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Faculty Senate allows proprietary research at SLAC
STANFORD -- Reversing a policy that has been in place for 26 years, the Faculty Senate on June 1 passed guidelines that allow companies to conduct confidential proprietary research at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC).
Industrial investigators now can use the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL) at SLAC for confidential purposes, provided Stanford students and faculty are not involved. SSRL provides X-ray beams with intensities up to 10 million times greater than those available from X-ray generators commonly used for scientific research.
This opens up many possibilities for the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley, Arthur Bienenstock, associate director at SLAC and SSRL, told the senate. One of the most exciting, he said in a separate interview, "is the detection of very low concentrations of impurities introduced by their processing procedures. They can't measure those impurity levels with their own equipment and hope to use SSRL to improve their proprietary processes."
Stephen Laderman, a project manager at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, said in a June 5 telephone interview that advances in technology are making the conventional X-ray methods for research and analysis used by the semiconductor industry obsolete. "The synchrotron [facility] offers the possibility [for] us to make measurements that are more sensitive or more precise," he said.
The senate's decision marks a "limited exception" to the Secrecy in Research Policy that was implemented by the Faculty Senate in April 1969 after a controversy surrounding allegations of classified military research on campus.
According to a report prepared by the senate's Committee on Research, the original intent behind establishing the Secrecy in Research Policy was to prevent an outside agency from prohibiting publication and open discussion of research results obtained by faculty and students in sponsored research.
Bienenstock assured senate members that Stanford's faculty, students and research staff would not be involved in the research aspects of proprietary projects. He said the university's access to the facilities would be protected under the new provisions, which dictate that no more than 15 percent of the SSRL beam time in a given 12-month running period will be available for proprietary investigations.
Bienenstock stressed the importance of making the facility available to a wide range of industries and academic and governmental institutions. SSRL is the only source of high- energy synchrotron radiation west of New York state and is expected to remain the principal source of that radiation for the indefinite future, he said.
When the Secrecy in Research Policy was written, university officials hadn't foreseen the creation of Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) at national research facilities that encourage joint projects with industry that are in the nation's best interests, the Committee on Research's report says. SLAC was the last remaining national laboratory run by the Department of Energy that didn't allow proprietary research by outside groups.
The Department of Energy -- which is mandated to ensure that its large-scale unique user facilities can be used effectively by outside researchers -- often has complained about Stanford's strict standards concerning publication, Bienenstock said.
Energy Department officials repeatedly have told him that they could not understand why the "university never insists that a faculty member publish or make his or her research available until they are ready to do so," while at the same time imposing tight regulations on industrial researchers.
Bienenstock emphasized the importance of having a policy that can be justified to the Department of Energy at a time when university programs are being questioned by the federal government. He strongly advised senate members to revise the current policy to allow for limited proprietary research on a first- come, first-served basis.
The resolution -- which was approved by the senate without dissent -- calls for disclosure of scientific and programmatic accomplishments to be made in general terms on a yearly basis. Any intellectually significant results must be published within five years after the experiment's completion, consistent with CRADA agreements at other national facilities.
The new guidelines also call for industrial research expenses to be paid on a full cost recovery basis. "It could bring in a significant amount of money [to SSRL]. Not enough money to have a serious impact on the operation of the facility, but it could help improve the facility," Bienenstock said.
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