In today’s competitive grant arena, researchers need to demonstrate efficient use of funding. Shared research resources are a great way to get more “bang” for your grant buck by pooling laboratory facilities, equipment, materials, and technicians. For any organization considering new or upgraded labs, shared research resources can be a way to concentrate energy-intensive activities, structural systems, or technical services and bring new efficiencies to research efforts.
Stock centers, for example, can store samples or other materials for a variety of laboratories to save space and consolidate energy-using plug loads such as freezers. Core facilities, specialized laboratories with unique instruments and services, are usually managed by scientists with specific equipment expertise and made available on a fee-for-service basis. By consolidating and centralizing knowledge and technology, these facilities increase researchers’ access to equipment and expertise, improve cost efficiency, enhance data management, and support collaboration.
Case Study: The Northwestern Model for Core Facilities
Northwestern University, for example, has 44 core labs and facilities across two campuses supporting the research needs of about 250 Northwestern faculty and 800 other researchers in four areas: engineering, chemistry, biomedical, and medicine. There are two types of core labs at Northwestern—service-based, where researchers bring a project or sample, and the core managers do the work; and instrument-based, where researchers can operate the equipment in the core facility themselves. Each core has its own specialized lab manager, but central administrative oversight ensures compliance with federal regulations, adherence to budgets, and alignment with institutional priorities. To incentivize sharing through the cores, vouchers are awarded to faculty members who donate a new instrument to a core facility or who write a successful external grant for instrumentation that is placed in a core facility
The Northwestern model employs several key elements:
- Core lab personnel provide technical support and expertise to Northwestern researchers.
- Core lab space helps expand access to the shared resources and increases the ability of the lab to accommodate evolving equipment needs.
- With careful planning and creative strategies, Northwestern can effectively allocate the resources it spends on research.
- Institutional evaluation bolsters accountability and provides insight into how to improve core labs.
Making the Case for Cores and Other Shared Resources
The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology surveyed shared research resource users in 2017 and compiled the following list of benefits:
Cost efficiency. The majority of respondents found shared facilities’ costs to be somewhat or significantly lower than having their own “in-house” facilities.
Greater access to a wide array of resources. Sharing resources can increase the number and types of materials and equipment available to researchers.
Quality control and research rigor. The specialized providers found in core facilities can achieve a higher level of consistency for each procedure.
Technology development. Shared resource facilities personnel can work with investigators to develop custom protocols and overcome technical limitations.
Collaboration. By working with a variety of researchers from different departments and fields, facility personnel can identify areas for coordination.
Investment in the future. With subject matter knowledge, core facility personnel can help train students and keep users abreast of technological developments.
Want to learn more about how shared research resources can drive collaboration and efficiency at your institution? Check out the High-Tech Talks webinar, “Maximizing Shared Research Resources for Sustainability,” presented by Sheenah Mische of New York University Langone School of Medicine. Members can view the presentation for free by visiting the webinar archive in the member portal and nonmembers can sign up to receive a recording.