The ramshackle state of some of the nation’s science labs has prompted the Kresge Foundation in Troy, Mich., to step beyond its regular pattern of giving and add a special program for upgrading scientific equipment.

The foundation, with assets of more than $1 billion, traditionally restricts its funding to construction and building-renovation projects. Now, says Kresge program officer Gene Moss, the foundation expects to give away between $10 million and $20 million for scientific equipment over the next two years—that is, if the foundation sees enough proposals that meet its requirements. And Moss is not sure that it will. The Kresge program is not a simple “what do you need” offer, he says.

Indeed, the foundation challenges any institution interested in its dollars to raise half the cost of a particular equipment-upgrading project. The package can include less expensive equipment like oscilloscopes as well as a major purchase like an...

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