Microscopy is assuming a critical level of importance in many areas of the physical and life sciences. Not only are microscopes now providing unprecedented characterization of the nano- and bio-structures that exist, they are now being used to image processes as they take place in-situ. New instruments and methods are being developed at a rapid pace and it is becoming increasingly difficult for a single institution to keep up with the latest developments—this is related to the need for a critical mass of local expertise and the expense of purchasing and maintaining the instrumentation. In the current climate of shrinking research budgets, it is more important than ever to develop a rational business model for microscopy that can provide access to state-of-the-art instrumentation for world-leading research while still being cost-effective.
The Western U.S. in general and the Pacific Northwest region in particular, has a long history of research in microscopy and a large number of practitioners who can be considered to be at the forefront of their fields. While the institutions are spread over a large area, modern travel and communication links mean that at most, travel from one location to another takes about half a day. This means that by coordinating the approach to microscopy across the institutions, a critical mass of expertise and user community can be established to support a wide range of experimental techniques. Individual institutions can focus on areas of special needs and world leading expertise while at the same time deriving the benefit of similar capabilities in other areas at nearby institutions. The goal in forming the network is therefore to develop a framework that promotes world-leading microscopy capabilities at individual campuses that simultaneously benefit an extended community of users. The successful implementation of the network will therefore provide the members with the tools to compete in the international research arena with the financial weight (number of users) to sustain the research activities.