RT: I have had a number of conversations with the former Research Infrastructure Advisory Group on formation of a National Centre for Microscopy established and funded operationally as shared infrastructure in a similar fashion to NeSI. We do need to keep fundamental skills and knowledge at a minimum level within institutions around the country, however most institutions cannot afford the investment in rapidly evolving large instruments such as TEM and ESEM that are required for break-through scientific endeavour. This is especially relevant in our competitiveness in advanced materials and manufacturing, in microbiology and food science, and in environmental and border protection.
Investing in and establishing such a national capability by 2020 would allow NZ science to participate in a much broader network of international microscopy centres and access to even more advanced tools and skills. It is likely that microscopy is not the only field where sharing significant infrastructure investments into large instruments makes sense; however with even modest TEM equipment running at $2m capital investment, NZ runs the risk of losing the capability to participate in this kind of science – even if we can access overseas centres, without some national competency we end up lacking the ability to understand the results.
If a host institution were to make a building available, the capital costs of establishing such a national centre may well be less than $10m with annual operating costs up to $1.5m with depreciation. Shared between stakeholders and available to all of the science system and the private sector, a national approach to investing in these very large instruments and providing microscopy back to scientists as a service would overcome many financial and access headaches.