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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


Impact of Basic Research and Knowledge Diffusion on Innovation


Impact of Basic Research and Knowledge Diffusion on Innovation

In June 2009, OSTIBLOG published a piece submitted by a friend of OSTI on “Impact of Basic Research on Innovation”.  Subsequently, a number of readers remarked that the blog had not made a key point particularly relevant to OSTI: to have an impact on innovation, basic research results must be shared. 

To be sure, it is rarely possible to determine precisely when, where and how the dissemination of scientific and technical information impacts the continuum of basic research to applied research to invention and innovation, but there is no question that such dissemination is a prerequisite for the flow of scientific information necessary for discovery, progress and prosperity.

With this key point included, here is a revised version of the earlier blog:

The development of MP3 technologies illustrates the unexpected benefits of basic research – and how science progresses and innovation advances when knowledge is shared.

In 1965, a hand-sized storage and playback device that would hold 15,000 recorded songs was the stuff of science fiction. Even simple hand-held calculators were rare and expensive at that time.

Then, as the chart on this page shows, research funded by several federal science agencies, including the Department of Energy (DOE), contributed to the breakthrough technologies of magnetic storage drives, lithium-ion batteries and the liquid crystal dislay, which came together in the development of MP3 devices. 

The MP3’s DRAM cache traces its origins to the Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) system and circuit design pioneered in basic research undertaken by IBM and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  Basic research sponsored by the Army Research Office helped revolutionize the field of signal processing, enabling the MP3’s signal compression, while liquid crystal research funded by the National Institutes of Health...

Related Topics: DARPA, innovation, MP3. VLSI