TABLE 9.1 Some Nobel Prize–Winning Contributions from Industrial Laboratories


Corporate Sponsor

Name of Researcher(s) and Date of Prize

Surface chemistry

GE Laboratories

Langmuir, 1932

Electron diffraction

Bell Laboratories

Davisson and Thomson, 1937


Bell Laboratories

Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley, 1956


Bell Laboratories/Columbia University

Townes, Basov, and Prokhorov, 1964

Quantum tunnel junctions

IBM T.J. Watson Laboratories/GE Laboratories

Esaki and Giaever, 1973

Theory of disordered materials

Bell Laboratories

Anderson, Mott, and van Vleck, 1977

Cosmic microwave background radiation

Bell Laboratories

Penzias and Wilson, 1978

Scanning tunneling microscopy

IBM Zurich Research Laboratory

Binnig and Rohrer, 1986

High-temperature superconductivity

IBM Zurich Research Laboratory

Bednorz and Mueller, 1987

Quantum Hall effect

Bell Laboratories

Laughlin, Stormer, and Tsui, 1998

Integrated circuit

Texas Instruments

Kilby, 2000


inventions, such as the transistor from AT&T, the semiconductor diode (or communications) laser from IBM and GE, and many others enabled the revolution in consumer electronics, information technology, and digital communications that is still sweeping the world today. Ironically, the global changes sparked by these and many other inventions have, over decades, weakened U.S. industrial research in the physical sciences.

In particular, information technology has been a key enabler of globalization and its resulting intensified economic competition. Information technology has upset natural monopolies in communications and computers and is sweeping entire job categories, products, and industries into the dustbin of history, even as it creates new ones. Newer industrial research laboratories established by Microsoft, Google, IBM, and others focus principally on software, systems, and services. This has also been the growth direction for some of the longer-established industrial laboratories. And some of these new software-focused laboratories have been set up in other countries to attract local talent and to improve understanding of and participation in rapidly growing local markets. In sum, these changes have led to the downsizing or elimination of some once-great industrial laboratories and have greatly reduced the focus on physical sciences research in others.

In addition to generating countless inventions that have driven the U.S. economy, this core of industrial laboratories has also provided large numbers of scientific and technological leaders to industry, academia, national laboratories, and the government. This training ground for future leaders in science, education, and policy is also diminished by the changes in the industrial laboratories. After

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