’s Data Management Statement, as given here.
If you propose to use facilities or resources at the Molecular Foundry, please be aware of the following information, either for inclusion in your Molecular Foundry User Proposal or an associated request for DOE funds leveraging Molecular Foundry resources, which must contain a Data Management Plan.
Currently, all Molecular Foundry Users are responsible for their own Data Management associated with their approved and active User Projects. If you have questions regarding our Data Management policy, you are encouraged to contact the User Office at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or your User Project’s Assigned Staff Scientist.
Users are free to use personal mass storage devices, laptops, tablets, cell phones and lab notebooks for data storage and eventual transfer to their home institution. Foundry facility-based access to cloud storage and backup is available to Users, in some cases for a nominal fee (e.g., Google Drive, Dropbox, Carbonite). Data stored in the cloud can be shared by standard means. For user work performed on instruments within our facilities, Users must transfer data first to a file server or local storage device or else request the transfer via Foundry staff. Software for data analysis is available on local computer desktops in-house; users are free to utilize their own provided resources. Computational resources exist and follow LBNL standard practice for temporary storage of User data files backup for the duration of their projects.
For specific instruments in most facilities, staff-originated data back-ups occur regularly; files transferred to institutional storage (file servers) are backed up daily, but Users are generally responsible for their own data preservation. User data is only preserved during the project lifetime and no guarantees are provided once the project ends, although some facilities maintain data long term/indefinitely. Access to data is associated with the status of a User Project and once terminated data access and preservation rights may be lost. All data generated on collaborative non-proprietary user projects funded by DOE and referenced, utilized or included in subsequent publications is expected to be made public upon request.
All data generated on a Foundry collaborative project is jointly owned by both users and LBNL unless otherwise defined in executed User Agreement documents. Data generated on non-collaborative projects may be owned exclusively by the Users. No restrictions on file formats due to heterogeneity currently exist.
User Onsite Media Policy
Users are required to notify the Foundry’s communications lead, Laurie Chong, of the intent to take photos or video onsite at the Foundry. These types of activities include filming for promotional materials, making recordings for official (rather than personal) use, and any onsite activities involving external news media (e.g. filming an interview on site at the Foundry).
Additionally, any official uses of the Molecular Foundry logo (e.g. on other websites or used in promotional materials) also requires notification.
Photos and video for personal use are allowed without requiring notification.