Following a successful Statement of Community Need bid, EPSRC wishes to support a call for an Electron Paramagnetic Resonance National Research Facility.
EPSRC will support the facility with a five-year grant which will undergo a mid-term review at the two and a half to three-year stage.
The EPSRC convened a specification panel at which the Statement of Community Need was used to develop these detailed facility requirements, which applicants are expected to meet.
1. Key requirements for the proposed facility
This NRF must be a user-focused facility that delivers on the needs of the wider academic and industrial user base in the UK by providing access to cutting edge EPR expertise and equipment. It should recognise and promote the application of EPR spectroscopy across the physical and life sciences, and provide national leadership to develop a community vision for the future of EPR.
This EPR NRF must also:
- have capacity to accommodate the current UK EPR facility user base, to grow it, and to fulfil their research and training requirements
- facilitate access to in-house instrumentation at other sites in the UK and worldwide that have unique and complementary EPR capabilities.
The EPR NRF should enable world leading research that achieves ground-breaking impact with wider societal benefits, as well as having the potential for commercial exploitation that benefits the UK economy.
The facility will provide researchers with access to Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Spectroscopy instrumentation and associated expertise to support novel and exciting research in the physical, biological and engineering sciences.
The facility must have cutting-edge, in-house pulsed, and continuous-wave (CW) EPR platforms (X and Q band) with specifications corresponding to the latest commercially available capability, including:
- advanced cavities (allowing optical excitation and hyperfine spectroscopy)
- high-power microwave and rf amplifiers
- arbitrary waveform generators (AWGs)
- cryogenic and elevated temperature probe technology and closed-loop cryostats.
The facility must be able to either provide in-house access to other EPR capabilities, such as:
- lower and higher-frequency EPR spectrometers
- rapid scan and electrochemistry
- be able to arrange access to such capability at other EPR research centres in the UK and worldwide.
The facility should either provide in-house access, or arrange access to open-access computational modelling software, such as:
Key equipment should be in air-conditioned laboratories that are not subject to significant radio frequency (RF) interference.
Laboratories should be:
- equipped with, or have easy access to fridges and cryogenic storage facilities for samples
- contain basic sample preparation facilities.
Where cooling is required, this should be via a self-contained chiller system.
Appropriate storage and handling procedures for hazardous substances are required, as are policies and procedures for secure and safe access for users who visit to carry out experiments.
For on-site users, it is expected that they should be able to access and analyse their data in real time in a relatively quiet environment (for example, without cryopumps running).
Electron paramagnetic resonance experience
The facility should encourage and accommodate users with no or limited prior EPR experience as well as providing access for experts to advanced EPR facilities.
Applications for this call should give details of user training provision (considering previous user experience), including the expertise and experience of those involved in the training.
It is expected that all users would have access to expert advice (both remote and face-to-face, as appropriate) including but not limited to:
- experiment design and feasibility
- sample preparation and storage
- data interpretation and advice regarding results, including how to obtain remote access to recorded data and run remote instrument control (where appropriate).
- for on-site visitors, site safety training at levels relevant to the users aided by suitable risk assessment documents
- a process for users to make a request or complaint about any aspect of the facility, and a procedure for resolution.
Process for different users
The application should describe the process (for example, by means of a flowchart) for different types of user (novice, experienced, expert) including any triaging of the request and any specific training process.
This should include detail on the roles of different staff members to support this, on how the users’ expectations of the facility will be managed at all stages of the process, and on how the facility will be acknowledged.
Facility staff should have expertise across a broad range of EPR application areas with evidence of mitigation against staff single-point failures.
The facility should consider the needs of different user groups. For example:
- academic researchers
- private sector customers
- researchers in or outside the host organisation
- new and experienced users.
The facility should include plans for engaging with future generations of researchers, including Centres for Doctoral Training (EPSRC).
Agreements with external users
The application should state how the facility would set up agreements with external users to allow them to work safely and securely at the facility.
EPSRC expects the facility to have an appropriate website fitting of an NRF and that meets accessibility requirements.
The website should promote the facility and demonstrate the capability it provides as well as the world leading outputs, including specific case studies.
The website should inform users (both current and potential) about mechanisms of how to gain access to the facility, and support and expert advice that the facility provides to users before and after recording of data, including how to gain remote access to recorded data.
2. Operational requirements
The facility must aim to utilise the equipment to the maximum extent, including out-of-hours operation.
The application document must detail and justify the following, referencing the planned cost sharing strategy (section four) as appropriate:
- expected proportion of facility use by user type:
- novice, experienced, expert
- from or outside host organisation(s)
- application areas, for example EPSRC or other UKRI council remit.
- range of time durations for experiments on specific instruments, including a target for percentage utilisation (in working hours and 24/7 use, as appropriate) specifying time required for instrument maintenance and calibration
- a target for time from request for access to carrying out an experiment
- the application must be clear about the expected balance between non-expert users who send in samples and expect full interpretation service and EPR-experts who wish to visit to make use of state-of-the-art infrastructure not in their host institution.
Diversify the user base
The facility is expected to grow and diversify the user base (new universities, new research organisations, different research communities and new industrial users) over the lifetime of the grant. The application should provide details on:
- how the facility would assess the current and future size of the user base
- their communication and engagement strategy to reach new user communities
- what growth they expect to achieve in the user base.
The application document must include details on how the capability of the facility and the related storage, preparatory, and ancillary equipment would be maintained. This should include:
- details of agreements with appropriate equipment vendors for upgrading and developing the equipment and facility
- a consideration of how this will be optimised where possible over the duration of the grant
- basic details for routine service (daily, weekly, and monthly) and preventative maintenance (quarterly, annually)
- details of the local technical expertise.
The application is expected to provide a timeline for capital investments over the duration of the grant to keep the facility at the cutting edge.
The application document should outline the application process, with a clear distinction between:
- non-expert users who send in samples and expect full interpretation service
- experts who wish to visit and make use of state-of-the-art infrastructure
- mechanisms should be described for prioritisation of applications and increasing the user base, the criteria should be stated
Having a time allocation panel drawn from the UK and international EPR community is recommended. Facility personnel should be on this panel but should not be a majority.
The chair should be external. Time allocation panel membership should be published on the NRF website.
National and international EPR landscape
The application document should give details about how the facility will be positioned on the national and international EPR landscape, and how it would engage with the rest of the research community.
By a specified time point during the grant, the NRF should coordinate the writing of a national roadmap for EPR.
The facility should organise regular user surveys, including inputs on future facility developments and capabilities.
The facility is expected to collect usage statistics in line with relevant GDPR regulations and grant conditions, at the individual user and instrument level.
The facility is encouraged to publish the statistics on its website. Statistics and user feedback should inform decision-making regarding capability developments and changes to the modus operandi.
The applicants should consider how the contribution of the facility (immediate and long term impacts) is measured and used to demonstrate the added value of the facility.
Demonstrate at least yearly that they have met the community need and communicated with the diverse needs of the user base. This could be via case studies published on the facility website.
Data management policy
The application must include a data management policy that is compliant with UKRI open data policy and extends beyond the duration of the grant.
The facility must have appropriate and robust systems and procedures to ensure data protection during collection, storage, processing, remote access and secure downloads of research data, including:
- IP sensitive results
- confidential access to data
- secure downloads.
Risk assessment and management
The application must include a risk assessment and a risk management strategy focused on achieving the highest productivity of the facility.
3. People and management arrangements
The facility must meet the following requirements:
The facility must be led by an excellent team which are capable of:
- community building
- assessing community scientific needs
- managing the operational aspects of a facility to meet user and staff requirements
- have the confidence of the community as experts in EPR spectroscopy or in their respective operational roles.
The team will need to work constructively with multiple stakeholders and funders. For grant purposes the application will have a named eligible principal investigator (PI) with other team members listed as co-investigators. Requested PI time should be fully justified with respect to duties to be performed.
Technical or operational director
There must be a nominated technical or operational director who will manage and lead the delivery of the facility. This may or may not be the same person as the nominated director. The application must:
- clearly identify who will take these posts
- provide CVs
- provide evidence of their ability to accomplish their roles.
The governance structure should include:
- a management board (MB), including:
- the facility director
- the technical or operational director
- others as appropriate
- an independent steering committee (SC) that reflects the user community.
The independent steering committee should include external advisors, international representation, and industry representation. The process for identifying and approving SC membership should be defined. A member of EPSRC is also on the SC.
The panel will discuss any specific governance requirements for this facility that should be included in the call and monitored for the subsequent grant. An organogram of the proposed structure should be included. The remit of each such body and their membership (and duration of office) are to be published on the facility webpage. The proposed membership at the start of the grant should be stated in the application.
Support and development of professionals
The facility is expected to provide ongoing support and development for research technical professionals (RTPs) involved in the running of the facility which UKRI recognise as being core to the successful running of the facility.
EPSRC expects the facility to take a leadership role in the physical sciences, life sciences and engineering communities. Leadership in this context might involve:
- uniqueness of the facility (no equivalent elsewhere internationally)
- demonstrating value of service to community (need and usage)
- owned by the users.
Take a leadership role in the community supporting the development of future roadmaps or strategy and working with other bodies in the community to facilitate this as a key contributor. Retain knowledge of the international landscape and where they sit within it and how this feeds into facility strategy.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) and service level agreements (SLAs)
The expectation of EPSRC is that as a result of this call any grant awarded will include KPIs and SLAs that the facility will aspire to meet. These may include but are not limited to those given as standard. The following KPIs and SLAs could be considered:
- number of users: expert and non-expert, return or new
- department and university profile of users and number of industry users
- number of samples: with broad indication of time
- % usage of different instruments: in working hours and 24/7, as appropriate
- user satisfaction average scores
- number of complaints
- list of papers and highlights
- grant applications and success rate
- cost recovery via grants.
Feedback and complaints
EPSRC expects that a proposed facility will have a process in place for complaints and monitoring of user satisfaction.
The applicants should give an explanation and provide details of the proposed feedback processes and how feedback will be used to implement improvements
The facility should also describe the escalation procedure for user complaints, indicating who to contact in specific cases, with this clearly set out on the facility webpage.
4. Cost sharing
EPSRC is committed to providing cost effective services. The application must include a realistic approach to cost recovery. EPSRC expects applicants to identify non-UKRI sources of funding to underwrite the cost-recovery plan in the event of targets not being met which should be documented in letters of support.
The proposal should include details of the charging model, and how it would operate for different types of user and different access routes. A per hour or per day or per sample rate should be specified as appropriate, indicating what is included in the rate, for example, running costs and staff costs. Specifically, it should include:
- the definition of the different charging-categories in the charging model
- consideration of how charged usage will dovetail with free-at-the point of access facility usage
- how this may affect prioritisation of experiments.
Applicants should describe how different access routes will be managed to protect the proposed balance of different users as detailed in operational requirements.
If, following peer review, EPSRC considers that insufficient effort has been made to detail a cost-effective facility it may, in discussion with the PI, alter the profile of a successful grant to return maximum value to UK research users.
The facility should aim for a target by year five that EPSRC’s direct support of the NRF is 50% of the total contribution. In line with other NRFs EPSRC will not fund the entirety of the facility and requires a proportion (%) of the recurrent (resource) costs for the facility operation to be recovered each year through charged usage.
For the avoidance of doubt, in this context, recurrent costs mean operational expenditure that is not equipment spend. This target must not preclude proof-of-principle and first-time usage.
EPSRC considers the suggested targets below to be reasonable minimum cost recovery targets for an EPR NRF over a five-year funding period.
Applicants may wish to propose alternative targets and are welcome to describe how further savings might be made and used to fund enhanced facility activities and capabilities. These should be reflected in the proposed grant payment profile that will need to be provided as part of the grant application.
||EPSRC contribution to recurrent cost
Progress towards increased sustainability will form a key KPI of the successful grant and will be reviewed by the independent steering committee and at the mid-term review.
5. Host organisation support
The facility should be run for the benefit of the national research community. EPSRC is therefore paying the majority of costs at 100% full economic cost (FEC). However, it is important that the host organisation(s) also commit to fully supporting the bid, as detailed in the host organisation letter(s). As a minimum they must commit to:
- relinquishing rights to university owned equipment for external users at the levels detailed in the application
- underwriting the meeting of the cost-recovery targets, in order to provide staff and other resource costs if targets are not met
- providing appropriate support and development opportunities for all staff, including instrument scientists and research technical professionals (RTPs) associated with the operation of the facility
- long term (beyond the length of the grant) data storage and retrieval facilities in line with UKRI data policies
- supporting the facility to develop and implement policies that provide safe, secure and legal access for external users to the facility
- supporting the facility in the creation and administration of the web site.
The EPSRC is awarding up to £5.4 million (at 80% FEC) for one NRF to be funded.
We will apply indexation to a grant before an offer letter is produced, therefore the total EPSRC contribution requested (including any justified exceptions costs paid at 100%) must not exceed £5.27 million to allow for the inclusion of these indexation costs.
Applicants are advised to speak to their research office for support in completing their resource costings.
With regards to resource costs, funding for investigator time and public engagement activities should be costed as normal with funds requested at 80% FEC. All equipment should be costed at 100% FEC under the equipment heading.
All other costs are expected to relate to the running of the National Facility and should be recorded under the exceptions heading and requested at 100% FEC, but reduced to reflect the cost sharing target.
Applicants, as part of the grant application, must propose a grant payment profile that sets out the expected pattern of expenditure over the lifetime of the grant. This payment profile for the facility must reflect the cost recovery targets for the recurrent (resource) costs set out in cost sharing, and the planned schedule for capital and equipment expenditure over the duration of a five-year grant.
Applicants may wish to provide different cost recovery options which vary on the amount of budget requested from EPSRC, with the maximum being £5.4 million.
For more information, see EPSRC guidance for equipment funding (EPSRC).
Grant conditions can be found in Additional information.