Friday, August 29, 2008

Bell Labs Closes Fundamental Physics Research Wing

After six Nobel Prizes, the invention of the transistor, laser and countless contributions to computer science and technology, it is the end of the road for Bell Labs' fundamental physics research lab.

Alcatel-Lucent, the parent company of Bell Labs, is pulling out of basic science, material physics and semiconductor research and will instead be focusing on more immediately marketable areas such as networking, high-speed electronics, wireless, nanotechnology and software.


Without internally funded basic research, fundamental research has instead come to rely on academic and government-funded laboratories to do kind of long-term projects without immediate and obvious payback that Bell Labs used to historically do, says Lubell.


Increasingly, long-term research is being carried out in universities and national laboratories with federal grants, says Lubell.

For Bell Labs, yet another chapter in its storied history of comes to a close taking the once iconic institution closer to being just another research arm of a major corporation.


Sad that a great scientific institution with such a glorious history has to get flushed. But I suppose you can't rest on laurels in a competitive world. Trouble is, much truly fundamental reearch is done in organizations that have some kind of monopolistic backing and are not under pressure to produce economically viable results for parading before stockholders. That means either the government, a private foundation or some market-dominating corporate entity. And this kind of research gives birth and impetus to technologies that are in fact economically viable and are later expoited by commercial interests that would not dare fund the insitutions that produced them in the first place.

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