Posts about centers of excellence

Scientific Research Spending Cuts in the USA and Increases Overseas are Tempting Scientists to Leave the USA

Unlimited Potential, Vanishing Opportunity

Globally, the United States invests more real dollars in research and development than any other country. However, in terms of percentage of gross domestic product, the United States is reducing its investment in scientific research. In fact, of the 10 countries investing the most money in scientific research, the United States is the only country that has reduced its investment in scientific research as a percentage of GDP since 2011.

The study by 16 scientific societies surveyed 3,700 scientists in the USA. As a result of the difficult research funding environment 20% of the scientists are considering going overseas to continue their research careers.

I have written about the likelihood of the USA’s leadership position in science, engineering and technology diminishing. As I stated (see links below), it seemed obvious many other countries were more committed to investing in science now than the USA was (which is different than decades ago when the USA was the country most committed). Various factors would determine how quickly others would shrink the USA’s lead including whether they could setup the infrastructure (scientific, social and economic) and how much damage the anti-science politicians elected in the USA do.

The advantages of being the leader in scientific and engineering research and development are huge and long term. The USA has been coasting on the advantages built up decades ago and the benefits still poor into the USA economy. However, the USA has continued to take economically damaging actions due to the anti-science politics of many who we elect. That is going to be very costly for the USA. The losses will also accelerate sharply when the long term investments others are making bear significant fruit. Once the economic impact is obvious the momentum will continue in that direction for a decade or two even if the USA finally realizes the mistake and learns to appreciate the importance of investing in science.

The good news is that many other countries are making wise investments in science. Humanity will benefit from those investments. The downside of the decisions to cut investments in science (and to actively ignore scientific knowledge) in the USA are largely to move much of the economic gains to other countries, which is regrettable for the future economy of the USA.

Related: Economic Strength Through Technology LeadershipScience, Engineering and the Future of the American EconomyGlobal Scientific LeadershipCompetition to Create Scientific Centers of ExcellenceEngineering the Future EconomyWorldwide Science and Engineering Doctoral Degree Data (2005)

Britain’s Doctors of Innovation

photo of Susannah FlemmingSusannah Fleming, a PhD student at the University of Oxford life sciences interface doctoral training centre. She is developing a monitoring system to assess children when they first present to medical care. Source

Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson, announced the £250million (about $370 million) initiative which will create 44 training centres across the UK and generate over 2000 PhD students. They will tackle some of the biggest problems currently facing Britain such as climate change, energy, our ageing population, and high-tech crime.

17 of the centers will put specific emphasis on integrating industrial and business skills with the PhD education. This approach to training has been extensively piloted by EPSRC through a small number of thriving Engineering Doctorate Centres and Doctoral Training Centres in Complexity Science, Systems Biology and at the Life Sciences Interface. This new investment builds on the success of these and will establish a strong group of centres which will rapidly establish a pre-eminent international reputation for doctoral training.

The multidisciplinary centres bring together diverse areas of expertise to train engineers and scientists with the skills, knowledge and confidence to tackle today’s evolving issues. They also create new working cultures, build relationships between teams in universities and forge lasting links with industry.

As I have said before I think countries are smart to invest in their science and technology futures. In fact I believe creating centers of science and technology excellence is a key to future economic wealth.

Full press release: £250 Million to Create New Wave of Scientists and Engineers for Britain

Related: UK Science and Innovation GrantsUK Science and Research FundingNew Engineering School for EnglandBasic Science Research FundingBest Research University Rankings, 2008 (UK second to USA)Britain’s big challenges will be met by doctors of innovation

Stanford Gets $75 Million for Stem Cell Center

Stanford gets $75 million for stem cell center

With today’s announcement, Lokey more than doubles his commitment. School officials say he is the lead contributor for a $200 million stem cell research building that will break ground Oct. 27 and be finished in the summer of 2010. In a statement released by the medical school, Lokey said stem cells would be “as significant as the silicon chip that created Silicon Valley,” producing treatments for disease and saving lives.

He said he was driven to fund research after President Bush, in August 2001, forbid the use of federal funds for stem cell research that involved the destruction of human embryos. “It’s very narrow-minded,” Lokey said of the position. “This is about lives being saved.”

Some 350 scientists will work in the 200,000-square-foot Lorry I. Lokey Stem Cell Research Building, the school said. The center is also getting a $43.6 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The institute, the state’s $3 billion stem cell funding unit, was created by a 2004 state initiative from research advocates opposed to Bush’s restrictions.

Related: Chinese Stem Cell TherapiesScientists Cure Mice Of Sickle Cell Using Stem Cell TechniqueFunding Medical Researchpost on funding science

$92 Million for Engineering Research Centers

photo of Alex Huabg

NSF Launches Third Generation of Engineering Research Centers with Awards Totaling $92.5 Million. Each of the 5 sites will receive will use $18.5 million over five-years. Each center has international university partners and partners in industry.

The NSF Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), based at Iowa State University, seeks to transform the existing petrochemical-based chemical industry to one based on renewable materials.

The NSF Engineering Research Center for Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management (FREEDM) Systems, based at North Carolina State University, will conduct research to transform the nation’s power grid into an efficient network that integrates alternative energy generation and new storage methods with existing power sources.

The NSF ERC for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN), based at the University of Arizona, will conduct research to create transformative technologies for optical access networks that offer dramatically improved performance and expanded capabilities.

The NSF ERC for Revolutionizing Metallic Biomaterials, based at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, aims to transform current medial and surgical treatments by creating “smart” implants for craniofacial, dental, orthopedic and cardiovascular interventions.

The NSF Smart Lighting ERC, based at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, aims to create new solid-state lighting technologies to enable rapid biological imaging, novel modes of communication, efficient displays and safer transportation.

Photo: Alex Huang will lead direct the research of ways to integrate renewable energy sources into the nation’s power grid at North Carolina State University.

Related: $75 Million for 5 New Engineering Research CentersNSF Awards $50 Million for Collaborative Plant Biology ProjectPresidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineersposts related to the United States National Science Foundation

$400 Million More for Harvard and MIT

$400 million endowment for the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT

“Today the Broad Institute is the world’s leading genomics and biomedical institute, and we’re now making a $600 million bet that the Broad will be the place where the greatest scientific discoveries take place,” Eli Broad said at today’s ceremony.

In its short history, the Broad Institute’s accomplishments include cataloging and identifying genetic risk factors for diseases such as type 2 diabetes and autism; discovering new therapeutic targets for cancer, malaria, and other diseases; and applying genomic tools to better understand and treat human pathogens like tuberculosis.

The Broads’ gift is the largest to support biomedical research at a university anywhere in the world. The Broads initially invested $100 million in 2003 as a way to test the institute’s new approach to biomedical research. By 2005, the Broad Institute had already made significant accomplishments and progress, and the Broads invested a second $100 million. Their endowment of $400 million today will allow the Broad Institute to transition to a permanent, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with both Harvard and MIT still at the heart of it, continuing to help govern the institute.

Many countries would love to create a world class center of biomedical research. And several are trying. Boston sure seems to be staking a claim that it will be one of those centers of excellence. The economic benefits of that to Boston will be huge.

Related: Harvard Plans Life Sciences Campus$1 Billion for Life Sciences in MassachusettsChina’s Gene Therapy Investment$600 Million for Basic Biomedical Research from HHMIEdinburgh University $115 Million Stem Cell Center

Symptom of America’s Decline in Particle Physics

Land Of Big Science

Probing more deeply than ever before into the stuff of the universe requires some big hardware. It also requires the political will to lavish money on a project that has no predictable practical return, other than prestige and leadership in the branch of science that delivered just about every major technology of the past hundred years.

Those advances came, in large measure, from the United States. The coming decades may be different.

A third of the scientists working at the LHC hail from outside the 20 states that control CERN. America has contributed 1,000 or so researchers, the largest single contingent from any non-CERN nation.

The U.S. contribution amounts to $500 million—barely 5 percent of the bill. The big bucks have come from the Europeans. Germany is picking up 20 percent of the tab, the British are contributing 17 percent, and the French are giving 14 percent.

The most worrying prospect is that scientists from other countries, who used to flock to the United States to be where the action is, are now heading to Europe instead.

This is a point I have made before. The economic benefits of investing in science are real. The economic benefits of having science and engineering centers of excellence in your country are real. That doesn’t mean you automatically gain economic benefit but it is a huge advantage and opportunity if you act intelligently to make it pay off.

Related: Invest in Science for a Strong EconomyDiplomacy and Science ResearchAsia: Rising Stars of Science and EngineeringBrain Drain Benefits to the USA Less Than They Could Beposts on funding science explorationposts on basic researchAt the Heart of All Matter

$1 Billion for Life Sciences in Massachusetts

Petri dish for economic growth

So far, the signs are good. The bill commits $500 million for research facilities, infrastructure improvements, and other capital projects; $250 million for tax credits; and $250 million for research grants. The plan is flexible enough to support research at private institutions while making major investments at public universities. Patrick and legislators fended off the most flagrant attempts to divert money into political pet projects with little direct relevance to the biotech industry, such as $49.5 million for a science building at a state college with no graduate science programs.

As I have mentioned many times the centers of scientific excellence are important for economic success. Massachusetts has some great advantages with MIT, Harvard, many biotech companies… but still must continue to focus on staying a center of excellence.

Related: Harvard Plans Life Sciences CampusChina’s Gene Therapy Investment$600 Million for Basic Biomedical ResearchSingapore woos top scientists with new labsEconomic Strength Through Technology Leadership

Solar Energy: Economics, Government and Technology

An American Solar Opportunity Gets Shipped Abroad

The project will pour $1 billion into utility-scale photovoltaic solar farms that will directly feed power into a country’s electrical grid. The installations will range from fewer than 2 MW to up to 50 MW, while a single farm could cover hundreds and hundreds of acres.

They’ll be installed in Europe. In Asia. And maybe even in America too, one day. Why not now? Because AES wants to sow its solar seeds in only those countries that offer the most “attractive tariffs.” That eliminates the US from the list of potentials, immediately. And it gives countries like Germany, Spain, Italy and South Korea the clear advantage. They all have can’t-beat national incentives for solar developers.

It’s one of the sad facts of Washington’s incoherent clean energy policy these days. How can a country lure in clean energy projects when there are far more appealing offers elsewhere?

Government actions impact economic decisions. It will likely take more than 10 years to have good data on what government investments pay off in the energy sector. But I would say it is a pretty good bet to invest in technology such as: solar, geothermal, wind… Countries that create global centers of excellence in these areas are likely to benefit greatly. The only question I think is that many countries are smart enough to see the benefits and so likely many countries will try.

Any time many actors pursue the same economic strategy there is the risk that the payoff is diluted with so many others having done the same thing. Still the reason so many countries have adopted the strategy of developing centers of excellence in science, engineering and technology is that it is such a good idea. The USA has a problem in that we are spending more than we produce on luxuries today so there is much less available to invest compared to other countries (and compared to 40 years ago).

Related: Global Installed Capacity of Wind PowerInvest in Science for a Strong EconomyScience, Engineering and the Future of the American EconomyChina challenges scientific research dominance of USA, Europe and JapanGreen Energy in Canada

Drug Price Crisis

I don’t think the suggestion below really solves the drug price crisis. But I do think it is an example of an educational and research institution actually proposing sensible role for themselves. As I have said too many universities now act like they are for-profit drug or research companies: Funding Medical Research. For some background on drug prices read my post on the Curious Cat Management blog from 2005.

Solving the drug price crisis

The mounting U.S. drug price crisis can be contained and eventually reversed by separating drug discovery from drug marketing and by establishing a non-profit company to oversee funding for new medicines, according to two MIT experts on the pharmaceutical industry.

Following the utility model, Finkelstein and Temin propose establishing an independent, public, non-profit Drug Development Corporation (DDC), which would act as an intermediary between the two new industry segments — just as the electric grid acts as an intermediary between energy generators and distributors.

The DDC also would serve as a mechanism for prioritizing drugs for development, noted Finkelstein. “It is a two-level program in which scientists and other experts would recommend to decision-makers which kinds of drugs to fund the most. This would insulate development decisions from the political winds,” he said.

Book – Reasonable Rx: Solving the Drug Price Crisis by Stan Finkelstein and Peter Temin

Related: Lifestyle Drugs and RiskFrom Ghost Writing to Ghost Management in Medical JournalsUSA Spent $2.1 Trillion on Health Care in 2006Measuring the Health of NationsEconomic Strength Through Technology LeadershipUSA Paying More for Health Care

Seeking Solar Supremacy

The dance of the particles

Engineering professors Ray LaPierre, who is working with Cleanfield on solar cells made from a dense turf of nanowires, and Adrian Kitai, who co-founded Flexible Solar to make bendable solar panels that are less costly to manufacture, are showing how skills typically prized in the telecom sector can be repurposed to build better solar technologies.

Similar efforts are also being made at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Optical Sciences, where a new spin-off called The Solar Venture aims to improve the economics of solar. “Ontario was a global leader in telecom, but now that has slowed down,” says Rafael Kleiman, professor of engineering physics and director of McMaster’s Centre for Emerging Device Technologies. “All the people, all this research (in telecom), is finding a new home. I really believe Ontario can make itself a global hub in solar photovoltaic technologies.”

A solar cell is just a big specialized chip, so everything we’ve learned about making chips applies,” Paul Saffo, an engineering professor at Stanford University, recently told the New York Times. There’s a reason why California’s Silicon Valley, the headquarters of data-networking king Cisco Systems and semiconductor goliath Intel, is positioning itself as Solar Valley.

All around the world people are aiming to create centers of excellence for solar power research and production.

Related: Economic Strength Through Technology LeadershipLarge-Scale, Cheap Solar ElectricityEconomic Impact of Educational InstitutionsSolar Power InnovationNanotechnology Supports National Economic PolicyEntrepreneurial Engineers

At the Heart of All Matter

Large Hadron Collider at CERN

The hunt for the God particle by Joel Achenbach

Physics underwent one revolution after another. Einstein’s special theory of relativity (1905) begat the general theory of relativity (1915), and suddenly even such reliable concepts as absolute space and absolute time had been discarded in favor of a mind-boggling space-time fabric in which two events can never be said to be simultaneous. Matter bends space; space directs how matter moves. Light is both a particle and a wave. Energy and mass are inter- changeable. Reality is probabilistic and not deterministic: Einstein didn’t believe that God plays dice with the universe, but that became the scientific orthodoxy.

Most physicists believe that there must be a Higgs field that pervades all space; the Higgs particle would be the carrier of the field and would interact with other particles, sort of the way a Jedi knight in Star Wars is the carrier of the “force.” The Higgs is a crucial part of the standard model of particle physics—but no one’s ever found it.

The Higgs boson is presumed to be massive compared with most subatomic particles. It might have 100 to 200 times the mass of a proton. That’s why you need a huge collider to produce a Higgs—the more energy in the collision, the more massive the particles in the debris. But a jumbo particle like the Higgs would also be, like all oversize particles, unstable. It’s not the kind of particle that sticks around in a manner that we can detect—in a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a second it will decay into other particles. What the LHC can do is create a tiny, compact wad of energy from which a Higgs might spark into existence long enough and vivaciously enough to be recognized.

Previous posts on CERN and the Higgs boson: The god of small thingsCERN Prepares for LHC OperationsCERN Pressure Test FailureThe New Yorker on CERN’s Large Hadron Collider