Mission of NCCAT

The mission of NCCAT is twofold: to provide nationwide access to advanced cryogenic electron microscopy (cryoEM) technical capabilities, and to assist users in the development of cryoEM skills needed for independent research. NCCAT will provide access to state-of-the-art equipment, including high-end microscopes and direct detectors, as well as specimen preparation robots, screening microscopes and all the other ancillary equipment required to solve structures to the highest possible resolution using cryoEM methods.

Resources at NCCAT

NCCAT allows several types of access with staff providing direct support, guidance and assistance. A cross-training program will provide training across a wide variety of skill levels and career goals. In addition, educational outreach programs will provide opportunities to target specific areas of education and professional development.

Types of access

Early access to NCCAT will primarily provide access to high-end cryoEM instrumentation (TFS Titan Krios/Gatan K3 time). As NCCAT scales up operations other access categories will be brought online.

Our complete access categories are as follows:

  • Access to High-end CryoEM Instrumentation

Access for experienced users with pre-screened cryoEM samples in need of high-end instrument cryoEM time. This type of access may be on site or remote.

  • Access to Sample Preparation and Screening Microscopes

Access for users in need of staff-assisted sample preparation and screening resources with the intent of a follow on high-end instrumentation session. This type of access would be on site and involves training/exploratory sessions with the goal of data collection on high-end instrumentation.

  • Embedded Training

Embedded training is to train a scientist to become an independent cryoEM researcher. NCCAT staff will assist with access and trainings over a ~3 month intensive immersion program. The expectation is the researcher will be on site for at least 67% of the period and participate in all NCCAT related programs.

  • Facility management Training

Extended training to individuals who are responsible for managing, leading or training at their own facilities; these individuals will have considerably amplified impact when they return to their home institution. This program would be intensive training on site over several weeks to a month.

Applying for access

NCCAT is committed to an open and transparent application process to ensure equal-opportunity nationwide access. All access at NCCAT must be requested through the web-based proposal system. A proposal can have several request categories and each use requires to be associated with a registered user, registered project, time allocation request and safety assessment forms. Early access to NCCAT is focused on GUP1 sessions (with pre-screened cryoEM samples in need of high-end instrument cryoEM time) and will expand to include other proposal classes as operations scale up.

The types of access proposals for NCCAT are as follows:

  • General User Proposal

The General User Proposal program allows researchers access to use of NCCAT resources through a competitive review process. There are four (4) cycles per year that users may apply for and applications are reviewed quarterly.

  • GUP1: Data Collection

Access for experienced users with pre-screened cryoEM samples in need of high-end instrument cryoEM time.

  • GUP2: Sample preparation and screening

Access for users in need of staff-assisted sample preparation and screening resources with the intent of a follow on high-end instrumentation session.

  • Rapid Access Proposal (RAP): Data Collection

GUPs may also request to be considered in the rapid access program. Limited amount of rapid access time will be available in the future for quick and urgent access to NCCAT through expedited review. Rapid access proposals are good for two (2) cycles and must be resubmitted.

  • Training Proposal

Specific application for embedded user or facility management training.

  • TP1: Embedded Training
  • TP2: Facility Manager Training

NCCAT strives to provide open and fair access to the resources at the center. Scientific impact and technical feasibility are always taken into account. There is a quarterly call for applications, reviewed and ranked by the User Review Committee (URC), with the option to also accept a limited number of Rapid Access proposals that will undergo expedited review.

Applications will be limited to one page of text and one page of supporting data and figures. NCCAT users (and their PI’s if applicable) are required to sign a written agreement that they will comply with all NIH data sharing, reporting and publication policies. The written agreement will also outline other requirements and policies for NCCAT access so as to manage expectations as transparently as possible.

User Review Committee Process

General User Proposals (GUPs) be scored in the following categories: (i) scientific impact; (ii) scientific feasibility; (iii) technical feasibility; (iv) NCCAT resources requested (including number of Krios sessions); (v) geographical demographics. The User Review Committee URC will score these aspects on a scale of 1 (excellent) – 5 (poor) and also have the option to provide additional comments. If there is not enough information to base a review the proposal will receive a score of NR (no review).

Members of the URC are expected to serve for 1-2 years at a time. A smaller and longer serving User Access Committee (UAC) is responsible for assimilating the results of the URC reviews, resolving conflicting reviews and, in consultation with NIH and NCCAT management, prioritizing access. To avoid potential conflicts of interest users will have the option to exclude any member of the URC during the application process.

Proposal scoring

Proposals are peer reviewed and scored by the URC and UAC. Scored proposals will considered for assignment of time by the Time Allocation Committee (TAC). If time is not awarded the current cycle the proposal will be forwarded to the next cycle with 0.2 adjustment in the score (lowering the number). This adjustment may be done for up to two (2) cycles for a maximum adjustment of 0.4. If a proposal has not been scored or has not been awarded time in 3 cycles, then a new GUP should be submitted.

Assignment of time

Time slots will be allocated on the basis of scores, feasibility and resources available by the Time Allocation Committee (TAC) comprised of the NCCAT management and staff. A member from the TAC will be responsible to contact the primary user on the GUP to schedule access to NCCAT resources. This communication may include (but is not limited to) an email, and a phone/video conference to ensure the available resources at the center may be best matched to the proposal. NCCAT users should have an active registered project, which will expire in two (2) years or when the requested amount of time recommended by peer review has been used, whichever comes first.

Access to proposal information

Proposals may be edited by the primary user associated with the proposal. Information contained in the proposal will be visible to NCCAT management, certain operational staff members for assistance with the assigned instrument time, and the reviewers selected to evaluate the proposal.

Deadlines and review of proposals

Proposals are accepted continuously through our online project submission system. Proposals are reviewed quarterly ahead of each cycle by the URC. Several reviewers will be averaged for a proposal score. If 1 week elapses after the review process has begun and the proposal has not been reviewed, or there is disparity between the reviews, the UAC may request additional reviewers. If a proposal is reviewed and not scored it will not be considered by the TAC for scheduling. The user may resubmit the proposal. If a user would like to challenge a score they may contact NCCAT to bring the case to the attention of the UAC for resolution.