Growth in the Trend Toward Collaboration and Centralized Facilities
In addition to possessing intrinsic intellectual excitement, science and technology have been viewed historically as the key to growth in the national economy. The federal government has strongly supported research at universities and at national laboratories, while many corporations have established their own major research laboratories. University-based materials research originally consisted of individual investigators pursuing their own areas of interest and obtaining the necessary research tools by collaborating with other researchers or by grant funding. This approach has led to the proliferation of instruments with much duplication and, in some cases undoubtedly, inefficiency. The national laboratories have focused on the acquisition of analytical instruments and the establishment of central facilities to serve different research groups.
Corporate research has evolved in two directions, one consisting of efforts by individual investigators to enrich the pool of scientific knowledge that underpins the corporation, the other focusing on research and development that are directly relevant to the corporation’s products or new growth markets. The establishment of such central facilities within industrial corporations enhanced both of these routes, although some individual investigators had their own instruments.
Major advances in materials research have been achieved by all of the approaches referred to above. Nonetheless, leaders within the materials community began to believe that the problems and needs of the science and technology base were not being as efficiently addressed by the individual-investigator approach as might be achieved by collaboration.a The first major effort to gain productivity “greater than the sum of the parts” was made by the Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1960, with the establishment of the Materials Research Laboratories at a handful of research universities (as part of the Department of Defense Interdisciplinary Laboratory program). These laboratories were designed to bring together individuals from different disciplines to foster the exchange of ideas and to address major materials problems needing the collaborative efforts of groups of scientists and engineers.