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Guidance for Researchers

Northwestern University does not enter into agreements to conduct classified (i.e., secret) research, nor does it agree to requirements that restrict the freedom of a scholar to publish or disseminate findings. The University also seeks to avoid discrimination based on 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. To maintain these exclusions, strict adherence to certain conditions and University policy is required. See 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) and 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 they 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 apply.
    • Commerce or State may require an export license 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 covered by the regulations are extensive, from software, computers, cameras, centrifuges, autoclaves, accelerators, radiation detectors, etc., to various 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, notably, only technologies that are not publicly available are subject to the controls. However, special rules apply to even publicly available encryption software. The export control regulations classify each item for country-specific restrictions. For example, some items require a license to share with specific countries; others may be shipped only to Canada without a license, while other items are allowable to most but not all 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 Northwestern’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 120.34 (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, criminal (including incarceration) and civil penalties (including fines). Northwestern Office of Research will assist investigators in complying with export control laws. Contact Export Control & International Compliance with any questions.