Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) is a national program sponsored by the Department of Energy that allows National Laboratories to internally fund R&D projects per DOE Order O413.2B. National Laboratories that wish to participate must have an approved Annual Program Plan that describes the purpose of LDRD, the scope of the program for the coming fiscal year, and how the plan will be managed internally within the laboratory. LDRD projects are meant to be novel, explorative of new ideas or concepts, perhaps high-risk / high-reward and/or a development of a proof of concept. Awards are required to not extend beyond 3 years.
For Fermilab, LDRD has been approved in mid-year FY2014 and is expected to be continued in following years. Here’s how it typically works …
After the annual program plan is approved, there is an annual call for proposals. Possible Principal Investigators (PIs) complete and compete in a two-step proposal process – a preliminary proposal secures knowledge of their intentions by management and gives a first look to the LDRD selection committee who may suggest changes so that the proposal is in compliance with LDRD. The LDRD selection committee then reviews a full proposal. Selected proposals are recommended for funding by the Director, reviewed by DOE Fermi Site Office, and a project / task account is set-up. The Principal Investigator is then responsible for carrying out the proposal’s project plan following all the standard laboratory procedures (ES&H, quality, best practices). Projects are strongly encouraged to culminate in a concrete deliverable (device demonstration, publication, etc.) When the project is completed, there is some required reporting. The process is meant to be as little burdensome as possible.
1. What kind of projects can be funded through LDRD?
The Fermilab Annual LDRD Program Plan provides a description of the kinds of projects that can be funded through LDRD. The main characteristics are the projects are innovative and aligned with the missions of Fermilab and DOE.
2. What kind of projects are not allowed to be funded through LDRD?
The Fermilab Annual LDRD Program Plan provides a description of the kinds of projects that cannot be funded through LDRD. The main categories of projects that are not appropriate for LDRD funding involve projects that are already covered by Fermilab’s current programmatic activities (i.e. a currently funded project). Also, projects that require additional non-LDRD funding for completion are also excluded.
3. How is LDRD funded through Fermilab?
LDRD funding is approved each year through the Annual Program Plan by DOE as part of the laboratory’s overhead structure.
4. What projects are for Detector R&D and what projects are for LDRD?
Fermilab has a specific programmatic activity for generic Detector R&D. If the proposed work falls directly into alignment with this activity, the proposed work should go there. Otherwise, if the proposed work fits the descriptions appropriate for LDRD, it certainly may be proposed as such. It is understood that there are gray areas – generally think of LDRD as “proof of concept”, research, innovative, or demonstration. It may be appropriate that the research of the completed LDRD detector concept would be appropriate for further development under detector R&D.
5. Why doesn’t LDRD fund travel for attendance at conferences / workshops to disseminate the results of LDRD projects?
The LDRD Advisory Committee has considered this question and has determined to follow the lead of other laboratories in not funding such travel to conferences or workshops with the only purpose of disseminating results of the LDRD efforts. As LDRD funding is limited and this type of travel is post-project, LDRD funds are not allowed for this travel (but dissemination of results is strongly encouraged). Note: that travel required for the completion of the project (obtain specific knowledge available at a conference / workshop / vendor visit) can be funded through LDRD.
6. Can I submit additional materials as part of the Full Proposal? For instance, attach my CV or Letters of Support from managers?
Additional materials are not encouraged – all LDRD proposals are to be evaluated in the same manner, using the same Full Proposal template. There is a section on “Resource Availability and Recent LDRD Funding” in which some biographical material may be included. A future version of the Full Proposal may include a small additional section for the PI to describe their qualifications. Similarly, the section on “Significance” allows the proposed PI to describe the significance of the proposed work. Additional Letters of Support should not be necessary.
7. My idea is really simple – do I need six pages for the Full Proposal?
Content is more important than length – a simple idea to be pursued may indeed result in a “simple” Full Proposal much shorter than six pages. The spirit of the LDRD program is not to be burdensome. With that said, “Proposal Quality” is one of the criteria that the selection committee will use but proposals will not be rejected solely due to length, formatting violations, or other minor technical issues.
8. Who are the eligible employees that are able to apply to be a PI under LDRD?
Employees, who are paid by Fermilab, are eligible. This includes paid Guest Scientists and people who hold joint appointments. However, unpaid retired Guest Scientists or other unpaid individuals are not eligible to be the PI but are welcome to work on LDRD projects. It is recognized that Fermilab has research and technical talent beyond people with Scientist or Engineering titles.
9. May LDRD be used to fund temporary persons such as Summer Students or University postdocs?
LDRD certainly encourages enriching young scientists through their participation in LDRD projects. There would be no issue with a young scientist / engineer already with salary support to participate on an LDRD project at no cost to the project. This is the typical arrangement for university participation. With that said, allowed funding is similar to other R&D projects and if a PI feels the project is best completed with hiring a student, that is allowed.
10. May LDRD be used to fund an outside service such as beam time for radiation exposure or telescope time for special observations?
If these outside services are required for the completion of the project and similar services/resources are not available through Fermilab directly, then these would generally be allowable costs for the LDRD project.