LDRD, investing in ourselves

LDRD, investing in ourselves
November 26, 2013

Late last week we launched a Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program. This is a program in which a tax on the different sources of direct funding at the lab is made available to support selected research initiatives. Twenty years ago, such programs were only found in the multi-purpose laboratories. Recent years have seen their introduction at the single-purpose labs such as ours. The merits of such programs are widely recognized: they foster the spirit of innovation; they encourage individual initiatives; they can lead to important new strategic directions; or they can support directions that are already established as key strategic directions.

At Jefferson Lab, we have e-mails from 2010 that record discussions and inquiries with other laboratories about LDRD programs. But the thought of an LDRD program at Jefferson Lab really started to germinate when we asked Bob McKeown to work on strategic planning for the lab. Given the nature of our funding, with the majority coming from the Office of Nuclear Physics, we also discussed the concept with ONP staff and were pleased to be encouraged. In 2012, we asked Larry Cardman to be involved in the management of the program, and in preparation for a retreat to discuss a strategic plan for the lab, we issued a call for summary letters of intent to better evaluate the contribution an LDRD program might make to the lab.  On the basis of our review of the letters of intent at that retreat, we took a decision to formally launch an LDRD program in FY14.

As we developed the program, our chief financial officer, his staff and the Site Office staff were very helpful. They investigated what was needed to get approval and what rules applied, while working out how an LDRD program could be incorporated into our operating contract. We also talked about the level of resources that would make sense. We thought that starting at less than 1 percent, envisaging that something between 1 and 2 percent might work. We also invited optional more detailed letters of intent to control the initial investment of proponents’ time, and we formed a team to do an evaluation with feedback to the proponents. This was very successful.

Time to fish or cut bait.

We next called for proposals, and 18 proposals were submitted.  An evaluation process was organized by Cardman and involved much of our senior science and technology management and outside experts where appropriate. The evaluations were quite rigorous; it was clear that the team was determined that the evaluation process match the effort put forth by the proponents. By late summer, the work was accomplished. We talked about the process when the Office of Nuclear Physics visited to discuss our Science and Technology program, and we also talked about it to our JSA Science Council. On both occasions, we received praise and encouragement. 

Come Sept. 30, we paused the process as a result of the lapse of government funding. When that crisis passed, we decided that we would proceed with the program. Three proposals were ranked as outstanding by the evaluators and were selected for funding:

2013-LDRD-7, “Physics Potential of Polarized Light Ions with EIC@JLab” was proposed by a team led by Christian Weiss. We are trying to strengthen the physics case for an electron ion collider and the Jefferson Lab community considers that the essence of that physics program involves polarization measurements; this proposal will make that case.

2013-LDRD-12, “Development of a Prototype for a Fast RF Kicker for the MEIC Electron Cooler.”  Although we often claim that we are aiming to build an electron-ion collider with well-understood technology, there are a number of areas where a little research and development will strengthen the case. One such area is electron cooling, and a part of the issue will be addressed by a team led by Ed Nissen. Clearly, this proposal and LDRD-7 are very well aligned with the primary future strategic direction of the lab.

2013-LDRD-15, “Physics, Wireless, Hand-Held Data Acquisition System for Imaging Detector.” It is important that the fundamental science programs we carry out also show some societal impact. For some time, our nuclear physics detector group has excelled in this area. They received an “outstanding” ranking for their proposal by Jack McKisson.

We are investing in ourselves for the future of Jefferson Lab.

To learn more about the lab’s LDRD program, visit its website at:  http://www.jlab.org/div_dept/ldrd/

All-staff email of LDRD supported proposals: https://www.jlab.org/memo/jefferson-lab-laboratory-directed-research-development-ldrd