Government’s Support for Long-Term Research

Friday, Aug 17, 2012, 12:00am

by Semiconductor Industry Association


(The following article originally appeared in Solid State Technology, Volume 55, Issue 6, July 2012)

The Federal government continues to send encouraging messages that the 2013 budget will include support for basic long-term university technology research in physical science and engineering.

As an industry, we cannot emphasize enough the critical role that university research plays in the future of technology and the nation’s economy in general. The world-class U.S. university system built through decades of steady government support serves as a foundation for public-private partnerships, such as the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), a non-profit industry consortium that partners with government agencies to support additional university research. This combined investment has produced new ideas and relevantly educated graduates, who have fueled our next-generation technologies and served as our technology leaders.

University research is America’s ace in the hole. It is the means by which we educate the best and brightest, and it isn’t a spigot that can be turned off and on without hamstringing the educational system and the nation’s future economy. The university research engine has made the U.S. the cradle of discovery and innovation that created industries including aerospace, biotechnology, information technology and all that is enabled by the Internet.

These high-tech industries, which share the semiconductor as their empowering workhorse, have generated tremendous economic growth and millions of highly skilled and highly paid jobs. Moreover, the semiconductor industry has enhanced the standard of living worldwide through the products it enables that shape our lives. These computer chips were born in the U.S. thanks to farsighted investment in basic research by the Federal government.

Today’s technology-based economy critically depends on a robust university research enterprise—producing fundamental scientific advances and, just as importantly, well-educated scientists and engineers who can compete in a global economic playing field. What’s not easy is finding the resources—the brightest minds and the funds—to fuel that research, especially in challenging economic periods. Funding further research for future innovation is a delicate balancing act, to say the least. For the past 30 years, SRC-funded research has involved students, faculty and industry experts working together. In these challenging economic times, this model of collaboration can and should be extended.

Collaboration among industry, academia and government accelerates knowledge advancements, lowers risk and enables growth and innovation to continue for the benefit of industry and society as a whole. Industry taps into the expertise and pipeline of talent in academia, and university researchers gain understanding of industry needs.

However, collaboration requires these three sectors to work in unison; take any one out of the equation, and the likelihood for success significantly diminishes. In order for consortia such as SRC to survive and thrive in such economically tough times, government involvement is more important than ever. Moreover, basic research has a dramatically increased chance for success and return-on-investment when managed as part of a collaborative public-private program.

We salute the President and Congress for supporting basic research in general, and the National Science Foundation and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in particular. Programs such as the National Nanotechnology Initiative’s Signature Initiative for Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond and the Advanced Manufacturing Technologies Consortium proposed at NIST will continue to seed innovation and provide the people and ideas to keep the U.S. semiconductor industry competitive. Our nation can’t afford not to plant the seeds of future knowledge, technology and talent.