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Basic Research and Innovation

by Dr. Jeffrey Salmon 24 Mar, 2014 in


Basic Research and Innovation

Recently, I attended a roundtable discussion hosted by the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. on the topic of innovation – how it comes about, what factors can impede it, where the U.S. might be headed as a lead innovator in the 21st Century, and what cultural and ethical issues need to be considered in a complete understanding of innovation.

As a science and technology agency, the Department of Energy (DOE) cares a great deal about questions surrounding innovation.  As an information management agency within DOE, the Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) works to accelerate innovation through the sharing of knowledge.  We also love to point out where DOE has done just that.

The discussion at Hudson on innovation was rich and multi-layered.  But there were a set of key ideas and arguments that should be of particular interest to DOE and OSTI.

Organization and Innovation.  What kind of organization best drives innovation?  The answer is not completely clear.  Is innovation or rapid development of technology more likely to come about today through a large, multidisciplinary enterprise, such as our DOE national laboratories, i.e. “big science,” or through a nimble, relatively small market-shaped group of entrepreneurs?  But even this way of posing the question isn’t precise.  It could be that the requirements for basic research today call for big science, but that application of that research to technology development is more likely to flourish where customer feedback is immediate and the consequences of failure brutal.  Certainly, something like this latter point was strongly suggested in the think-tank conversation.  Still there are gradations of technology development, and understanding when something is poised for market deployment is very difficult.  

Innovation in Energy.  While the extraordinary economic impact of...

Related Topics: basic research, doe research, economic impact, Hudson Institute, innovation