A crucial role in innovation


The United States is at an important crossroads in science. The direction we take in the next few months will be defining.

A kindergarten student in the United States today will enter adulthood living in a very different type of house, working in a very different office environment, traveling in a vehicle unrecognizable by current standards and communicating globally through a device that doesn’t resemble today’s phone.

“Smart” or “personalized” houses, vehicles, appliances, even medicine that will be the standard 15 years from now will be powered by energy sources not yet developed and enabled by embedded devices and sensors that scientists and engineers are only beginning to imagine.

It is going to happen. We now are on the cusp of a data-driven, super-computer powered, Web-enabled globally interconnected world. The only question is, who will lead this new technological revolution? Will it be the U.S. or another country?

Our economy, prosperity and well-being have been driven by scientific discovery and technological innovation in ways that most people rarely think about.

For decades, the U.S. has been at the forefront of innovation, made possible by powerful and productive collaboration among government, business and universities to educate the high-skilled workforce and to conduct the scientific research and generate the discoveries that define our way of life and work. Think of the global positioning system, the Internet and MRIs — each transformational, and each a product of collaborative U.S. ingenuity.

The foundational technologies for developments on the horizon, such as semiconductors, embedded computing, data analytics and high-speed communications, exist today as a result of past collaborative investments by government, industry and academia in basic and applied science and engineering research.

We are a nation of extraordinary innovators and entrepreneurs. Many companies — such as Texas Instruments and others — that are fundamental to the U.S. and global economies trace their fundamental technologies back to federally funded research, often in partnership with universities.

Our own institutions are interlinked historically through TI co-founder J. Erik Jonsson, who earned his engineering degree at Rensselaer in 1922, the first of many RPI graduates who followed his footsteps into the company. Jonsson became one of Rensselaer’s great benefactors and helped found the University of Texas at Dallas; he was focused on educating the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Other countries have taken note of our success and are emulating our model. Governments around the world are investing heavily in energy, health care, telecommunications and other arenas, in partnership with their colleges and universities and with existing and emerging businesses. And they are investing in their people, preparing the next generation of scientists and engineers.

We need to meet these challenges.

In the coming weeks, Congress has a decision to make that will determine if the partnership between government, universities and industry in scientific discovery and technological innovation will continue in the robust way it has in the past.

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