RENEWING THE NATIONAL LABORATORIES

R. A. Mashelkar

Council on Scientific and Industrial Research


Dr. Mashelkar began by recalling the evening of April 22, 2006, when, on the same stage, he signed the register signifying his membership in the National Academy of Sciences. The Academy’s president, shaking his hand, said that the Indian flag would be displayed in his honor. This was “an unbelievable matter of pride,” said Dr. Mashelkar, who added that his daughter had taken more photos of him with the flag that night than signing the register. And little did he realize then that less than two months later the Indian flag would again be flying in the auditorium and he would have an opportunity to speak from its podium. He expressed his thanks.

Dr. Mashelkar proposed to tell the story of the Council on Scientific and Industrial Research within the framework of a generic discussion of national laboratories that would also include a more specific issue, that of their renewal. His opening point was that “context decides the content,” and that the context changes not only from country to country but, in a given country, with the passage of time. For this reason, laboratories designed and established to serve a particular national purpose necessarily change. As an example, he cited the Global Research Alliance, which comprises chains of national laboratories: CSIR India, CSIR South Africa, CSIRO Australia, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Germany, VTT Finland, DTI Denmark, TNO Netherlands, Battelle U.S., and SIRIM Malaysia. In line with the diversity of their home countries, these labs serve different purposes, and they had changed over time as well.

Personal experience, acquired not only in his own country but in some others as well, would shape Dr. Mashelkar’s remarks. Over the three decades that he had spent with India’s national laboratories, he had helped restructure industrial R&D institutions in South Africa, Croatia, Turkey, Indonesia, and China. He chaired the committee that reviewed CSIR South Africa in the period 1997–2002 and, together with a member of the audience, Vinod Goel of the World Bank, worked on projects in Croatia between 2002 and 2004 and in Turkey between 2001 and 2005.

What are national labs supposed to deliver? Dr. Mashelkar’s answer was private goods and services, public goods and services, strategic goods and services, and social goods and services. He summarized the activities that take place under these four categories as follows:

  • Private: creating new intellectual property, licensing and commercializing technologies, making a country’s industry globally competitive.



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