Frequently Asked Questions

The Office of Science User Facilities are a unique resource for the Nation’s researchers. Below are answers to some commonly asked questions.

What is a user facility?

A user facility is a federally sponsored research facility available for external use to advance scientific or technical knowledge under the following conditions:

  • The facility is open to all interested potential users without regard to nationality or institutional affiliation.
  • Allocation of facility resources is determined by merit review of the proposed work.
  • User fees are not charged for non-proprietary work if the user intends to publish the research results in the open literature.  Full cost recovery is required for proprietary work.
  • The facility provides resources sufficient for users to conduct work safely and efficiently.
  • The facility supports a formal user organization to represent the users and facilitate sharing of information, forming collaborations, and organizing research efforts among users.
  • The facility capability does not compete with an available private sector capability.

User facility definition memorandum

Can the Office of Science User Facilities be utilized for proprietary research?

In most cases, yes; see below for more information.

How does a prospective user gain access to a User Facility?

In general, each facility manages the allocation of facility resources through merit-based peer review of submitted research proposals, with regular oversight by its federal sponsor, the Office of Science. Calls for proposals take place at regular intervals as indicated on each facility’s website. Prospective users may propose independent or collaborative research. Proposals are typically evaluated for scientific merit by independent proposal review committees or panels, and for feasibility and safety by the facility, with those proposals that are most compelling being accepted and allocated time. There is no charge for users who are doing non-proprietary work, with the understanding that they are expected to publish their results. Access is also available on a cost-recovery basis for proprietary research that is not intended for publication. After proposals are reviewed and time at the facility is awarded, facility staff helps users prepare to visit the facility in order to conduct their research efficiently.

How does the research community influence the operation of the User Facilities?

In addition to the independent proposal review bodies mentioned above, each facility has other established ways to receive advice and input on its activities.  Each facility typically receives input from a scientific advisory committee. Each facility also has a formal user group, which fosters information exchange and communication on issues that are of interest to the user community.  The Office of Science convenes panels of external independent experts to review each facility’s operations on a periodic basis.

Who can I contact for more information regarding the Office of Science User Facilities?

You can either contact the facility directly or contact the cognizant Office of Science program office (see the listings at left) for more information.