ages (Lane, this volume). According to a recent study (Dickens, this volume), there are 281 university research centers sponsored by six federal agencies (including NSF) and over 1,000 university-based engineering research units in the United States. Most of these research units were established as university initiatives in the past 10 years, and their success in establishing industry linkages varies widely. Much broader adoption of such linkages by industry—without government sponsorship and participation—is needed.

  • Consistent with the important role of academic engineering research in the advancement and diffusion of the engineering knowledge base and the training of engineers, substantial increases are needed in the level of support for academic engineering research and associated aspects of engineering education. Such increases will enhance U.S. leadership in commercially important technologies, improve industrial competitiveness, and increase economic growth. Reports issued over the past decade by the National Academy of Engineering, the National Research Council Engineering Research Board, and the National Science Board Committee on Industrial Support for R&D all have echoed the need to boost funding in this area (Committee to Evaluate the Programs of the National Science Foundation Directorate for Engineering. 1985; National Research Council, 1987; National Science Board, 1992).

  • Because policymakers tend to be unaware of the variety of purposes and products of government-sponsored research, the engineering community must coordinate and focus more effectively the many voices speaking for engineering. Both policymakers and the public need to better appreciate the important differences between scientific and engineering research, especially with regard to how quickly the two disciplines can address pressing national concerns.

In general, the concept of engineering research is not readily understood. In academic settings, its distinction from research in the basic sciences is even less well understood. Therefore, the next section of this report is devoted to an exposition of the nature and value of academic engineering research.

WHAT IS ENGINEERING RESEARCH AND HOW DO ENGINEERING AND SCIENCE INTERACT?

In many ways, the methods of academic engineering research and the resulting insights into the nature of the physical world are indistinguishable from those of basic scientific research. However, there are crucial differences between the two endeavors. Basic scientific research is concerned with the discovery of new phenomena and their integration into coherent



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OCR for page 3
Forces Shaping the U.S. Academic Engineering Research Enterprise ages (Lane, this volume). According to a recent study (Dickens, this volume), there are 281 university research centers sponsored by six federal agencies (including NSF) and over 1,000 university-based engineering research units in the United States. Most of these research units were established as university initiatives in the past 10 years, and their success in establishing industry linkages varies widely. Much broader adoption of such linkages by industry—without government sponsorship and participation—is needed. Consistent with the important role of academic engineering research in the advancement and diffusion of the engineering knowledge base and the training of engineers, substantial increases are needed in the level of support for academic engineering research and associated aspects of engineering education. Such increases will enhance U.S. leadership in commercially important technologies, improve industrial competitiveness, and increase economic growth. Reports issued over the past decade by the National Academy of Engineering, the National Research Council Engineering Research Board, and the National Science Board Committee on Industrial Support for R&D all have echoed the need to boost funding in this area (Committee to Evaluate the Programs of the National Science Foundation Directorate for Engineering. 1985; National Research Council, 1987; National Science Board, 1992). Because policymakers tend to be unaware of the variety of purposes and products of government-sponsored research, the engineering community must coordinate and focus more effectively the many voices speaking for engineering. Both policymakers and the public need to better appreciate the important differences between scientific and engineering research, especially with regard to how quickly the two disciplines can address pressing national concerns. In general, the concept of engineering research is not readily understood. In academic settings, its distinction from research in the basic sciences is even less well understood. Therefore, the next section of this report is devoted to an exposition of the nature and value of academic engineering research. WHAT IS ENGINEERING RESEARCH AND HOW DO ENGINEERING AND SCIENCE INTERACT? In many ways, the methods of academic engineering research and the resulting insights into the nature of the physical world are indistinguishable from those of basic scientific research. However, there are crucial differences between the two endeavors. Basic scientific research is concerned with the discovery of new phenomena and their integration into coherent

OCR for page 3
Forces Shaping the U.S. Academic Engineering Research Enterprise conceptual models of major physical or biological systems. By definition, the focus of greatest interest tends to be at the outer edges of present knowledge. Most scientific knowledge will, in a highly variable and unpredictable fashion, find technical applications of economic and social value, but in most cases the nature of such applications will not be apparent to the those who perform the original scientific research. Basic research in engineering is by definition concerned with the discovery and systematic conceptual structuring of knowledge. Engineers develop, design, produce or construct, and operate devices, structures, machines, and systems of economic and societal value. Virtually all engineering research is driven by the anticipated value of an application. However, not all potential applications can be anticipated, and occasionally the hoped-for application may not be nearly as important as one that turns up by serendipity. The time from research to production may be a few years, as in the development and application of the laser or in the progression from the integrated circuit to microprocessor, or it may be decades, as in the development of television. Engineering, unlike science, is concerned not only with knowledge of natural phenomena, but also with how knowledge can serve humankind's needs and wants. Such variables as cost, user compatibility, producibility, safety, and adaptability to various external operating conditions and environments must be taken into account in the design, development, operational support, and maintenance of the products and services that engineers create. Thus, engineering involves the integration of knowledge, techniques, methods, and experiences from many fields. Also, almost all university research in both science and engineering is performed as a component of the advanced education of students. For most engineering students, the goal of a career in industry motivates their pursuit of advanced study, and this will increasingly be the case in the future. Because of this, engineering students' outlook on research tends to be predisposed toward application in engineering practice. Basic science and mathematics have advanced rapidly in the past several decades with the development of computers that can deal with increasingly complex problems. At the same time, engineering science, research, and practice have employed increasingly advanced analytical and experimental methods across the spectrum of engineering fields and industrial sectors. In What Engineers Know and How They Know It (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), Walter Vincenti has identified some theoretical and experimental features common to both scientific and engineering research. In fact, in some engineering fields such as electronic materials, the analytical and experimental methods and instruments used may be indistinguishable from those in the basic-science fields of solid-state physics and chemistry.