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Policies and Procedures — Review Process Criteria: Guidance for Applicants

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Application Review Process, Criteria, and Guidance

Every NanoFab application is reviewed in two steps:

  1. Policy Compliance and Technical Feasibility Review; and
  2. Technical Merit Evaluation. 

Policy Compliance and Technical Feasibility Review

During the Policy Compliance and Technical Feasibility Review, the NanoFab Manager determines whether all of the following conditions have been met per Department of Commerce, NIST, and CNST policies.  Additional explanation and guidance is provided for some criteria.

  1. The Principal Investigator listed on the application (who will be considered the project's leader) has appropriately reported the outputs from prior NanoFab projects, and properly acknowledge the CNST in those outputs, if applicable;
  2. The Application being considered provides sufficient information to be evaluated;

    The purpose of this question is to ensure that the application is filled out with enough information for the NanoFab Manager and review committee to decide whether the application complies with the required policies, is technically feasible and safe, and can be fairly evaluated for technical merit.  Regardless of the complexity of the project, sufficient information must always be provided to address policy compliance, technical feasibility, and safety.  Otherwise, the length and level of detail provided should be proportionate to the scope of the work to be performed, with more detail required for projects requesting reduced rates than for those planning on paying the full rates.  
  3. The goals of the project can be accomplished given the current capabilities and safety program within the NanoFab;
  4. The project is for a specific use of the NanoFab, not a catchall for continuous, unspecified use;

    NIST policy requires that the application identify the duration of use, reason for use, and other pertinent information.  The NanoFab is made available for specific, justified uses; as a highly specialized facility, it is not intended to be an open laboratory for general use.  A project should have a reasonably focused purpose.  Multiple, distinct projects may not be combined into one project application for convenience.
  5. The tool and process requirements of the project are within the current NanoFab capacity and therefore will not create bottlenecks for other projects;

    It should be possible for the project's tool and process to  be reasonably scheduled given the overall demand for NanoFab resources.
  6. The required materials and processes contaminate the NanoFab or its equipment in a way that will adversely affect other users;
  7. There are no alternative US private sector facilities (i.e., commercial, not academic) of an equal or superior form where the project could be accomplished in the same time and with the same level of independence and convenience; and
  8. The project is clearly for research and development, not production.

    Note that research and development includes the fabrication and measurement of prototypes or standards, including individual devices, components, or standards that are not suitable for commercial production but that may be individually sold.

When the NanoFab Manager affirms that the project meets the required criteria and that any safety concerns can be addressed, then the application proceeds to the Technical Merit Evaluation. 

Technical Merit Evaluation

The Technical Merit Evaluation is performed by an Application Review Committee composed of the NanoFab Manager and NIST technical staff.  The overall merit is evaluated and scored based on two sets of criteria, listed as "A" and "B" and described below.  The first set of criteria rates the feasibility of success, taking into account the success of prior NanoFab projects led by the applicants; the importance of the NanoFab to the overall project; and its relevance to NIST's mission.  The second set rates the technical/innovative quality of the project with respect to the CNST mission, including the value of its potential impact relevant to any requested CNST financial contribution provided through reduced rates.  The total score (–10 to 100 pts) will be used to prioritize access to the NanoFab if/when resources are limited.  The score for the technical/innovative quality will be used by the CNST Director when considering a request for reduced rates.

Score A:  Impact of NanoFab Use and Relevance to NIST (–10 to 40)

  1. Prior NanoFab success — Success of any prior NanoFab projects led by the Project Leader as measured by outputs reported to the NanoFab User Office (–10 to +10 pts);

    In determining the degree to which a proposed project is likely to be a good use of the NanoFab, past performance in the NanoFab will be be taken into consideration, with extra points given to applicants with a strong track record of success in the NanoFab, and some penalty for those whose NanoFab projects consistently fail to produce public benefit.  For new applicants this score will be zero.
  2. Feasibility of success — Likelihood that the proposed use of the NanoFab will achieve the measurement and fabrication objectives of the project within the estimated budget (0 to 10 pts);

    Two equally-weighted criteria will be considered here.  The first criterion is the extent to which the proposed approach is likely to work as planned.  Projects with poorly conceived approaches do not make good use of the NanoFab (a valuable government resource).  The second criterion considered is the realism of the project's NanoFab goals given the estimated budget.  The CNST discourages projects unlikely to succeed within the available budget.
  3. Role of NanoFab — Importance of NanoFab capabilities to achieving the overall project goals (0 to 10 pts);

    An application will rate higher for a project for which the resources in the NanoFab are critical to its success.
  4. Relevance of project objectives to NIST mission of promoting U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life (0 to 10 pts);

    The priority of the NanoFab is to support the NIST mission through the CNST mission.  However, as a NIST user facility, a project that primarily supports the NIST mission, but may not have a strong nanotechnology component, will receive priority over a project that supports neither.

Score B:  Technical/Innovative Quality and Value to CNST Mission (0 to 60 pts)

  1. Technical/innovative quality of the project relevant to the CNST mission — The extent to which the proposed project will develop innovative nanoscale measurement and fabrication capabilities to support nanoscale technology from discovery to production, including the likelihood of publications, patents, new processes, commercial products, and other outputs that benefit the public.  There are three components to this score, each worth 0 to 20 pts.

    1. Likelihood the project will lead to fundamental discoveries in nanoscale science and technology;
    2. Likelihood the project will accelerate commercial production of nanotechnology;
    3. Value of potential impact relative to the requested CNST financial contribution (20 pts automatically awarded if reduced rates are not requested):

      These criteria are designed to give equal priority to both fundamental and applied projects, and additional weight to projects that advance both objectives.  Projects that have a strong relevance to the CNST mission include those that develop a new nanoscale measurement method; develop a new nanoscale fabrication method; extend nanoscale measurement or fabrication methods to a new area research or technology; or produce a nanoscale device or component integral to a larger scale measurement technology.  Proposed projects that will be considered of high value include those where the full operating cost will be paid, and those where the potential impact of the project is significant given the requested CNST investment if reduced rates are charged; the larger the CNST's expected contribution, the higher the impact of the project should be.

The NanoFab Manager may approve projects with an average total score of 25 or greater.  Projects that receive an average total score less than 25 that the NanoFab Manager recommends for approval must also be approved by the CNST Director.  All proprietary projects and all non-proprietary projects requesting reduced rates must also be approved by the CNST Director.  The review process typically takes about two weeks from the time a completed application is submitted to the user office.  If the project is approved, a NanoFab Facility User Coordinator will notify the applicant of the approval, and work with the applicant to complete the necessary steps to establish a payment method, complete a Facility Use Agreement (not required for NIST projects), and arrange for campus and/or NanoFab access along with your NanoFab orientation and training.


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