Federal Investments in Scientific Research Spur Innovation

The Scientific Coalition, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to sustaining the federal government’s investment in basic scientific research, recently released a report called “Sparking Economic Growth 2.0.” The report details the importance of federal funding of research projects undertaken by research universities because of their stimulative effect on the economy. Federal funding given to universities has driven innovation, led to the deployment of new products and services, and created new companies and jobs. The United States’ traditional investment in basic scientific research underpins our economic success and our status as the most innovative country in the world.

Many industries, products, and jobs can be traced back to an initial investment in basic scientific research made by the federal government. Furthermore, many of the advances in basic science have been made by universities. The report found that universities conduct 53% of all basic science research while industry conducts only 20%. These universities would be unable to produce the many transformative innovations in energy, medicine, defense, and technology without federal funding. Unfortunately, the amount of federal funding available for scientific research has been trending downward for the last decade and in FY 2013 only constitutes 3.8% of the budget, a historic low; due to the sequester this amount will only get lower and funding will decrease by $95 billion by 2021 if it stays in effect.

While there is risk in investing in basic science research projects due to the uncertainty of their viability or usefulness, investments typically yield tremendous returns and answer questions that would be unlikely to be answered otherwise. There is no way to predict outcomes. Universities are the ideal places to conduct such research because of their propensity to harness institutional creativity and capabilities to produce positive economic impacts and results. Many companies featured in the report can be traced back to federal funds given to universities, including NEC members Northeastern University, Boston University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, and Brown University.

Vincent Harris, an engineering professor at Northeastern and founder of Metamagnetics, said, “The role of federally funded university research cannot be overstated. We have leveraged our federally funded programs to develop game-changing Department of Defense-centric technologies that have in some cases led to the spinning out of small businesses such as Metamagnetics Inc. Metamagnetics transitions university innovation to the warfighter — creating much-needed high skill jobs in addition to solving mission critical challenges.”

Many of the companies featured in the report are based in New England or can be traced back to one of the many excellent universities or colleges based throughout the region. The New England Council commends these universities and companies for their important role in stimulating economic growth.

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