Real Innovations Come From Labs, Not a Mythical Garage

Edison

Everyone is fond of the story of Steve Jobs creating Apple in his parent’s garage. It lends to the idea that an inventor needs nothing more than his genius and a few old tools. In reality though, the best scientific ideas come from full-scale laboratories and teams of researchers.

While Jobs may have been a rare exception, a single genius in his garage is more myth than truth. Thomas Edison is a good example. People will often think of Edison as battling alone to invest a practical electric light bulb. After his death the New York Times even wrote of his “solitary genius”. However, this isn’t quite true. Edison actually led the world’s first large-scale research and development lab which had a staff of 40 scientists – a far cry from tinkering by himself.

Edison is just one of many romanticised views of innovation. Unfortunately, while the stories are lovely, they’re not helping American innovation in this day and age.

Finding Long Term Funding in a Short Term Focused World

American scientists and engineers are facing many questions about how to improve the economy and the environment, the two biggest topics for most governments around the world. The best way to find answers to those questions is through state of the art labs run by world class researchers. The problem is though, there’s a lack of investment.

Basic scientific research can take up to ten or fifteen years. That’s a long period of time for corporations to see results from their investments. It’s time they just aren’t willing to put in at the moment and so the federal government has taken over the responsibility of funding the basic research.

The funding of the National Laboratory System is a big responsibility, but a necessary one.  The pressure is now on the National Labs to prove to the public that they are needed and that they are where breakthroughs will come from – not a garage in someone’s back yard.

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