Bill Gleason

Bill Gleason is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology. He's also a fellow at the U's Supercomputer Institute. Read more about Gleason.

Innovation, Job Creation, and the Difference Between Academic and Industrial Research, An Introduction

Posted by: Bill Gleason under Society, Education and literacy, Government, Politics Updated: July 30, 2010 - 12:28 PM

(Pretty pompus title, I'll agree...)

Executive Summary: The next five years are going to make or break the state of Minnesota that we know and love and a large part of the problem is to get the public to recognize our problems and do something about them.  Tom Rukavina and most sensible politicians from the three major parties recognize that our focus has to be on jobs and education.  As an introduction to these matters, I'd like to make some generalizations about research and its relation to job creation.  This is not meant to be patronizing, and I'd certainly be happy for someone to call me on anything I say that they believe to be debatable or in error.  That's the purpose of this community forum - as I understand it.

So we'll start with Louis Pasteur and Thomas Edison: 

 

credits: Edison Pasteur

 

These scientists are the archetype industrial and academic researchers.

The two most common quotations associated with them are:

Pasteur

Dans les champs de l'observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés.

often shortened in translation to:

Chance favors the prepared mind.


Edison

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

 

An industrial researcher typically has a goal: to develop a new process or product that can be sold to make money.  Usually that goal is pursued relentlessly until success is achieved.

An academic researcher typically pursues new knowledge.  Usually they have some sort of goal in mind, but if they happen to make observations along the way that are interesting they pursue them. 

Something unexpected in academic research, recognized as important by the prepared mind, may be pursued as a whole new line of research.  In industrial research, a failed experiment is usually not pursued, because the product develpment goal is usually more important to the researcher.

Now I realize that the view expressed above is quite simplistic.  There are individual scientists who have crossed the academic/industrial research borders quite successfully.  And there are practitioners on both sides of the fence who quite successfully use the techniques of both industrial and academic research.  But it is important to realize that there is at least a qualitative difference between academic and industrial research and that we need both in the state of Minnesota.

How about creativity?  How about innovation?  There has been quite a lot of discussion about this recently and much concern that somehow we don't have this in Minnesota.

Baloney.

First let's be hard-nosed and think about the inspiration/perspiration ratio attributed to Edision.  Edison spoke a great deal about the importance of hard work and went out of his way to pooh-pooh the idea that invention was due to genius, innovation, or inspiration.  As he put it: "I never did anything by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident; they came by work."

We know how to work hard in Minnesota.  I've seen this at 3M, at the U, at Carleton and at St. Catherine. 

Again in the words of Edison: Be courageous. I have seen many depressions in business. Always America has emerged from these stronger and more prosperous. Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward!

This thread will continue in the future.  What sort of applied and basic research should we be doing at the U of M? How does the U's educational mission ultimately support research development? How should the state support research both at the U and in industry?  What can the state and the U do to encourage new business development, both large and small? What kind of covenant between the state and the U will assure our children an outstanding education at reasonable cost? How can we encourage the products of our state's educational system to stay here in good jobs so that we may all continue to prosper?

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