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Frank Huband

Productive Partnerships

In decades past, the campus of Bell Laboratories served as a crucible for American innovation, a place where the sharing of ideas led to scientific collaborations that inspired world-beating technology. Today, basic research supporting corporate needs is mostly done at universities, and the majority of top innovations have been the product of partnerships between businesses and research from universities. As our cover story reports, these partnerships have led to some 150 research parks across the country, where industrial start-up and small manufacturing operations can work hand in glove with university scientists and engineers. They have become "the Bell Labs cafeteria writ large," says Brian Darmody, president of the Association of University Research Parks. As Washington worries about an erosion of American competitiveness, research parks have come to be favored as an ecosystem of progress. But universities need to learn from past ventures. The slogan "Build it and they will come" isn't always the case.

Another Washington enthusiasm has lately fallen out of favor, as our feature "Hype or Hope?" reports. During the George W. Bush administration, hydrogen and fuel cells were viewed as a promising power source for vehicles that would help wean the nation off fossil fuels. However, the Obama administration decided, I think rightly, that hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles offered a surer, quicker route to relatively clean energy independence. Hydrogen is a secondary energy source, and making it widely available for autos would require a new and costly system of pipelines. Still, the shift of federal research dollars away from hydrogen leaves frustrated university hydrogen researchers feeling, in the words of Penn State's Chao-Yang Wang, that U.S. alternative fuel policies are "very fickle."

With America's demand for engineers expected soon to outpace supply, it's encouraging to find successful efforts to reach out to Hispanics and other minorities who are still woefully underrepresented in the field. Great Minds in STEM, formerly known by the acronym HENAAC, appears to be such an effort. As our feature "It Takes a Community" describes, GMiS adopts a broad approach, enlisting role models, peers, parents, and corporate sponsors to excite high school students about careers in STEM.

Readers will notice a stylish redesign of Prism, with a new, edgier typeface, a brighter look to columns, and a new name, First Look, for the briefings section. Our commitment to bringing you interesting and timely articles hasn't changed. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.


Frank L. Huband
Executive Director and Publisher




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