Ames Lab establishes Laboratory-Directed Research and Development program

Ames Laboratory has received the go-ahead to establish a Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program. Formal approval from the Department of Energy Office of Science and the Ames Site Office was granted earlier this month to initiate the FY13 program.

While national labs and university research centers both respond to funding opportunities, national labs also have a significant role in helping to shape the federal research agenda. One of the ways that the national labs shape the research agenda is by building research capacity and exploring emerging areas through LDRD programs. Congress has authorized the DOE national labs to use a "reasonable amount" of their operating budget for funding employee-suggested research projects. Since 1991, this program has been known as LDRD, and labs are allowed to collect up to 8% of overhead on their funded programs to support it.

For several years, the Ames Laboratory has been the only DOE national lab that has not used its authority to operate an LDRD program, since the Lab had a healthy stream of royalty income that was used for many of the same purposes. As some of the Lab’s patents expire and royalty income shrinks, the capacity to support research in emerging areas must be maintained, so Ames Lab is restarting a formal LDRD program.

Chief Research Officer Duane Johnson detailed the new Laboratory Directed Research
and Development program at an informational meeting on Oct. 29. About 60 staff
attended the session.

The initial program for FY13 will take a relatively modest approach, with a 3 percent level, which will generate an estimated $900,000, a small fraction of which has to be used to cover the program's administrative costs.

The primary objective of the LDRD program is to build the capacity of the Laboratory to address emerging research opportunities. Ames Lab's LDRD program will stimulate R&D innovation and creativity that directly support our mission, and enhance the research activities to help maintain the Laboratory's scientific and technological vitality, while enabling it to respond to rapidly emerging R&D opportunities of clear potential benefit to DOE's mission.

LDRD programs are subject to some scrutiny and oversight, and there are some important rules that have to be followed. Notably, the LDRD funding cannot be used to augment existing program funding, cover funding shortfalls, or support previously-rejected DOE proposals. So, in anticipation, begin preparing your ideas for critical or innovative R&D  — being highly selective as only a few will be funded.

The responsibility for selecting LDRD projects ultimately lies with Lab Director Alex King, but he has asked Chief Research Officer Duane Johnson to solicit proposals and develop a portfolio of projects for King’s final approval.

Further details are available online at the Ames Laboratory LDRD website via the "Research" link or directly at

This FY13 inaugural year will be composed entirely of mid-year projects. At a meeting on Oct. 29, Johnson said he hopes to issue the formal call by mid-November and to forward the short list of reviewed proposals to King by the end of December. For FY14 and all subsequent years the program will be announced, reviewed, and handled as prescribed in the LDRD Plan, typically with the call issued in January or February and proposals due sometime in March or April to division offices, for a planned Oct. 1 start date. The annual call and list of funded projects will always be found at the LDRD link.

Further information and assistance can be obtained from Duane Johnson at or ext: 4-9649, or Tessa Lemons,  LDRD Program Coordinator, or ext: 4-2618.

Think strategically. LDRD proposals will be considered on the basis of their potential impact on the Ames Lab's future competitiveness.