In the normal course of research administration, requests for instruments are submitted annually when budget estimates are prepared, as part of the organization’s capital budget. Depending on the type of laboratory and its place in the hierarchy, the laboratory head may have little or no control over the annual amount allocated for capital equipment. Justifications submitted with budget requests may be sound and persuasive, but if the approving authorities send it back with the total slashed by 50 percent or more, the laboratory head is forced to make choices. That entails the very difficult task of setting priorities, deciding which needs are more urgent than others.

It is not unusual for scientists to request a needed instrument several years in a row before gaining approval to buy it. Resourceful researchers do not allow such delays to prevent them from pursuing their investigations; they can often find ways to make up...

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