Guidance for Researchers

Northwestern University does not enter into agreements to conduct “secret” or “classified” research, nor does it agree to any requirements that restrict the freedom of a scholar to publish or disseminate findings. Further, the University seeks to avoid discrimination on the basis of citizenship status. Simply foregoing these freedoms, regardless of intent, may trigger the strict application of federal regulations. Violation of these regulations may bring severe penalties. However, in some circumstances there may be exclusions from export controls, thereby allowing technology releases to foreign nationals on campus in the US. In order to maintain these exclusions, strict adherence to certain conditions and University policy is required. SeeĀ Fundamental Research below.

When Export Control regulations are applicable Export regulations apply regardless of whether the recipient of the information, technology or materials is unfunded; or funded by a grant, contract, or other agreement; and apply whether or not the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) or the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) are cited in related award documents. If a researcher accepts export-controlled technology or information from a government agency, industry, or elsewhere, the researcher is subject to ITAR or EAR regulations. If a Northwestern researcher is unsure whether s/he may be receiving or generating export-controlled information, the researcher should contact the Office for Export Controls Compliance for assistance.
How Export Controls could affect research
  • Publication of research results would be severely restricted or controlled, contrary to University policy.
  • Graduate student participation would be strictly prohibited.
  • Secure facilities with restricted access may be required.
  • Special rules for controlled toxins, bio-agents, and chemicals may be invoked.
  • An export license may be required by Commerce or State if information, technology, or an item or service is controlled. Obtaining an export license may be costly and result in considerable delays. Further, such licenses are limited in scope, with release permitted to only one individual or entity.
Examples of items subject to Export Controls The equipment and technologies that may be covered by the regulations are extensive, from software, computers, cameras, centrifuges, autoclaves, accelerators, radiation detectors, etc. to a wide range of chemicals, biological agents, and toxins. The list of items that may be subject to some form of regulation is approximately 50 pages long. Each item has detailed specifications (e.g., not all cameras are subject to export controls) and, importantly, only technologies that are not publicly available are subject to the controls, although special rules apply to even publicly available encryption software. Each type of item is classified in the export control regulations according to those countries to which it cannot be exported. For example, some items cannot be exported at all without a license; others may be shipped only to Canada without a license; while still other items can be exported to all but a few countries.

Fundamental Research

Fundamental research is basic and applied research in science and/or engineering where the resulting information is ordinarily published and shared broadly in the scientific community. University research will not qualify as fundamental research if:

  • the University or researcher accepts any restrictions on the publication of the information resulting from the research, other than customary prepublication reviews [see NU’s policy] by research sponsors to prevent inadvertent disclosure of their proprietary information or the compromise of the patent rights of sponsors; or
  • the research is federally funded and the University or the researcher accepts specific access or dissemination controls regarding the resulting information.
Fundamental Research Exclusion Most Northwestern research activities are excluded from export controls because of a general exception for fundamental research. Both the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) provide that no licenses are required to disclose technical information if the information is in the public domain. Information is in the public domain if it is published and generally accessible to the public through unlimited and unrestricted distribution or through “fundamental research in science and engineering at accredited institutions of higher learning in the U.S. where the resulting information is ordinarily published and shared broadly in the scientific community”. This fundamental research exclusion applies to basic and applied research in science as long as the research is carried out openly and without restrictions on publication or access to or dissemination of the research results (EAR 734.8; ITAR 120.11(8)). By not accepting any restriction on publication or foreign nationals, Northwestern protects the fundamental research exclusion.

Fundamental Research Exclusion

Potential Consequences of Violating Export Control Regulations

It is important that faculty and other researchers understand their obligations under the regulations and follow them. The consequences of violating the regulations can be severe, and include loss of research funding, fines, and/or prison time. Northwestern will assist investigators in complying with export control laws, but the primary responsibility rests with the researcher.