As research into new materials continues, it is important to recognize that today’s problems represent a challenge to our current infrastructure. Infrastructure involves far more than the identification of research priorities followed by targeted funding. Several key issues can be noted. A combined approach to research that addresses most or all of these issues will likely help to ensure a healthy infrastructure:
Integration of research and teaching
Broadened participation of underrepresented groups
Improved infrastructure for research and education
Demonstrated value of research to society
Return on investment
Correlation between investment and economic progress
Feedback between the chemical industry and university research
The effects of university research on industrial competitiveness, maintaining a technical workforce, and developing new industrial growth
Although all of these factors are not addressed in detail here, it is clear that all of them relate to how research breakthroughs can be transitioned to the “real world” and how the positive impact of these developments can be assessed and improved.
INFRASTRUCTURE ISSUES: UNIVERSITY RESEARCH AND TEACHING
Problems in understanding issues related to science often involve the public at large. It is therefore in the best interest of all scientists to ensure that further outreach to these audiences is made to inform the public of the problems, opportunities, and challenges that effect the scientific community. At the university level, it is important to note that fields of study are changing rapidly. As noted earlier, research on materials and the chemical sciences in general is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary. Important problems addressed by researchers in the chemical sciences are no longer strictly limited to physical chemistry or organic synthesis. In 1995, Chemical and Engineering News identified “emerging or growing technologies expected to affect chemistry, the need for chemists, and the way that chemists work. The broad areas identified are biotechnology, environmental chemistry, catalysis, materials science (including polymers, electronics, and photonics), information (including communication, computer technology, and computer molecular modeling) and energy.” As new challenges in the chemical sciences arise, the ability of chemists and chemical engineers to overcome barriers in communicating with scientists in a host of other disciplines will become more important.
Although it is essential that future chemists and chemical engineers be conversant in other scientific disciplines, it is not feasible for students to master a vast body of scientific knowledge over many disciplines. Providing students with the tools needed to learn about specific topics in other disciplines and to communicate in areas outside their discipline is, however, not only useful but also essential. Such real-world skills as public speaking, effective writing, and teamwork through activities such as teaching, mentoring, or leadership programs can provide students the necessary means to quickly adapt and converse in a scientific field outside their degree discipline.
Education at the undergraduate and graduate university level as well as in the classroom and the research laboratory must reflect the changing nature of scientific advances. Research at the university level will have to be increasingly interdisciplinary if it is to reflect trends in the chemical sciences.
University Instrumentation Facilities
There are distinct advantages to having an instrumentation facility with an effective investment in both instruments and maintenance (Sidebar 5.1). With experts on-site, it is possible to train students, faculty, and others to operate and interpret results. It is of particular importance to have an on-site expert to confer with when an unusual experimental result is found. Small facilities—those with capitalization costs of at least $1 million and operating costs of about $200,000 per year—have a large impact on science. The issues described above apply di
SIDEBAR 5.1 Instrumentation Infrastructure for the Materials and Chemical Sciencesa
Instrumentation is essential in all areas of chemistry, but it is of particular importance in the development of new materials. Nowhere is this more evident than in the use of instrumentation to visualize nanomaterials. The use of imaging such as electron microscopy enables the researcher to get an idea of what is or is not possible. While the development of new materials draws on a range of instrumentation facilities, of particular importance are the issues facing small- and medium-scale research facilities, which are very critical to those in the chemical sciences who are working on new materials.
For work in the chemical sciences on materials, key instrumentation enables visualization. This encompasses diffraction, microscopy, and spectroscopy. Synthesis and processing are also important. Crystal growth, thin film deposition, and the ability to manipulate atoms are all necessary tools. Of course, instrumentation for characterization is also required, encompassing the testing of mechanical, magnetic, optical, and transport properties. As an example, research on nanostructures requires the ability to observe materials on an animated scale. Tremendous revolutions have taken place in the development of probe microscopy. It is now possible with scanning probes to move atoms on a surface, watch them move on the surface, and also observe the electronic states associated with dopants in a semiconductor.
Larger-scale facilities with X-rays have worked to develop tools such as the hard X-ray advanced proton source at Argonne National Laboratory. It is now possible to focus down to the order of 30 nanometers, or less. As a result, it is now possible to obtain diffraction information from individual structures at the nanoscale level with this X-ray nanoprobe.
This tool is just one in a series of complementary methods for performing diffraction. Electron diffraction can obtain signals from incredibly small volumes with single-atom sensitivity. However, this method produces highly dynamic scattering, making it difficult to interpret structure. Scattering is weaker with X-rays, allowing for structural analysis. In studying magnetism, neutrons have a number of attractive features.
rectly to these types of facilities. In addition, key issues for these facilities include operating costs, balance, and specialization. To avoid duplication of effort, it is logical for facilities to specialize and to initiate regional cooperation.
INFRASTRUCTURE ISSUES: ACADEMIC-INDUSTRIAL INTERFACE
Although many academic researchers have a solid technical approach to their work and enjoy working on interesting problems, a clear understanding of the market need for materials developed in the university laboratory is often lacking. Attention to the market almost inevitably leads to the examination of important (as well as interesting and technically demanding) problems. Various consequences of an academic research program closely tied to the needs of industry may include the following:
Research that is more relevant to students
A demonstrated value to society
Increased industrial and government investment in the academic research infrastructure
Potential for economic return on industry investment.
Improvement of competitiveness and development of new industrial growth
However, it is important to note that the nature of this interaction is extremely important. Industrial-academic partnerships in which past or present problems are the main focus will most likely not succeed. On the other hand, partnerships that look at problems four or five years in the future are much more compatible with the timeframe of a Ph.D. thesis.
Infrastructure and Technology Development
The traditional method of technology development leads to very inefficient use of resources. Research by competing individuals working in isolation leads to large number of potential technologies and discoveries, only a fraction of which are ever combined to form useful new products and/or processes.
Materials development is typically highly empirical, and rarely are appropriate experiments and/or modeling performed early enough in the research process to answer critical questions that an end user might have. The disconnect between researcher and application engineer is reflected in the amount of time it takes, for example, to build a reliable part out of a known alloy (at least 36 months). This is short compared to the time it takes to change ship steel (7-10 years), apply lightweight composites (15+ years), or develop ceramics for engines (20+ years). By contrast, system design is well integrated with established testing protocols that
lead to much shorter insertion times (e.g., it takes only 30 months to go from a clean sheet of paper to a completely new engine design).
A road map to research is not always an appropriate answer, however. Although there are several advantages, such as providing direction and defining distances as well as a path around obstacles, it does not provide a complete explanation of how research should be done. For example, a road map assumes a common starting point and a fixed destination (i.e., one where there is no competition). A roadmap also may serve to stifle creativity. In addition, this approach provides no time information.
By first defining the desired product or process and the anticipated technology needs, research teams can better coordinate their efforts in order to obtain a higher rate of return on technology development. The results of fundamental research are tied to the needs of technologists who then build on this information to create further knowledge. Basic research, applied research, development, and demonstration play a role at all levels in the process since there is a tight feedback loop between discovery (whether planned or serendipitous) and end use. Continued academic/industrial consortia are expected to strengthen this feedback.
To be successful in universities, a funding organization that plays a more proactive role will be required. For example, the funding agency must provide a clear need (i.e., priorities, well-defined goals). This organization must understand both government and societal needs and be able to mix strategic (global) and tactical (directed) R&D. This means the appropriate combination of basic research, applied research, development, and demonstration (i.e., a “mixed-risk” approach).
Technical and the fiscal flexibility to review and change funding between and among scientific and engineering disciplines is required with this type of approach. By making connections between research groups and fostering an atmosphere of collaboration, government program managers could provide a very valuable service through technology transfer. This would not involve commercialization of technologies per se, but rather ensure a free flow of knowledge from those that generate it to those that may ultimately need it.
INFRASTRUCTURE AND FEDERAL SUPPORT OF RESEARCH
While corporate funding of academic research is a continuing and growing source of support, federal grants still are the predominant form of underwriting for this work. An examination of the academic-federal interface, particularly in light of the relationship between academic research and industry, indicates areas in which adjustments may be in order.
Over the past decade or so, a paradigm shift has occurred regarding federal support for research. Presently, there is almost universal support in this country for federal funding of scientific research for medicine and defense. However, it is not clear if there is a similarly large base of support for government funding of
research in science and technology outside of these applications. As a result, it is imperative that researchers continue to point to the societal impact of the work they do. The incredible growth in federal support for medical research over the last 30 years can be accounted for in part because the general public has become aware of the impact of this work on their lives. Research on new materials tends to be oriented more toward industrial and/or commercial applications. This being said, it is also important to keep in mind that industry increasingly finds itself unable to support the level of basic research it had been supporting. The health of the chemical sciences and the ability of the field to continue moving forward partly depend on the type and quality of basic molecular science done in universities and national labs. Given that there is not likely to be a level of public funding commensurate with the number of requests from university researchers, great care must be exerted to ensure that truly novel, high-risk, yet high-quality work is supported at the federal level.
Presently, many aspects of the academic-federal interface are working well. Industrial-academic-national lab internships and graduate fellowship programs expose students to a wide range of research environments and provide a relatively inexpensive means to both train the next generation of scientists and to help them formulate their career paths. Similarly, junior faculty awards have been a crucial means of support to assistant professors at the start of their careers. Support for research centers and major instrumentation laboratories is strong at the federal level, as is funding for academic departmental instrumentation.
Although many positive aspects exist in the relationship between federal funding agencies and academic researchers, there are difficulties to be overcome. In terms of funding maintenance, there is concern that the time line for funding is too long whereas the funding cycle is too short. The result of this situation for many researchers is that large amounts of time that would be devoted to research is instead spent on maintaining funding. As noted in Sidebar 5.1, while instrumentation and facilities are well supported by federal funding, inefficient use of these facilities leads to underutilization. Finally, although there is a general consensus in the chemical sciences community that the number and caliber of new chemical scientists produced by U.S. universities is sufficient, the overwhelming percentage of these new scientists are foreign nationals. There is a demonstrable lack of U.S. graduate students. Attracting U.S. students to the chemical sciences at the graduate level is a challenge in all areas of research: federal, academic, and industrial.
SUMMARY AND FINDINGS
Researchers work on problems that have an impact on society. Focused efforts, solving problems that are seen as incredibly important, are the ones that will capture the public’s imagination and gain public support.
The benefits of a healthy infrastructure are numerous. A greater range of
possible research, and more research in a given time frame, will serve to feed the competitive engine, as well as help to develop new areas of research. For the graduate student, improvements in infrastructure can conceivably reduce the time necessary to earn a degree. For the general public, the benefits of a better understanding of science and technology would produce a new generation of analytically thinking people in the work force regardless of whether they choose the sciences as a career.
Finding: Chemical scientists are now and will increasingly be called upon to communicate with scientists in many other disciplines, and must learn to do so effectively.
Many advanced technologies have been enabled by the chemical sciences, yet they have required input from many different disciplines. Increasingly, fundamental ideas and innovative approaches to broad technical challenges that face society are being developed at the interfaces between these disciplines. Providing for innovation in an effective and timely manner requires seamless interaction between chemical scientists, engineers, biologists, physicists, electrical or mechanical engineers, device engineers, and computer scientists. It is the interactions and the interfaces between these previously perceived disparate disciplines that will create new opportunities for the future.