The Arkansas Research Alliance recently launched its Core Facilities Exchange, a curated, online repository that laboratories and universities can use to find research equipment elsewhere in the state that they’d like to use.
One goal of this is to help Arkansas avoid the duplication of research dollars, according to ARA Program Manager Amy Hopper. She said the CFE will help researchers avoid buying expensive equipment and shipping it from overseas when that same equipment is already in Arkansas and available for them to use.
In addition, researchers often don’t ask for grant funding to cover long-term maintenance of equipment. "It's not very sexy to fund maintenance, right? People want to fund the equipment to make the discovery, and it's not often not a priority to keep that equipment up and functioning," Hopper said.
So CFE providers, those who own the equipment, can charge the researchers a fee to use it and recoup some of their maintenance costs that way, she said. Searching the CFE is free, but the cost of using the equipment depends on the provider.
Also, the CFE is designed to increase access to equipment and that access can in turn make research grant applications from Arkansas more competitive, Hopper said.
Prior to the CFE, Arkansas researchers who needed to use equipment could, of course, call those who had it. But the researchers would need to know the equipment is in Arkansas, where it was and who to ask about it.
Hopper talked to 59 Arkansas researchers prior to the launch of the CFE about this process. "And I was surprised to learn that, for the most part, it's word of mouth," she said. The CFE remedies this, Hopper said.
The CFE is designed to be more convenient, and researchers can use it to find out who they need to talk to about using whatever equipment they need to use.
The CFE already features hundreds of items. Examples include an MRI machine at the National Center for Toxicological Research and a mass spectrometer at University of Arkansas as well as the Proteomics Core Facility at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences that provides protein characterization by mass spectrometry.
The UAMS equipment is a national resource, Hopper added. "They are trying to expand their user base as wide and as far as possible, and this CFE will help them do that," she said.
Participating in the CFE are the NCTR and ARA’s five member universities: Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, the UA, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, UAMS and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Hopper said there is one point of contact on each campus who helps the ARA determine what equipment is a good fit for the CFE.
A very specialized piece of equipment that needs to be used constantly by an on-campus researcher would not be a good fit for the CFE, she said. Hopper said the CFE equipment needs to be equipment that is used less frequently where it is located and that the person using equipment must be eager to collaborate.
The ARA got this idea from a similar organization headquartered in Atlanta, the Georgia Research Alliance, she said. The GRA launched a core facilities exchange very similar to this back in 2020.
"They've been an open book for ARA and a trusted partner, and so we've modeled ours after theirs and kind of put our own spin on things and fully plan to share our metrics and continue to upgrade this together," Hopper added.