Proposal Deadline
September 26, 2019

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About the User Program


User Program Overview

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. 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. The on-site 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. Learn more about working at the Foundry.

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 multiple Facilities and interdisciplinary work is encouraged. Learn more about what makes a good proposal.

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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, though the Foundry offers a limited number of needs-based Opportunity Travel Grants. 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.

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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.

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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 talk to 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, determination of how much and when time is allocated 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 greater increments, leaving time for evaluation, analysis, and redirection, if indicated.

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Access to Other Berkeley Lab Facilities

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. 

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Peer Review of User Proposals

Peer-Review Process

All proposals undergo an in-depth internal and external peer review. This review consists of internal administrative and scientific feasibility review, safety review, and evaluation by an external Proposal Review Board composed of experts in the primary field of the proposed study.

The evaluation criteria used during peer review of Foundry proposals are based on criteria recommended by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics for major user facilities: scientific merit; technical feasibility; impact on field of inquiry; and capabilities of the investigator(s).

Proposal Review Board

The Proposal Review Board (PRB) is an external body of subject-matter experts from various fields of nanoscience research, technology and industry. PRB members are nominated by the Molecular Foundry’s Facility Directors and serve by concurrence of the User Program Director. Members typically serve a term of at least two years. 

The PRB meets twice a year to review Standard proposals submitted to the Molecular Foundry. Each proposal is assessed in four specific areas: scientific merit, project plan, need for the Molecular Foundry, and relevant experience. The Foundry accepts as many of the top-rated proposals as capacity allows. PRB members who are directly involved in a proposal or conflicted in any other way do not participate in the discussion or scoring of that proposal. Other proposal types are reviewed remotely, between PRB meetings.

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Safety Review of User Proposals

All proposals go through a three-part safety review process to identify any safety-related issues.

Intial Safety Questionnaire: The Initial Safety Questionnaire is included in the proposal form and aims to identify major safety issues that may preclude the proposed work or drive substantial costs.

Secondary Safety Questionnaire: After a proposal is approved, users complete a more detailed Secondary Safety Questionnaire, in which they must describe the equipment, chemicals, and/or biological materials they will bring to the Foundry, as well as the processes they plan to utilize at the the Foundry.The Secondary Safety Questionnaire is completed in the User Portal.

Review by Safety Manager: The two Safety Questionnaires are reviewed, along with the proposal itself, by the Foundry’s Safety Manager. Proposals that are incomplete, unclear or problematic from a safety perspective are returned to the user for revision and may be referred to staff for input. Results of the safety review are emailed to the user and safety approval is required before a proposal can be activated.

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User Agreements

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; however, if your organization has not established an agreement, email the Foundry User Office to set 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 Innovation and 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; users are performing work on the project either alone or in collaboration with Foundry staff; and 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; Foundry staff may provide technical assistance but do not generate data; and 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.

Opportunity Travel Grants

The Molecular Foundry is pleased to offer a limited number of need-based Opportunity Travel Grants to eligible users, in support of approved Standard proposals. Grants will be given to users from institutions in underserved regions (as determined through the Department of Energy’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research - EPSCoR), with preference given to first-time users, researchers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and early-career researchers.

The Opportunity Travel Grant program is generously supported by SkyDeck, the UC Berkeley startup accelerator. Foundry users who are interested in the SkyDeck program should contact the User Office for more information.

Eligibility Details
  • Ten individual awards of $1,600 each are available in 2018.
  • Funds must be used for travel and accommodation expenses in support of a Foundry user project. Funds must be used within one year of the award date.
  • To apply for a travel grant, user should complete the relevant section of the Standard proposal form, providing a response to the prompt: "Describe the user's need for travel support, how the funds would be used, and the potential impact of a travel grant on this project. (150 word limit)"
  • Grant applications will be considered only for approved user proposals. Applicants will be notified of the outcome at the time of proposal review outcome notification.