ENGINEERING RESEARCH: THE ENGINE OF INNOVATION
American success has been based on the creativity, ingenuity, and courage of innovators, and innovation will continue to be critical to U.S. success in the twenty-first century. As a superpower with the largest and richest market in the world, the United States has consistently set the standard for technological advances, both creating innovations and absorbing innovations created elsewhere. From Neil Armstrong’s walk on the Moon to cellular camera phones, engineering and scientific advances have captured people’s imaginations and demonstrated the wonders of science.
The astounding technological achievements of the twentieth century would not have been possible without engineering (see Box 1), specifically engineering research, which
BOX 1 TWENTIETH-CENTURY INNOVATION
The greatest engineering achievements of the twentieth century led to innovations that transformed everyday life. Beginning with electricity, engineers have brought us a wide range of technologies, from the mundane to the spectacular. Refrigeration opened new markets for food and medicine. Air conditioning enabled population explosions in places like Florida and Arizona. The invention of the transistor, followed by integrated circuits, ushered in the age of ubiquitous computerization, impacting everything from education to entertainment. The control of electromagnetic radiation has given us not only radio and television, but also radar, x-rays, fiber optics, cell phones, and microwave ovens. The airplane and automobile have made the world smaller, and highways have transformed the landscape.
Even commonplace technologies, such as farm equipment, household appliances, water distribution, and medicine, required sophisticated engineering research and application. One of the essential, often overlooked, miracles of engineering in the twentieth century was the provision of clean drinking water, which was the primary contributor to doubling life expectancy in the United States.
So many complex engineering achievements have become part of everyday life that engineering and engineering research are often taken for granted. We give little thought, for example, to the vast worldwide system that brings oil from the ground to our fuel tanks. Without engineering research, the world would be less accessible, poorer, and far less interesting.
For more on the contributions of engineers, see Constable and Somerville, 2003.
leads to the conversion of scientific discoveries into functional, marketable, profitable products and services.
Engineers take new and existing knowledge and make it useful, typically generating new knowledge in the process. For example, an understanding of the physics of magnetic resonance on the atomic scale did not become useful in everyday life until engineers created magnetic resonance imaging machines and the computers to run them. And researchers could not have discovered these magnetic properties until engineers had created instrumentation that enabled them to pursue research on atomic and subatomic scales. Without engineering research, innovation, especially groundbreaking innovation that creates new industries and transforms old ones, simply does not happen.
In fact, groundbreaking innovation was the driving force behind American success in the last century. An endless number of innovations—from plastics to carbon fibers, electricity generation and distribution to wireless communications, clean water and transportation networks to pacemakers and dialysis machines—has transformed the economy, the military, and society, making Americans more prosperous, healthier, and safer in the process.
Consider, for example, the long, productive history of collaboration between engineering and medicine in the development of medical technologies (e.g., devices, equipment, and pharmaceuticals) and in support of medical research (e.g., instrumentation, computational tools, etc.) (NAE, 2003). Engineers created the tools of drug discovery and production, materials for joint replacements, lasers for eye surgery, heart-lung machines for open-heart surgery, and a host of imaging technologies, just to name a few remarkable achievements. Future engineering research will apply knowledge of microsystems and nanotechnology to diagnostics and therapeutics, providing effective treatment of a variety of chronic conditions (NAE, 2005a). Revolutions in bioengineering and genomics and the associated promise of huge advances in diagnostic tools and therapies testify to the continued vitality of the partnership between engineering and medicine.
Future breakthroughs dependent on engineering research will have equally powerful impacts. Sustainable energy technologies for power generation and transportation could
halt, and someday even reverse, the accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide and ozone. Low-cost, robust pumps, microfilters, and diagnostic tests could ensure that clean water is available to all and wipe out waterborne illnesses. Preventing terrorism could be greatly improved when vigilant sensors as small as grains of sand can activate autonomous robots to respond to security breaches (O’Harrow, 2004). Technological innovations already under development can make all of these things possible … with the help of engineers.
The innovations that flow from engineering research are not simply nice to have, like high-definition television; many are essential to the solutions of previously intractable challenges. Engineering research in materials, electronics, optics, software, mechanics, and many other fields will provide technologies to slow, or even reverse, global warming, to maintain water supplies for growing populations, to ameliorate traffic congestion and other urban maladies, and to generate high-value products and services to maintain the U.S. standard of living in a world of intense competition. To meet these and other grand challenges, the United States must be an innovation-driven nation that can capitalize on advances in life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering.
Based on current trends in research funding, graduate enrollments, and student achievement, however, serious doubts are emerging about the long-term health of the U.S. engineering research enterprise. Unless something is done quickly to reverse these trends, the United States risks becoming a consumer of innovations developed elsewhere rather than a leader. Leadership in the life sciences alone, although very important to the national welfare, will not be enough. To enjoy the full benefits of innovation, generate the jobs and wealth that flow from commercialization, and improve the lives of as many Americans as possible, the United States must invest in fundamental engineering research and the education and training of world-class researchers.
CHALLENGES TO SUSTAINED LEADERSHIP
The United States is part of a global economy, and research and development (R&D) are performed worldwide. Multinational corporations manage their R&D activities to take advantage of the most capable, most creative, and most cost-efficient engineering and scientific talent, wherever they find it. Smaller U.S. firms without global resources are facing stiff competition from foreign companies with access to talented scientists and engineers—many of them trained in the United States—who are the equals of any in this country. Relentless competition is driving a faster pace of innovation, shorter product life cycles, lower prices, and higher quality than ever before.
To meet the demands of global competition, other countries are investing heavily in the foundations of modern innovation systems, including research facilities and infrastructure and strong technical workforces (NSB, 2003). Some of the innovations that emerge from these investments will be driven by local market demands, but many will be developed for export markets. As other countries develop markets for technology-laden goods and international competition intensifies, it will become increasingly difficult for the United States to maintain a globally superior innovation system. Only by investing in engineering research and education can the United States retain its competitive advantage in high-value, technology-intensive products and services, thereby encouraging multinational companies to keep their R&D activities in this country.
Even though current measures of technological leadership—percentage of gross domestic product invested in R&D, absolute numbers of researchers, labor productivity, and high-technology production and exports—still favor the United States, a closer look at the engineering research and education enterprise and the age and makeup of the technical workforce reveals several interrelated trends indicating that the United States may have difficulty maintaining its global leadership in technological innovation over the long term. These well documented trends include: (1) a large and growing imbalance in federal research funding between the engineering and physical sciences on the one hand and biomedical and life sciences on the other; (2) increased emphasis on applied R&D in industry and government-funded research at the expense of fundamental long-term research; (3) erosion of the engineering research infrastructure due to inadequate investment over many years; (4) declining interest of American students in science, engineering, and other technical fields; and (5) growing uncertainty about the ability of the United States to attract and retain gifted science and engineering students from abroad at a time when foreign nationals account for a large, and productive, component of the U.S. R&D workforce (COSEPUP, 2000; Council on Competitiveness, 2001, 2004; PCAST, 2002, 2004a,b; NAE, 2003, 2004, 2005; NCMST, 2000; NRC, 2001).
IMBALANCE IN THE RESEARCH PORTFOLIO
Despite record levels of federal funding for research, most of the increases in the past quarter century have been focused on the life sciences, which currently account for about two-thirds of federal funds for academic R&D. In fiscal year (FY) 2002, 45 percent of these funds went directly to medical schools. By contrast, as data from the National Science Foundation (NSF) show, federal funding for research in other scientific and engineering fields has been relatively stagnant for the past two decades (Figure 1) (NSB, 2004). A new institute, the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, was created at the National Institutes of Health in late 2000, and support for applied engineering research did increase briefly between 2000 and 2003, mainly as a result of funding increases at the U.S. Departments of Defense (DOD) and Homeland Security (DHS), but subsequent federal budgets suggest a return to minimal increases (AAAS, 2005; NSB, 2004). Thus, the funding trend is on a collision course with the changing nature of technological innovation, which is becoming increasingly dependent on interdisciplinary, systems-oriented research.
“Medical advances may seem like wizardry. But pull back the curtain and sitting at the lever is a high-energy physicist, a combinatorial chemist, or an engineer…. In other words, the various sciences together constitute the vanguard of medical research.” Harold Varmus, Nobel Prize winner and former director of the National Institutes of Health (2000).
The National Academies have long urged the federal government to adopt a more strategic approach to prioritizing federal funding for R&D. In a report published in 1995, recommendations were proposed urging that federal investment be sufficient to (1) achieve absolute leadership in research areas of key strategic interest to the nation (e.g., areas that clearly determine public health and national security) and (2) keep the nation among the leaders in all other scientific and technological areas to ensure that rapid progress can be made in those areas in the event of technology surprises (NAS, 1995). The current federally funded R&D portfolio clearly falls short of both of these goals. Current investments
in engineering and physical science research are not sufficient to support the broad range of key national priorities, such as national defense, homeland security, and the economic competitiveness of American industry.
Indeed, the nation’s ability to capitalize on new knowledge resulting from large investments in life sciences research will depend on contributions from other sciences, especially engineering. Engineering research is founded on a disciplined approach to problem solving and the application of sophisticated modeling, design, and testing tools to solve problems. For instance, fundamental engineering research led to the creation of finite-element methods of stress analysis, which have provided sophisticated computational tools used by mechanical and structural engineers in a vast array of applications. Engineering researchers have also made significant progress in using molecular dynamics to measure time more precisely, a critical enabling technology for faster computers, global positioning systems, wireless communications, and many other products in common use.
Many other technologies are based on the results of fundamental engineering research, mostly conducted at universities. Thus, the investment gap between basic research in the life sciences and fundamental, long-term research in complementary disciplines in engineering and other fields not only undermines the nation’s capacity to capitalize on life sciences research, but also compromises its ability to address large, complex challenges and take advantage of technological opportunities related to energy sustainability, affordable health care, and homeland security.
Broadly speaking, the most daunting challenges facing the nation in health care delivery, energy production and distribution, environmental remediation and sustainability, national and homeland security, communications, and transportation pose complex systems challenges that require parallel advances in knowledge in multiple disciplines of engineering and science and collaboration and cross-fertilization among disciplines. In fact, both basic and applied engineering research will be critical to the design and control of processes and systems on which every major sector of the U.S. economy depends and will be essential to meeting the challenges and taking advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead. Yet federal investment in engineering and physical science research, particularly long-term fundamental research, associated infrastructure, and education, does not reflect their critical importance.
RECOMMENDATION 1. The committee strongly recommends that the federal R&D portfolio be rebalanced by increasing funding for research in engineering and physical science to levels sufficient to support the nation’s most urgent priorities, such as national defense, homeland security, health care, energy security, and economic competitiveness. Allocations of federal funds should be determined by a strategic analysis to identify areas of research in engineering and science that support these priorities. The analysis should explicitly include interdependencies among engineering and scientific disciplines to ensure that important advances are supported by advances in complementary fields to accelerate technology transfer and innovation.
DECLINE IN LONG-TERM RESEARCH
The imbalance in federal funding for research, combined with a shift in funding by industry and federal mission agencies from long-term basic research to short-term applied research, raises concerns about the level of support for long-term, fundamental engineering research. The market conditions that once supported industrial investment in basic research at AT&T, IBM, RCA, General Electric, and other giants of corporate America no longer hold. Because of competitive pressures, U.S. industry has downsized its large, corporate R&D laboratories in physical sciences and engineering and reduced its already small share of funding for long-term, fundamental research. Although industry currently accounts for almost three-quarters of the nation’s R&D expenditures, its focus is primarily on short-term applied research and product development. In some industries, such as consumer electronics, even product development is increasingly being outsourced to foreign contractors (Engardio et al., 2005).
Consequently, federal investment in long-term research in universities and national laboratories has become increasingly important to sustaining the nation’s technological strength. But just as industry has greatly reduced its investment in long-term engineering research, engineering-intensive mission agencies have also shifted their focus to short-term research. For example, DOD funding for both basic and applied research has fallen substantially from peak levels in the 1990s, and cuts of more than 20 percent in 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3 budget categories are projected for FY 2006 (AAAS, 2005). Given the importance of DOD funding to engineering research in key disciplines—DOD funds about 40 percent of engineering research at universities and more than 50 percent of research in electrical and mechanical engineering—these reductions have had a significant impact on the level of fundamental research conducted in a number of engineering fields (NRC, 2005).
Currently, most support for engineering research comes from federal mission agencies and NSF. Major federal initiatives by mission agencies in areas such as manned space flight, energy, and defense have played a critical role in stimulating the nation’s capacity to engage in large-scale complex systems engineering and engineering research. Within NSF, the Engineering Directorate has historically focused on basic engineering research and the integration of research and education through engineering research centers (ERCs) and other mechanisms. Thus, NSF is uniquely situated to catalyze change in engineering research, education, and practice and to head a buildup of long-term fundamental engineering research at the nation’s universities. NSF is especially important for linking basic engineering research and education to fundamental scientific discoveries in physical, natural, and social sciences.
The committee believes that restoring long-term engineering research in industry to a substantial level would enhance the nation’s long-term economic health. Although publicly traded corporations continue to be subject to intense financial pressures to limit R&D to near-term product development, a strong case can be made for federal incentives to encourage individual companies or consortia to reestablish basic research programs. In
addition, more investment by NSF and mission agencies will be necessary, not only to keep pace with the accelerating rate of technological change, but also to meet the economic, social, environmental, and security challenges of an increasingly competitive, knowledge-driven, global economy.
RECOMMENDATION 2. Long-term basic engineering research should be reestablished as a priority for American industry. The federal government should design and implement tax incentives and other policies to stimulate industry investment in long-term engineering research (e.g., tax credits to support private sector investment in university-industry collaborative research).
EROSION OF THE ENGINEERING RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURE
One result of the stagnation of federal investment in engineering research has been the deterioration of the engineering research infrastructure at many schools of engineering. Only a few research universities have facilities adequate for advanced engineering research that can support increasingly systems-oriented, interdisciplinary technological innovation. Many engineering schools operate in old facilities, with laboratory equipment dating from before the invention of the transistor, let alone the personal computer. These institutions do not have the clean rooms, information systems, or instrumentation necessary to contribute to technological leadership.
Research in many fields of engineering requires sophisticated, expensive equipment and instruments that rapidly depreciate. Effective research in many areas of microelectronics, bioengineering, and materials science requires Class 10 and Class 100 clean rooms and precision instruments; costs for these can exceed $100 million. Research and education in emerging fields, such as quantum computing, as well as established fields, such as nuclear engineering, are suffering for want of resources for the development and/or maintenance of facilities. In fact, it will take billions of dollars to update facilities at hundreds of engineering schools nationwide. This investment, however, would create geographically dispersed, world-class research facilities that would make engineering attractive to more students (at home and from abroad), stimulate cooperation, and maybe competition, among research groups working on related problems, and provide a locus for networks of researchers and clusters of industry across the nation.
RECOMMENDATION 3. Federal and state governments and industry should invest in upgrading and expanding laboratories, equipment, and information technologies and meeting
other infrastructural needs of research universities and schools of engineering to ensure that the national capacity to conduct world-class engineering research is sufficient to address the technical challenges that lie ahead.
ENDANGERED TECHNICAL WORKFORCE
A technically skilled workforce is essential to maintaining leadership in innovation. Although future demand for specific science and engineering skills is notoriously difficult to predict, it is reasonable to assume that an increasingly technical world will require a technically proficient workforce. We can also predict that meeting national and homeland security needs will require many more U.S. citizens who are educated in engineering. But simply increasing the number of engineers will not be enough. The United States needs engineers with the skills, imagination, and drive to compete and take the lead in the world. Moreover, the United States must ensure that it can still attract talented scientists and engineers from abroad.
The stagnating federal investment in engineering research and research infrastructure has weakened the human-capital foundation of the engineering research enterprise. The innovation-driven nation we envision will require a large cadre of engineering researchers with the depth of knowledge and creativity to create breakthrough technologies and systems. In addition to solid grounding in fundamental engineering concepts, these engineers must have the ability to address complex systems in multidisciplinary research environments.
However, like the engineering research infrastructure, the engineering professoriate is aging rapidly. The faculty hiring boom of the 1960s, which was followed by a sharp down-turn in hiring in the 1970s and a moderate pace since then, has resulted in increasing numbers of engineering faculty at or near retirement age (NSB, 2003). Along with many other factors, the aging research infrastructure and aging faculty, combined with inadequate support for and commitment to long-term, interdisciplinary research and associated curricular innovation, have made it extremely difficult to interest qualified American students in pursuing undergraduate and graduate programs in engineering and science.
Comparisons with other countries reveal alarming differences. In China and Japan, more than two-thirds of bachelor’s degrees are awarded in science and engineering. In the 25 member countries of the European Union, 36 percent of bachelor’s degrees are in science and engineering, compared to only 24 percent in the United States, even though a comparable number of degrees are awarded. The gap is even larger for science and engineering Ph.D.s, (OECD, 2003).
In addition, American secondary schools are not graduating enough students with sufficient skills in mathematics and science to ensure that an adequate supply of technically competent workers will be available to meet future needs. International comparisons of math and science proficiency at various grade levels indicate that, although American primary school students perform well, U.S. high school students perform relatively poorly (Martin et al., 2004; Mullis et al., 1998; National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, 2000; OECD, 2004). In a 1995 international assessment of mathematics and science achievement in the final years of secondary school, American high school students ranked close to last among students in the 21 nations tested (Mullis et al., 1998). Eight years later, despite significant investment and attention to the problem in K–12 education, a similar assessment of mathematics achievement of first- and second-year high school students showed little improvement. In 2004, American students ranked between 25th and 28th among students in the 41 nations tested (OECD, 2004).
RECOMMENDATION 4. Considering the importance of technological innovation to the nation, a major effort should be made to increase the participation of American students in engineering. To this end, the committee endorses the findings and recommendations of the 2005 National Academy of Engineering report, Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century, which calls for system-wide efforts by professional societies, industry, federal agencies, and educators at the higher education and K–12 levels to align the engineering curriculum and engineering profession with the needs of a global, knowledge-driven economy with the goal of increasing student interest in engineering careers. Engineering education requires innovations, not only in the content of engineering curricula, but also in teaching methods that emphasize the creative aspects of engineering to excite and motivate students.
One key approach to increasing the number of U.S. citizens with advanced degrees in science and engineering is to attract more women and minorities to these fields. Currently, males receive more than 75 percent of the doctoral degrees granted in physical sciences, mathematics and computer science, and engineering, and more than two-thirds of graduate students in these fields are white (Figure 2). Increasing diversity in the engineering student population and, ultimately, the engineering workforce will be essential to generating the intellectual vitality and tapping into the reservoirs of talent essential to long-term U.S. economic and technological success.
In April 2004, White House Science Advisor Dr. John Marburger stated:
The future strength of the U.S. science and engineering workforce is imperiled by two long-term trends. First, the global competition for science and engineering talent is intensifying, such that the U.S. may not be able to rely on the international
science and engineering labor market for its unmet skill needs. Second, the number of native-born science and engineering graduates entering the workforce is likely to decline unless the nation intervenes to improve the education of science and engineering students from all demographic groups, especially those that have been underrepresented in science and engineering careers.
Clearly, an important part of a strategy for reinvigorating U.S. engineering research capacity will be attracting more women and underrepresented minorities into science and engineering careers. This will require both a major commitment and more effective strategies for diversifying the science and engineering workforce.
RECOMMENDATION 5. All participants and stakeholders in the engineering community (industry, government, institutions of higher education, professional societies, et al.) should place a high priority on encouraging women and underrepresented minorities to pursue careers in engineering. Increasing diversity will not only increase the size and quality of the engineering workforce, but will also introduce diverse ideas and experiences that can stimulate creative approaches to solving difficult challenges. Although this is likely to require a very significant increase in investment from both public and private
sources, increasing diversity is clearly essential to sustaining the capacity and quality of the U.S. scientific and engineering workforce.
Up to now, foreign nationals have made up for the shortfall in domestic technical talent. More than 50 percent of U.S. workers with doctorates in engineering and nearly 30 percent with master’s degrees in engineering in 2000 were foreign nationals (NSB, 2003). In U.S. graduate schools, almost one-third of all science and engineering graduate students are foreign-born; in computer science and engineering, the proportion is almost half (NSF, 2004a). The U.S. R&D workforce in industry and academia is, and will continue to be, heavily dependent on foreign nationals, who have made significant contributions to U.S. innovation in the past and will certainly continue to do so in the future (NAE, 1996; National Academies, 2003).
However, as technical capabilities and economic opportunities abroad improve and as global competition for workers skilled in science and engineering increases, questions are being raised about the ability of the United States to continue to attract and retain as many foreign-born engineers and scientists in the future (NSB, 2003). Moreover, post-9/11 changes to U.S. immigration procedures may make attracting and retaining foreign scientists and engineers even more difficult (National Academies, 2003; NSB, 2003).
At the same time, the national security research establishment, which will be looking for a large technical workforce for the foreseeable future and is currently populated by a rapidly aging engineering workforce, has introduced strict security requirements that often preclude the hiring of foreign-born engineers and scientists (DOE, 1995; Sega, 2004). Thus, the technical requirements for national defense and homeland security are contributing to the growing demand for engineers who are U.S. citizens.
RECOMMENDATION 6. A major federal fellowship-traineeship program in strategic areas (e.g., energy; info-, nano-, and biotechnology; knowledge services; etc.), similar to the program created by the National Defense Education Act, should be established to ensure that the supply of next-generation scientists and engineers is adequate.
RECOMMENDATION 7. Immigration policies and practices should be streamlined (without compromising homeland security) to restore the flow of talented students, engineers, and scientists from around the world into American universities and industry.
ROLE OF COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES
Colleges anduniversities have a long history of contributing to U.S. preeminence in technological innovation. Since 1862 when the Morrill Act created land-grant universities, Congress has passed legislation to support institutions of higher education as providers of new knowledge and educators of the technical workforce. The Hatch Act of 1887 created agricultural and engineering experiment stations to encourage technological advances in agriculture and the emerging industrial economy (see Box 2). The second Morrill Act of 1890, which created 17 originally black land-grant colleges, provided opportunities for minority students to participate in knowledge-based
BOX 2 AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATIONS
Created by the Hatch Act of 1887, agricultural experiment stations are the agricultural research arm of land-grant universities. Their mission is to conduct research, investigations, and experiments bearing on and contributing to the establishment and maintenance of a permanent and effective agricultural industry in the United States. When the Hatch Act was passed, farmers made up most of the population and controlled most of the assets and inputs associated with agricultural industry.
Research at agricultural experiment stations both contributed to and benefited from the industrialization of U.S. agriculture. Over the years, research has led to the development of standardized equipment, seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, feed formulations, farm management, marketing, food processing, distribution, and transportation. In addition, farmers and agricultural scientists have been educated and trained (Holt and Bullock, 1999).
Core funding for agricultural experiment stations is provided by a combination of state and federal monies. Federal funding is allocated to each state based on a formula that takes into account the state’s rural population and research cooperation. Average federal funding per state is $2.8 million annually. Federal funds must be matched dollar for dollar with nonfederal funding.
Source: DOA, 2004.
occupations. The G.I. Bill in the 1940s, which provided educational opportunities to returning servicemen and servicewomen, laid the foundations for America’s preeminence in science and engineering. Large-scale government investment in research at academic medical centers laid the foundations for U.S. preeminence in biomedicine (see Box 3).
By combining research with education, universities not only tap into the creativity of young people, but also train them in critical thinking, research methodologies, and solid engineering skills. Because of the high quality of the people and tools provided by American universities, industries have chosen to locate their facilities in the United States, and emerging industries have tended to cluster around major engineering research universities (e.g., Silicon Valley, Route 128, Research Triangle, etc.) where they have access to a continuous supply of technical talent.
BOX 3 ACADEMIC MEDICAL CENTERS
Academic medical centers (AMCs) typify an innovative model in which research, teaching, education, and practice are integrated to achieve a constant upward spiral of the development and implementation of medical technology and the training and education of skilled professionals prepared to make full use of medical innovations. A typical AMC comprises a medical school, a teaching hospital, a network of affiliated hospitals, and a nursing school. Some AMCs also have schools of dentistry, schools for allied health professionals, and schools of public health. These complex, multifunctional organizations have a three-part mission:
Between 1960 and 1992, the average medical school budget in the United States increased nearly tenfold. Basic science faculty increased from 4,023 to 15,579, and clinical faculty increased even more rapidly, from 7,201 to 65,913. As of the late 1990s, about 30 percent of all health-related R&D in the nation was being done at AMCs.
AMC research is funded from a variety of sources. The federal government funds the majority of AMC research (nearly 70 percent), especially basic biomedical research. Foundations, philanthropic organizations, and individual donors are also important sources of research funding. In addition, a substantial portion of research is funded internally. Revenues from faculty practice plans, for example, underwrite about 9 percent of research (mostly clinical). Universities also provide institutional funding to support the direct costs of research.
Source: NAE, 2003.
An academic campus is one of the few places where precompetitive, use-inspired, long-term basic research can be conducted without the constraints of quarterly earnings. In partnership with industry and national laboratories, universities can bring together experts from many disciplines to investigate problems related to agency missions or meet specific product/service goals. At the same time, university students can learn systems thinking and gain an understanding of market forces through internships and participation in research projects. No other institutions have the same capabilities.
The federal government must take the lead in initiating and sustaining investment to maximize the potential of universities to generate human capital, fundamental knowledge, and systems understanding. With sufficient resources, many schools of engineering could modernize their facilities, thereby making engineering much more attractive to incoming freshmen and helping to sustain their interest in pursuing advanced degrees. Engineering laboratories with state-of-the-art technology would greatly improve the quality of engineering education and create opportunities for thousands of creative young people to contribute to the innovation process. Increased funding for engineering research would also create opportunities for doctoral students and attract gifted U.S. citizens, as well as talented students from around the world, to doctoral programs. The influx of dollars and creativity would make research more exciting and diverse.
Today, most federal investment in engineering research and education is provided by a handful of mission agencies—DOD, DHS, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA)—as well as NSF (NSB, 2003). Although NSF is a relatively small contributor, the agency plays an important role in linking basic engineering research and education to fundamental scientific discoveries in physical, natural, and social sciences.
In the past two decades, NSF has sponsored a significant number of interdisciplinary research centers involving engineering. Most prominent among these are the 22 university-based ERCs, each focusing on a single topical area. To ensure that the research is directed toward meeting real-world needs, the research priorities for ERCs are agreed upon by industry and the university. Other university-based research centers involving engineering include NSF science and technology centers and materials research science and engineering centers; DOE materials research centers; DOT transportation research centers; and the nanotechnology research centers sponsored by NSF, NASA, and DOE (DOE, 2004; DOT, 2004; NNI, 2004; NSF, 2004b,c). The activities of these multidisciplinary centers have not only contributed to the solutions of engineering-systems problems, but have also expanded the educational scope of students, faculty, and industry researchers (NSF, 2004c; Parker, 1997).
In spite of severe fiscal constraints, several large states have recognized that research and technology-development capacity are key elements in restoring their economic prosperity in an intensely competitive, global, technology-driven marketplace. California, Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states have either made or are planning to make major investments in their research universities in specific technological areas, including nanotechnology, biotechnology, and information systems and communications (CAL-ISI, 2004; Ohio 3rd Frontier Project, 2004; Seely, 2004; State of Texas, 2004). The governor of Texas, for example, recently announced plans to invest $150 million in regional centers of innovation and commercialization to house collaborative projects between universities and private industry (State of Texas, 2004). In California, centers have been created throughout the University of California system to focus resources on advanced technology development (CAL-ISI, 2004). Many other state governments have acknowledged the importance of technology-based economic development and the critical role of universities, particularly schools of engineering, in their economic development strategies.
RECOMMENDATION 8. Links between industry and research universities should be expanded and strengthened. The committee recommends that the following actions, funded through a combination of tax incentives and federal grants, be taken:
Support new initiatives that foster multidisciplinary research to address major challenges facing the nation and the world.
Streamline and standardize intellectual property and technology-transfer policies in American universities to facilitate the transfer of new knowledge to industry.
Support industry engineers and scientists as visiting “professors of practice” in engineering and science faculties.
Provide incentives for corporate R&D laboratories to host advanced graduate and postdoctoral students (e.g., fellowships, internships, etc.).
DISCOVERY-INNOVATION INSTITUTES: A PATH AHEAD
U.S. leadership in innovation will require commitments and investments of funds and energy by the private sector, federal and state governments, and colleges and universities. The committee believes that a bold, transformative initiative, similar in character and scope to initiatives undertaken in response to other difficult challenges (e.g., the Land Grant Acts, the G.I. Bill, and the government-university research partnerships) will be necessary for the United States to maintain its leadership in technological innovation. The United States will have to reshape its engineering research, education, and practices to respond to challenges in global markets, national security, energy sustainability, and public health. The changes we envision are not only technological, but also cultural; they will affect the structure of organizations and relationships between institutional sectors of the country. This task cannot be accomplished by any one sector of society. The federal government, states, industry, foundations, and academia must all be involved.
Research universities are critical to generating new knowledge, building new infrastructure, and educating innovators and entrepreneurs. The Land-Grant Acts of the nineteenth century and the G.I. Bill and government-university research partnerships of the twentieth century showed how federal action can catalyze fundamental change. In the past, universities dealt primarily with issues and problems that could be solved either by a disciplinary approach or by a multidisciplinary approach among science and engineering disciplines (e.g., ERCs). To meet future challenges, however, universities will need a new approach that includes schools of business, social sciences, law, and humanities, as well as schools of science, engineering, and medicine. Solving the complex systems challenges ahead will require the efforts of all of these disciplines.
RECOMMENDATION 9. Multidisciplinary discovery-innovation institutes should be established on the campuses of research universities to link fundamental scientific discoveries with technological innovations to create products, processes, and services to meet the needs of society. Funding should be provided by federal and state governments, industry, foundations, the venture capital and investing community, and universities.
Discovery-innovation institutes would be foci for long-term fundamental and applied engineering research on major societal challenges and opportunities, would create new models of sectoral and disciplinary interaction on university campuses, and, indeed, would change the culture of research in this country. The committee envisions a large number of diverse institutes, some based at single universities, some involving consortia of institutions, and some focused on strengthening the research and educational capacity of a wide variety of institutions. With the participation of many scientific disciplines and professions, as well as various economic sectors (e.g., industry, federal and state governments, foundations, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists), the institutes would be similar in character and scale to academic medical centers and agricultural experiment stations. In scope and transformational power, discovery-innovation institutes would be analogous to the agricultural experiment stations created by the Hatch Act of 1887 and the complementary creation of cooperative extension programs authorized by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914.
Operationally, discovery-innovation institutes would be comparable to academic medical centers, which combine research, education, and practice in state-of-the-art facilities and address significant national priorities rather than applications-driven research and technology centers, such as engineering experiment stations and federally funded R&D centers (e.g., MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory and Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute). Like academic medical centers and other large research initiatives, discovery-innovation institutes would stimulate significant commercial activity, as clusters of start-up firms, private research organizations, suppliers, and other complementary groups and businesses locate nearby; in this way, the institutes would stimulate regional economic development. Some of the existing NSF-sponsored ERCs could serve as starting points for the development of discovery-innovation institutes. An effective way to initiate a discovery-innovation institute program on a pilot basis might be to expand the charter of one or two ERCs to include the multidisciplinary scope and scale of the research, education, innovation, and technology transfer activity of fully developed discovery-innovation institutes.
Discovery-innovation institutes would require the active involvement of industry and national laboratories to fulfill their missions of conducting long-term research to convert basic scientific discoveries into innovative products, processes, services, and systems. They would stimulate the creation of new infrastructure, encourage (in fact, require) interdisciplinary linkages, and lead to the development of educational programs that could produce new knowledge for innovation and educate the engineers, scientists, innovators, and
entrepreneurs of the future (Figure 3). Discovery-innovation institutes would be characterized by partnership, interdisciplinary research, education, and outreach.
The federal government would provide core support for the discovery-innovation institutes on a long-term basis (perhaps a decade or more, with possible renewal). States would be required to contribute to the institutes (perhaps by providing capital facilities). Industry would provide challenging research problems, systems knowledge, and real-life market knowledge, as well as staff who would work with university faculty and students in the institutes. Industry would also fund student internships and provide direct financial support for facilities and equipment (or share its facilities and equipment). Universities would commit to providing a policy framework (e.g., transparent and efficient intellectual property policies, flexible faculty appointments, responsible financial management, etc.), educational opportunities (e.g., integrated curricula, multifaceted student interaction), knowledge and technology transfer (e.g., publications, industrial outreach), and additional investments (e.g., in physical facilities and cyberinfrastructure). Finally, the venture capital and investing community would contribute expertise in licensing, spin-off companies, and other avenues of commercialization.
Although most discovery-innovation institutes would involve engineering schools (just as the agricultural experiment stations involve schools of agriculture), they would require strong links with other academic programs that generate fundamental new knowledge through basic research (e.g., physical sciences, life sciences, and social sciences), as well as other disciplines critical to the innovation process (e.g., business, medicine, and other professional disciplines). These campus-based institutes would also attract the participation (and possibly financial support) of established innovators and entrepreneurs.
Engineering schools and other programs related to the discovery-innovation institutes would be stimulated to restructure their organizations, research activities, and educational programs. Changes would reflect the interdisciplinary team approaches for research that can convert new knowledge into innovative products, processes, services, and systems and, at the same time, provide graduates with the skills necessary for innovation. These changes would also generate strategies for retaining undergraduates in engineering programs and attracting and retaining students from diverse backgrounds. Discovery-innovation institutes would provide a mechanism for developing and implementing innovative curricula and teaching methods.
Just as the success of the agricultural experiment stations depended on their ability to disseminate new technologies and methodologies to the farming community through the cooperative extension service, a key factor in the success of discovery-innovation institutes would be their ability to facilitate implementation of their discoveries in the user community. Extensive outreach efforts based on existing industry and manufacturing extension programs at engineering schools would be an essential complement to the research and educational activities of the institutes. Outreach should also include programs for K–12 students and teachers that would build enthusiasm for the innovation process and generate interest in math and science.
This initiative would stimulate and support a very wide range of discovery-innovation institutes, depending on the capacity and regional characteristics of a university or consortium and on national priorities. Some institutes would enter into partnerships directly with particular federal agencies or national laboratories to address fairly specific technical challenges, but most would address broad national priorities that would require relationships with several federal agencies. Awards would be made based on (1) programs that favor fundamental research driven by innovation in a focused area; (2) strong industry commitment; (3) multidisciplinary participation; and (4) national need. Periodic reviews
BOX 4 LARGE COMPLEX SYSTEMS
The development of methodologies for creating very large, complex systems would be an ideal focus for a discovery-innovation institute. Experience shows that the development of such systems always costs more and takes longer than anticipated, and usually results in less capability than desired. The solutions require the integration of knowledge from many disciplines and the modification of plans based on experience gained from the implementation of subsystems.
To create systems on a “learn as you go” basis requires a strategy for collecting and analyzing information from the early use of subsystems and dynamic management of budgets and schedules, without compromising accountability. However, there are no accepted methodologies for this type of sequential management of systems based on incremental implementation. Even selecting the sequence of subsystem implementation based on where the most valuable experience is likely to be gained as early as possible is not standard practice.
Although computer-based tools are emerging to improve collaboration among large teams working on common problems, analogous tools for the development of large, complex systems are not available. Systems-engineering researchers at the nation’s universities could integrate research from many disciplines to develop new methodologies and tools for the creation and management of large, complex systems. Faculty members who work on these projects would gain direct experience with the pressures and problems of system development.
System development could lead to new approaches to embedding automated information-collection capabilities into systems, using collaborative computing to gain early insight into system performance, broadening the education of engineers to include exposure to management complexities, and developing new materials for research and education.
These systems reside and operate in a complex environment that raises financial, political, social, and ethical issues. Mobilizing multidisciplinary teams to address these issues would be an important step toward maximizing their social and economic benefits.
would ensure that the institutes remain productive and continue to progress on both short- and long-term deliverables. The examples below suggest some areas of focus for institutes (see also Boxes 4 and 5):
Institutes linking engineering with the physical sciences, social sciences, environmental sciences, and business programs to address the urgent national challenge of developing sustainable energy sources, including, for instance, the production, storage, distribution, and uses of hydrogen-based fuels for transportation.
Institutes linking engineering with the creative arts (visual and performing arts, architecture, and design) and the cognitive sciences (psychology, neuroscience) to conduct research on the innovation process per se.
Institutes linking engineering systems research with business schools, medical schools, schools of education, and the social and behavioral sciences to address issues associated with the knowledge-services sector of the economy.
BOX 5 BEYOND CMOS
Semiconductors represent a critical foundational technology for innovation in most industries and have helped the United States achieve unprecedented economic prosperity and defense superiority. Most semiconductor products are based on CMOS technology, which is likely to reach its fundamental limits—primarily for power dissipation and reliability—in about 15 years. Because there is typically a 15-year lag from research to production, the time to initiate the successor to CMOS is now. The successor technology will be in the broad area of nanoelectronics, but currently it is neither defined nor understood.
The Semiconductor Industry Association has proposed the concept of a nanoelectronics research initiative (NRI) to meet this urgent need. The objective of the NRI is: “By 2020 to discover and reduce to practice via technology transfer to industry novel non-CMOS devices, technology, and new manufacturing paradigms which will extend the historical cost/function reduction, along with increased performance and density for another several orders of magnitude beyond the limits of CMOS.”
Like the discovery-innovation institutes initiative, the NRI is envisioned as a partnership of industry, government, and academia. The NRI would be primarily university-based, with federal funds leveraged by state and industry contributions. Industry assignees will effectively and swiftly move results from universities to companies.
Source: Apte and Matisoo, 2004.
Institutes linking engineering with social sciences and professional schools to conduct research on communication networks to determine capacity, identify bottlenecks, estimate extendibility, and define performance characteristics of complex systems that comprise terrestrial, wired, wireless, and satellite subnets, as well as the legal, ethical, political, and social issues raised by the universal accessibility of information.
Institutes linking engineering, business, and public policy programs with biomedical sciences programs to develop drugs, medical procedures, protocols, and policies to address the health care needs and complex societal choices for an aging population.
The committee recognizes that federal and state budgets are severely constrained and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, with revised national R&D investment priorities and public understanding of the critical need for public investment in research to sustain national security and prosperity, the required sums could be made available. The level of investment and commitment would be analogous to the investments in the late nineteenth century that created and sustained the agricultural experiment stations, which endure to this day and have had incalculable benefits for agriculture and the nation as a whole. We expect similar results from discovery-innovation institutes.
On the federal level, the discovery-innovation institutes should be funded jointly by agencies with responsibilities for basic research and missions that address major national
priorities (e.g., NSF, DOE, NASA, DOD, DHS, DOT, U.S. Department of Commerce, Envirnmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
States would be required to contribute to the institutes (perhaps by providing capital facilities). Industry would provide challenging research problems, systems knowledge, and real-life market knowledge, as well as staff who would work with university faculty and students in the institutes. Industry would also fund student internships and provide direct financial support for facilities and equipment (or share its facilities and equipment). Universities would commit to providing a policy framework (e.g., transparent and efficient intellectual property policies, flexible faculty appointments, responsible financial management, etc.), educational opportunities (e.g., integrated curricula, multifaceted student interaction), knowledge and technology transfer (e.g., publications, industrial outreach), and additional investments (e.g., in physical facilities and cyberinfrastructure). Finally, the venture capital and investing community would contribute expertise in licensing, spin-off companies, and other avenues of commercialization.
Exciting opportunities in engineering lie ahead. Some involve rapidly emerging fields, such as information systems, bioengineering, and nanotechnology. Others involve critical national needs, such as sustainable energy sources and homeland security. Still others involve the restructuring of engineering education to ensure that engineering graduates have the skills, understanding, and imagination to design and manage complex systems. To take advantage of these opportunities, however, investment in engineering education and research must be a much higher priority.
The United States has the proven ability and resources to take the global lead in innovation. Scientists and engineers can meet the technological challenges of the twenty-first century, just as they responded to the challenges of World War II by creating the tools for military victory and just as they mounted an effective response to the challenge of Sputnik and Soviet advances in space. With adequate federal investment and the participation of other stakeholders in engineering research, education, and professional practice, we can realize this vision.
The country is at a crossroads. We can either continue on our current course—living on incremental improvements to past technical developments and gradually conceding technological leadership to trading partners abroad—or we can take control of our destiny and conduct the necessary research, capture the intellectual property, commercialize and manufacture the products, and create the high-skill, high-value jobs that define a prosperous nation.
“We are not graduating the volume [of scientists and engineers], we do not have a lock on the infrastructure, we do not have a lock on the new ideas, and we are either flat-lining, or in real dollars cutting back, our investments in physical science. The only crisis the U.S. thinks it is in today is the war on terrorism. It’s not!” Craig Barrett, CEO of Intel and current chairman of the National Academy of Engineering (Friedman, 2004).
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