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

Access to NCCAT will primarily provide access to high-end cryoEM instrumentation (TFS Titan Krios/Gatan K3 time). Other access categories may be brought online if it fits within our mission based on the community needs.

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 several weeks up to ~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

Training to individuals who are responsible for managing, leading or training at their own facilities; these individuals will have a considerably amplified impact when they return to their home institution. This program would be intensive training on-site over several days or weeks. Individuals should have a solid cryoEM foundation otherwise they should apply for our Embedded Training program.

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. Access to NCCAT is focused on GUP1 or BAG sessions (with pre-screened cryoEM samples in need of high-end instrument cryoEM time), TP1/TP2 for on-site embedded crosstraining, or GUP2(Chameleon)/GUP3(GPS) sessions for on-site sample preparation and screening.

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.

There are three (3) types of general user proposals:

  • GUP1 (Krios): Data collection
    Access for experienced users with pre-screened cryoEM samples in need of high-end instrument cryoEM time. For more information go here and to apply for this category of access go here.
  • GUP2 (Chameleon): Chameleon access
    Access for blot free vitrification with the intent of a follow on high-end instrumentation session. Use of Chameleon needs to be justified. For more information go here and to apply for this category of access go here.
  • GUP3 (GPS): Grid preparation and screening
    Access for users in need of staff-assisted sample preparation and screening resources. The preliminary data and grids may then be used to apply for GUP1 Data Collection Access or GUP2 for Chameleon access. For more information go here and to apply for this category of access go here.


  • 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.

Additional information on Data and Data Sharing.

As a condition of use of center services, users must agree to follow all applicable NIH policies for the sharing of their data and research resources, as appropriate. Relevant information may be shared upon request to NIH and/or other national service centers. In particular, the information shared with the other NIH national service centers may include (but is not limited to) awarded application spokesperson/PI names, institution and application titles.

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.