States could achieve more if it better aligned technology roadmaps. Also, private industry, rather than taxpayers, would fund more university research.
An audience member asked what more universities can do internally to change cultural attitudes toward innovation.
Mr. Melissaratos said a major reason Johns Hopkins scientists rank low in commercialization is that “they are comfortable doing research. They know where their next grant will come from. They don’t want to take the risk of jumping over, and having to depend on their own entrepreneurship to succeed.” One way to change thinking is to focus on the payoff of research and what scientists must do to make their research know.
Returning to the topic of why basic research is critical, Mr. Melissaratos said “you must go beyond three generations of a product.” Recalling his experience in aerospace at Westinghouse, he noted that the company had to look beyond the next three generations of a product to succeed. Westinghouse could not rely on the commercial semiconductor industry to provide the components needed to improve performance of certain radar systems, for example. So it developed new semiconductor materials to build systems that would provide a competitive edge. “You need to look at the entire product life cycle,” he said. “When industry and government show an interest across this spectrum, we can move technology forward. The faculty will come along and want to participate.”
Another way to change culture is to make graduate programs more interdisciplinary, he added. “We need to change the way we create Ph.D. programs,” Mr. Melissaratos said. “Digging deep into one area, finishing your dissertation, and not knowing what goes in the world doesn’t work.”