Monday, February 14, 2011

"Bringing science to Science Fiction"

Larry Dalton
In 2000, Larry Dalton came over to the tower apartment to share his idea of creating a Research Center for "Materials Science and Devices" that would bring together material scientists from across the country to solve the hardest and most exciting modern problems.  The National Science Foundation was launching a new program called "Science and Technology Centers."(STC)  They aimed to make America more competitive by funding research institutions to work together for common goals.  Larry jumped at the opportunity.  He and Alvin Kwiram applied and in 2002 the NSF STC was funded and I went on the advisory board.  It was called CMDITR which stood for the unwieldy, Center for Materials and Devices for Information Technology Research.   

Jeanne Small
Nine years have passed, the lead directors, Larry Dalton, Phil Reed and Jeanne Small and I sat down together over coffee and the first thing Larry said was, "I think we brought some Science to Science Fiction, don't you?   ...What's next?"  We reviewed the accomplishments to date:
  • 229 patents filed and 32 awarded.
  • 42 of those patents have been licensed to companies bringing in a total of $26.8 million from 43 companies.   
  • 7 start-ups, 2 of which have been acquired.   
  • $31 million has been received from private industry investors and 2 newly funded research centers have spun out.
  • Educational outreach events have continually grown, recently there was one with 3000 attendees.
  • Industrial partners have matched and are now exceeding the annual investment of $4M from the National Science Foundation.  
  • CMDITR’s ethics training modules have been adopted by over 91 user groups at dozens of institutions across the US.  The photonics wiki receives as many as 3000 visitors a month.
  • 19 educational videos on the what-why-and-how of researching have received 1600 views.
  • Highly organized and charismatic leadership and administration of this complex center. 
Phil Reed
There are other items I am in awe of,  such as the massive number of students now deeply committed to expanding the body of scientific knowledge, or the sophistication, growth and cohesion of each research department involved, but perhaps most of all, I can see how the center’s formidable accomplishments in diversity delivered across the board to their success as innovators. 

Although the "external" board, which is what we have evolved into, has negligible impact on CDMITR, it sure has been a thrill to be front and center watching the action!

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