Strengthening Research with Shared Resources

With NC State engaging in record-high levels of research activity year after year, the university’s Office of Research, Innovation and Economic Development is constantly working to identify and meet crucial research needs. One of those needs is access to state-of-the-art instrumentation, which boosts NC State’s competitiveness in research proposals and facilitates recruitment and retention of outstanding faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

“ORIED has led the charge to improve and expand instrumentation available to the research community,” said Alan Rebar, vice chancellor for research, innovation and economic development. “We are well aware that access to cutting-edge equipment and services is essential in a highly competitive research environment.”

To meet this need, ORIED is implementing a three-pronged strategy:

Identify University Core Research Facilities, and provide resources to operate and maintain them.

ORIED has collaborated with the Provost’s Office and other university leaders to identify, establish and support officially designated University Core Research Facilities. In 2013, ORIED and its partners identified two service centers developed by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences — the Cellular and Molecular Imaging Facility (CMIF) and the Genomic Sciences Laboratory (GSL) — as University Core Research Facilities. These facilities are administered and resourced by the Provost’s Office and ORIED. In addition, ORIED and its partners identified two more service centers — the Analytical Instrumentation Facility (AIF) and the NC State Nanofabrication Facility (NNF), both administered by the College of Engineering — as University Core Research Facilities in 2016. ORIED provided these service centers with significant additional resources to upgrade instrumentation and facilities.

More recently, ORIED and its partners created a new structural characterization facility that focuses on mass spectrometry, X-ray crystallography and NMR spectroscopy — the Molecular Education, Technology and Research Innovation Center (METRIC) — from existing service centers in CALS and the College of Sciences. The Provost’s Office and the Office of Finance and Administration played a decisive role in the creation of METRIC, including the contribution of vitally important funds to the initiative. ORIED will oversee METRIC operations and will collaborate with its partners to contribute additional resources to develop and expand this facility over the next five years.

“The creation of METRIC is a major step forward that has the potential to make NC State the leading university for chemical and biochemical characterization in the Southeast,” Rebar said. “This expansion of technical capabilities will benefit many research and training programs across the university, and it will bolster faculty and student recruitment and retention efforts.”

ORIED will convene regular meetings of the directors of University Core Research Facilities to coordinate activities and plan for the management and growth of research instrumentation and services.

Develop a lab-management software platform to manage Core Research Facilities.

In 2016 ORIED and the Office of Information Technology collaborated to develop a lab-management software platform that handles scheduling of user reservations for shared research instrumentation, tracks user training and provides for billing and auditing of activities in shared research facilities. This platform, developed in close cooperation with the directors of University Core Research Facilities, takes advantage of a user-friendly, cloud-based software tool named MENDIX. The lab-management platform is now live for AIF, GSL and CMIF, and it will be rolled out to METRIC and NNF in the near future.

In addition to providing a common interface for users of University Core Research Facilities, this new platform should generate significant operational and cost efficiencies.

“This newly developed, unified lab-management platform will serve as a one-stop ‘storefront’ for University Core Research Facilities that will ease access to instruments, technical services and training opportunities, and it will significantly reduce billing headaches,” Rebar said.

Establish formal partnerships with neighboring academic institutions to facilitate interinstitutional access to research instrumentation.

In 2013 NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill formalized an agreement that enables researchers to use shared research resources at each campus while paying internal service rates (i.e., waiving the institutional overhead fee). Just this summer, NC State formalized a similar agreement with UNC-Greensboro and NC A&T State that enables researchers from all three campuses to use shared research resources, including those of the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering (a collaboration between UNC-G and NC A&T), at internal service rates.

ORIED will continue to partner with UNC system campuses and other institutions to increase access to technologies and services that support research success.

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