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Bell Labs Kills Fundamental Physics Research

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the having-solved-all-the-really-important-problems dept.

Businesses 460

An anonymous reader writes with this snippet from Wired: "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." Jamie points out this list of Bell Labs' accomplishments at Wikipedia, including little things like the UNIX operating system.

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Selling out bunch of... (1, Funny)

Whorhay (1319089) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784337)

capitalists!

Re:Selling out bunch of... (5, Interesting)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784457)

You can't convince me that the transistor didn't make them a lot more money than they put in when you look at the big picture. I'm willing to belive that on paper, Bell labs may have been a loss, but of course that's not the same as the division being dead weight. I'd be suprised if this decision wasn't based entirely off of myopic buisness decisions. Want to raise your stock? Maybe if you fire everyone and cut costs to zero, your investors will be pleased.

I of course don't know the inside story, but sounds stupid enough. If this is the case, here's hoping Alcatel-Lucent loses a lot of money quickly and opens it back up.

Re:Selling out bunch of... (0, Redundant)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784683)

Bell labs may have been a loss, but of course that's not the same as the division being dead weight

Well, considering their inventions made the entire existing business possible, I'd say it was worth the investment.

Re:Selling out bunch of... (3, Funny)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784791)

You seem to have taken half of my line out of context, then made the point that I was making in one line. I don't know what to say to that other than to point out "I see what U did thair."

Re:Selling out bunch of... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784801)

here's hoping Alcatel-Lucent loses a lot of money quickly and opens it back up.

Haha, oh please. You and I both know what they'll do: They'll lay off more people and try to cut expenses as much as possible. They won't spend more money.

Re:Selling out bunch of... (1)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784965)

Who says "hope" has to be realistic? No wonder everyone around here is so cynical.

Re:Selling out bunch of... (2, Interesting)

Higaran (835598) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784469)

I can't complain about the selling out, because it is hard see putting money into research, that may or may not be profitable in 40 years. I'm sure they put plenty of money into things that are pretty much useless all in the name of research. It doesn't seem that bad to me, they are focusing on nano tech, that has alot to do with physics. I'm sure that just as many breaktroughs are still going to come out of that place in the coming years, probably more practical ones too.

Re:Selling out bunch of... (1)

Nathan Boley (1042886) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784717)

... probably more practical ones too.

Because the transistor is the epitome of purely theoretical research.

Re:Selling out bunch of... (1)

megaditto (982598) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785117)

Spending a lot of money on unpatentable research makes a lot of sense when they were a monopoly. Today that is no longer the case: wasting money researching stuff your competitors (and everybody else) can use for free makes no business sense... that's what the government/university labs are for.

Good Riddance (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784339)

Fix the 3G iPhone!

Re:Good Riddance (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784495)

iPhuck the iPhone with its slow-ass UI and faggot-attracting styling.

Get a man's phone, bitch.

therefore (5, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784345)

when the next laser, the next solid state transistor, is invented, it will be done in China and India

Re:therefore (5, Insightful)

raddan (519638) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784451)

Why, are China and India doing basic science research? My impression that pretty much *everyone* is getting out of the game. Deregulating telecom and breaking up AT&T did wonders for telephone customers, but it did not do good things for smart people with big budgets. Consider the fact that UNIX started as an excuse to hack on computer games [harvard.edu] .

i agree with you (4, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784687)

china or india aren't doing basic research either, i was merely making an appeal to nationalism

why do nations invest billions in space programs? its nothing but tribal chest thumping. now you can complain that nations should invest in space programs and basic research for noble goals, or you can swallow your high-mindedness and appeal to what gets you cash. appeal to tribal pride, and you will squeeze some coin out for basic research

scare americans with stories about chinese and indian basic research. forget the truth or distruth or mistruth or truthiness of those stories. just make an appeal to nationalism. in this way, you will get american funding for basic research

Re:therefore (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784709)

Zoom! the sound of a joke going above your head as well the head of at least 3 moderators...

The Laser and Solid State Transistor has already been invented. I am fairly sure it was a joke. Yes they are improvements and new inventions based on them for new research.

Re:therefore (2, Funny)

raddan (519638) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784799)

I am fairly sure it was a joke.

Well, as long as you're laughing, does it matter?

Re:therefore (1)

Oktober Sunset (838224) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785133)

Yes! This is the internet, and on the internet, everyone must find the same thing funny as me or they are clearly mentally retarded or something, and I must point this out to them.

Re:therefore (4, Interesting)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784877)

Why, are China and India doing basic science research? My impression that pretty much *everyone* is getting out of the game. Deregulating telecom and breaking up AT&T did wonders for telephone customers, but it did not do good things for smart people with big budgets. Consider the fact that UNIX started as an excuse to hack on computer games [harvard.edu] .

My old advisor has been spending a lot of time in China and India lately. In his eyes, India really is moving in the direction of major fundamental research. China...not so much. He thinks that if things move at their current pace, there will be a crossover in about 20-30 years when India passes America in innovation. America's technical lead is still quite pronounced today, but not remotely secure.

Re:therefore (4, Interesting)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784657)

when the next laser, the next solid state transistor, is invented, it will be done in China and India

*ahem* What about the "such as networking, high-speed electronics, wireless, nanotechnology" part?

IMO nanotechnology is today's "basic science research".

Re:therefore (4, Insightful)

avandesande (143899) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784659)

Many won't like to admit this but the Ma Bell monopoly is what enabled bell labs to dump so much money into basic research.

Re:therefore (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784901)

The basic science research in the countries is horrible... at this time.
They have tried to create a better CPU, better alloyies, better plastics, and have failed.
They ahve a lot of people, but their culture doesn't seem to embrace the necessity of science: building success and knowledge from failures. When someone fails, it often kills a career. If they fail in a public way, it can end in a hanging.

Re:therefore (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784949)

shrug off the cold wars, it's two stocking up for another...

Not a Monopoly Anymore (3, Insightful)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784361)

Fundamental physics research, while wonderful, does seem a bit much of a company which no longer has a monopoly to tax Americans to fund stuff like that.

Another vicim (5, Insightful)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784363)

of the "all that matters is the next quarter" school of thought? Between that and over the top IP laws, North America is headed for trouble.

Re:Another victim (1)

Tangential (266113) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784925)

Its not just the 'next quarter'.

It is true that Wall Street punishes management for focusing on anything but the upcoming results. At the same time, the SEC and Sarbannes-Oxley punish management for focusing on anything except the prior quarter.

Put those two together and a business is screwed for investing in its future.

Re:Another vicim (1)

tgatliff (311583) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785109)

"Headed for Trouble"... My friend, I think we are more than there... We have decided that in this country the only thing that is important are business people. If your companies product(s) suck, then all you need to do is to buy another company to exploit, or get better marketing... Pretty pitiful state of affairs if you ask me, and is definitely not something that leads to long-term success.

Well... (2, Insightful)

Kemanorel (127835) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784365)

I think I speak for many when I say...

Well FUCK!

So what if it's not immediately marketable. The goodwill alone is worth some investment.

Re:Well... (1, Troll)

MarkvW (1037596) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784489)

Goodwill?! From the people who RENTED analog telephones to old people well into the digital age when those phones could be purchased cheap?

Good luck to them chasing their stock price like a dog chasing its tail! They deserve what they get!

Shortsighted, as usual (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784373)

"will instead be focusing on more immediately marketable areas such as networking, high-speed electronics, wireless, nanotechnology and software."

If they truly wanted to focus on these areas, and the future of these areas, they would continue the research. Bell/Lucent would not be where they are today without those now basic, but groundbreaking at the time discoveries that they've made in the past.

This seems very shortsighted of them, which unfortunately seems to be the new American way.

Greed. (1)

Quasar1999 (520073) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784377)

Welcome to modern western culture... it's all about making a quick buck.

Any and every company out there is all about making as much money as possible as quickly as possible... what ever happend to making a modest amount of money while actually taking risks?

Re:Greed. (5, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784453)

It's beginning to look more Rome's last century; Emperors being crowned amidst the decay of the once-great city, old monoliths being torn down to make new ones, because the coin had been so devalued that no one could afford to pay artisans of any skill.

Little by little the American Empire erodes, its more distant conquests taxing it more and more, its currency faltering, more of its talent having to be imported.

I'm looking the Democratic National Convention and its soon-to-come Republican counterpart, and I can't help but thinking that they are indeed fiddling while Rome burns.

Re:Greed. (1)

Higaran (835598) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784551)

I totally agree, I've been feeling the same way for about a year now. Unless we do something then we will be stuck with the same fate, but it seams like no one cares about the big picture anymore.

Re:Greed. (4, Insightful)

Chyeld (713439) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785111)

I remember the same thoughts being shared with me in 98. And in 88, and in 78. What people forget is Rome 'fell' for a very, very long time and 'fell' for a number of reasons.

No, this isn't a great development. But there should be some corollary to Godwin's that covers comparing stuff to the "Fall of the Roman Empire".

Re:Greed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784841)

its currency faltering

Last time I checked (yesterday at market close) the USD was up and the EUR was down.

Re:Greed. (1)

hvm2hvm (1208954) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785013)

And the biggest problem I see with this is that after the collapse of the Roman Empire there were 1000 years of Dark Ages... Maybe the hole in leadership won't be that big this time but it would still fsck up everything. Think Asimov's Foundation.

Re:Greed. (1)

Flavio (12072) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785057)

I'm looking the Democratic National Convention and its soon-to-come Republican counterpart, and I can't help but thinking that they are indeed fiddling while Rome burns.

You should check out the Rally for the Republic [campaignforliberty.com] .

Re:Greed. (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785139)

No thanks. I'd pick decayed pseudo-democratic parties of a Libertarian fanatic any day of the week. Libertarians would take a bad situation and make it many times worse.

Ron Paul's dream republic died when Beauregard ordered the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Trying to resurrect the Jeffersonian Republic is ludicrous, seeing as it didn't even last a century.

Re:Greed. (4, Insightful)

afabbro (33948) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784623)

Welcome to modern western culture... it's all about making a quick buck.

Modern? At what point wasn't it like that?

Any and every company out there is all about making as much money as possible as quickly as possible... what ever happend to making a modest amount of money while actually taking risks?

You can do that with your own money. Making as much money as possible as quickly as possible is pretty much the point of capitalism, where you're using other people's money.

Restructuring? (5, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784385)

With no basic materials science or semiconductor research, I'm not sure what they're going to be able to develop in the fields of "high-speed electronics" or "nanotechnology". Perhaps they're going to restructure so that the existing basic science researchers are more "product driven", being put into marketable research areas with specific goals, but that strikes me as a sure-fire way of duplicating effort and limiting their scope for innovation.

three tier system (5, Insightful)

shmlco (594907) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784835)

It's a three tier system now. Colleges do all the research, the government funds it, and corporations patent the results.

Re:Restructuring? (2, Insightful)

mfh (56) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784851)

The irony is that teachers own Bell Canada.

Re:Restructuring? (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785097)

I guess someone should explain to the suits how basic research works...

Nah, let 'em burn.

Is anyone else concerned... (4, Interesting)

halsver (885120) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784417)

That America has been losing its edge for years and every time you look around, the problem is accelerating? Do new research labs not get any press? Or is it really the case that more and more corporate research labs are being shut.

I know American Universities are still considered tops, but how much longer will that even matter?

Re:Is anyone else concerned... (3, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784591)

It is all the stupid patent issues. It has become that you can't even write a new OS without it being attacked by patent threats, let alone anything in hardware.

Re:Is anyone else concerned... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784829)

Considered tops by who?

The mentally retarded / ill?

The End (5, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784429)

That's sad.

I've seen so many of the big labs die. I happened to be at IBM Alamaden the day IBM exited the disk drive business, a sad day and the beginning of the end for Alamaden. I saw Xerox PARC in its heyday; I've used and programmed an original Alto. DEC's labs are long gone, killed in the Compaq/HP takeover. HP Labs is a shadow of its former self.

Who in American industry is still doing basic research?

Re:The End (2, Insightful)

BitterOldGUy (1330491) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784593)

Who in American industry is still doing basic research?

The small companies and start ups.

Re:The End (2, Informative)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784779)

Umm... like who? Hell, what startup has the funds to perform basic materials science, anyway? Do you understand the kind of research facilities and monetary outlay required to study nanotechnology or materials science?

Re:The End (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785085)

Umm... like who?

Startups that you never see except in highly-specialized media (or if you happen to know someone who works there), because they either fail, or about the time they'd make news big enough to put them in the mainstream press (and for the very accomplishment that would put them there), they are bought out by one of the big players who wants to take the IP and commercialize it, and its usually just as cheap (and far less risk of disputes down the road) to buy the company as to license the technology.

Do you understand the kind of research facilities and monetary outlay required to study nanotechnology or materials science?

Lots of science startups don't own all of their own lab facilities, they make arrangements to use university labs or those owned by other firms. At least, that's been the case in every industry related to the sciences I've seen, I would imagine that nanotech and materials science aren't completely different than everything else.

Re:The End (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784605)

The drug companies.

Oh wait their evil evil profit mongers, so they would never use that money to aid anyone aside from their pocket books. No sir. /sarcasm.

Re:The End (1)

lee1026 (876806) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784617)

Microsoft is doing some good work at MS research. Shame that it is always the monopolies that is doing good research.....

Re:The End (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784653)

Microsoft, pharmaceuticals, oil companies, etc.

Re:The End (3, Informative)

afabbro (33948) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784677)

I've seen so many of the big labs die. I happened to be at IBM Alamaden the day IBM exited the disk drive business, a sad day and the beginning of the end for Alamaden. Who in American industry is still doing basic research?

Well, IBM still is [ibm.com] , and on a lot cooler stuff that just disk drives.

Re:The End (1)

Dex5791 (973984) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784691)

Who in American industry is still doing basic research?

Mostly startups and universities.

Re:The End (2)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784831)

I think a lot of it is being moved (rightly or wrongly) to Colleges and Universities. While you not under the stress of having to make something profitable, but you are reduced to below slave labor having to pay to do your job, just for a chance to get Dr. added to your name.
Americans have generally been getting much more short sighted lately. Not willing to invest into the future just the here and now.

Re:The End (0, Troll)

beckje01 (1216538) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785165)

If you have to pay to get your PhD there are only two reasons that I can think of... 1. You've already made a pile of money and just want to get your PhD 2. you aren't good enough to get the Grants/Fellowships/RAs/TAs and in that case should you really be getting your PhD at all? I should note this is based on engineering fields not sure how the rest of it works.

Re:The End (1)

Nathan Boley (1042886) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784875)

Biotech companies. Biology is the new physics.

Re:The End (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24785051)

Biology is the new physics.

Yep, and physics is the new math, math is the new philosophy, and philosophy is the new political science. Political science is what it's always been, the alpha-discipline.

Maybe they just hit the envelope (4, Insightful)

Shag (3737) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784431)

Fundamental physics research has really taken on a life of its own, and is conducted with really big, really expensive toys.

I don't think Lucent now (or even Bell back in the day) could really justify building something like the Large Hadron Collider.

So, yes, a lot of good work was done, but perhaps they've gone as far as they can within the constraints of what's reasonable for them to do as an entity.

And hey, if the best and brightest minds on their payroll instead work on something that makes my connection faster, it's not like I'm gonna complain.

Re:Maybe they just hit the envelope (4, Insightful)

Btarlinian (922732) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784575)

There is more to fundamental physics research than particle physics though. There's still plenty of work being done in condensed matter physics and AMO (atomic, molecular, & optical). However, I actually don't fault Bell Labs for getting out of this area. Fundamental physics research provides very little for the company. AT&T never made money off of the transistor. They haven't turned into a laser manufacturer. Scientific research is a public good and as such, should be funded by the government. Without the benefit of a monopoly, Bell Labs can't really afford to spend money on fundamental research, which costs a lot of money, and results in very little private gain.

Re:Maybe they just hit the envelope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784871)

The problem is that the government doesn't fund research. They fund people who build weapons. Unless your lab is tied to the defense dept. you won't get funding.

Re:Maybe they just hit the envelope (2, Insightful)

Dex5791 (973984) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784655)

What will probably happen is the key researchers will look for other jobs or retire. You'll just have to make due with some fresh college recruits.

Well come AT&T Bell Labotomy (3, Informative)

Dex5791 (973984) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784441)

I once worked there. Man that place has gone to the dogs. "Less learnin, more earnin!" -Alcatel-Lucent CEO

The weathy don't *care* about the USA (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784449)

They can live anywhere. It's just another venue with certain advantages and disadvantages.

Research? Bell will outsource it to a jobber in India and sell it to Europe or some other highest bidder.

Anyone who thinks the MBA-sshole who made this decision gives a rat's patoot about any particular country is just naive.

Six Sigma (4, Funny)

turgid (580780) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784461)

Maybe someone's been hob-nobbing with GE? Core business! Core Business! Eliminate waste! Exterminate!

Re:Six Sigma (1)

Eli Gottlieb (917758) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785083)

Oh great... you made me realize who's really running the country... it all makes sense now -- "exterminate".

Muhurtha! (1)

mpaque (655244) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784467)

The Corporate Astrologer indicated that this would be an auspicious time to shift spending and investment from basic science to litigation activities.

Rosswell Technology (4, Funny)

Junior Samples (550792) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784483)

"After six Nobel Prizes, the invention of the transistor, laser and"

This was all technology appropriated from the Roswell Crash anyhow.

Re:Rosswell Technology (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784941)

I know your trying to be funny, but are you trying to be funny just by making the reference, or poking fu at the the people who believe that even though they predate the crash outside of Aurora(aka "Roswell crash")?

Re:Rosswell Technology (1)

thewiz (24994) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784987)

Really? I thought dynamite was invented BEFORE the Roswell crash.

Bell Labs didn't invent the Transistor (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784535)

Here's this old myth being repeated once more.

Sorry, Bell Labs never invented the transistor. The transistor had been invented (and patented) back in the 1920's. It was in use during WWII (see "A Different Kind of War" by Commodore Myles).

What Bell Labs DID invent was the SILICON transistor. And of course this was an incredible breakthrough.

Unfortunately, they also have tried claiming complete credit for the creation of the transistor in general, by propagating the myth that no transistors existed before the invention of the Silicon Transistor.

Please get your facts right, as it's a discredit to the people who did the original pioneering work in this field. Thanks.

Re:Bell Labs didn't invent the Transistor (-1, Troll)

meta-monkey (321000) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784631)

Please get your facts right, as it's a discredit to the people who did the original pioneering work in this field. Thanks.

Of course, wouldn't want to discredit William Shockley [wikipedia.org] ...

Cheap karma whore (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784707)

Who of course had absolutely nothing to do with the original invention of the transistor. Which of course was what this thread was about (and not the Solid State transistor).

Looking for cheap karma via thread hijacking, are we?

Re:Bell Labs didn't invent the Transistor (2, Insightful)

VeNoM0619 (1058216) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784641)

Please get your facts right, as it's a discredit to the people who did the original pioneering work in this field. Thanks.

So... who actually did the original pioneering then...? Discredit and no credit at all could be considered the same.

Re:Bell Labs didn't invent the Transistor (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784963)

It was patented by
Julius Edgar Lilienfeld [wikipedia.org] in 1925.

See also
the Wikipedia Entry for the Transistor [wikipedia.org]

Re:Bell Labs didn't invent the Transistor (3, Informative)

worthawholebean (1204708) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784817)

It was patented in the '20s but we have no evidence that it was ever built. The first transistor at Bell Labs used germanium.

Are you kidding me? (0)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785023)

Are you just unaware that there was a time when Radios used tubes? The were transistors and amplifiers.

1906 Flemming created the 'Flemming Valve'*

The silicone transistor is the same thing, just a lot better. But the transistor was hardly a new idea.

In fact, If slashdot had been around when the silicone transistor was invented, people would be complaining that the patent system is broken becasue it's just a tube on different material.

*A valve is what they called a transistor in England

jeez.

Re:Bell Labs didn't invent the Transistor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784845)

Next you'll tell me that Thomas Edison didn't invent the lightbulb.

Re:Bell Labs didn't invent the Transistor (2, Interesting)

Luyseyal (3154) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785141)

A review of Miles' "A Different Kind of War" [jstor.org] in The Journal of Asian Studies discounts some of his credibility. Furthermore, it was published posthumously in 1967. I find it more likely to believe he was a little braggadocious in his notes and the text just made it worse...

Citation from jstor:
H. L. Boatner
The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Feb., 1969), pp. 400-401

-l

cool, it's China's turn to rule anyway (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784559)

we know that already.

What now? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784577)

I guess it is up to our universities to pick up the slack. These companies are probably figuring they can do it cheaper by giving grants to grad students. Unfortunately, most true cutting-edge physics research these days is too complex for the fresh grad student, so things go a lot slower than they would with a lab full of dedicated research PhDs.

Sad trend (1)

geogob (569250) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784589)

This is a sad trend that's continuously growing in popularity. Bell Labs is not the first to be hit by hit and probably not the last. Even at NASA, the aspects fundamental research and engineering have slowly decayed (or so it seems). Cutting into long term research and development and replacing it with straight-to-the-market development is getting so popular it even overcomes university faculties. Where I work, so-called "industrial" projects that are directly linked to new products of industrial partners or that are aiming at patent applications are the new standard. Those working on fundamental research often feel quite alone and forgotten.

Easy as 1, ???, 3. (1)

suck_burners_rice (1258684) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784637)

This should be interpreted as GOOD news to anyone who wants to start the next innovative research facility a la Bell Labs or Xerox PARC:

1. Start a skunkworks research labs that invents cool new materials, semiconductors, algorithms, etc.
2. ???
3. Profit!!! And lots of it when your new technology becomes a must-have.

(What, you say? Technology doesn't become "must have?" Nobody needed electricity. Electricity is discovered. Voila! You can't go a day without it! Same for computers, cell phones, sliced bread, and other modern marvels.)

Re:Easy as 1, ???, 3. (1)

turgid (580780) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785035)

Modern management theories have no models for step "2. ???" That is where they break down. It is their "Ultraviolet Catastrophe" so to speak.

A good time for it (3, Funny)

amorsen (7485) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784739)

Luckily governments across the world have realized the need for basic research. They have provided universities and other public research institutions with practically unlimited funds, without making demands that the research must lead to products or patents.

Due to these happy circumstances, there is no longer a need for the private sector to do basic research. It can focus on what it does best: Turning theoretical results into practical products.

Expected and understandable (3, Insightful)

KeepQuiet (992584) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784749)

In the past, the basic science was led by companies like Bell. They could reason the money they spent with the lack of innovation in the field. Now the basic science is led by universities -- exactly how it is supposed to be. Companies can have their problem worked on by paying a fraction of what they pay to their employees (in academia these people are named either phd student or postdoc). My wife is a postdoc and their projects are funded by the industry. They are trying to solve very theoretical problems. The company couldn't explain spending money on this to their shareholders, but now they can explain it with industry-academia partnership. Academia wins, industry wins. Also, we saw this before when MERL closed part of its research lab. Didn't you notice where most departing researchers go? Yes, academia.

Re:Expected and understandable (1)

Eli Gottlieb (917758) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785093)

So have you asked your wife how much she gets paid?

And yet... (1)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784759)

Meanwhile, you've got libertarians like Bob Barr telling us that the private sector will do this work, and therefore government funding of fundamental research is a bad thing. Interesting how that's working out... oh well, just yet more proof that, like communism, libertarianism is an amusing fantasy and little else.

Re:And yet... (1)

moore.dustin (942289) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785161)

Meanwhile, you've got libertarians like Bob Barr telling us that the private sector can do this work, and therefore government funding of fundamental research is a bad thing.

Fixed.

The libertarian platform cannot be taken in bits and pieces, just like that of the Republicans or Democrats. The full context here is that if the USA enables the markets to work as they should/ought to, that this research would be done in the private sector with an obvious motive to generate marketable products/services. Now lets take your logic and apply it to another sector and see where it gets you. Let's say that instead of physics research we are talking about general charity. Barr would say that the government should not have a welfare state. Instead, the choice to give to a charity, to help others in some way or another, is left to the individual. As we all can see and you must admit, charity/philanthropy endeavors are primarily funded by donations from private sources/individuals even though the government already spends a great deal on welfare programs itself.

As a researcher in nanotech: (4, Informative)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784849)

Pulling out from materials science research AND focus on nanotechnology and high-speed electronics? That's nonsense.

Look at Intel: what keeps them one step ahead from an otherwise very creative company as AMD, (apart from the great team Intel has in Haifa) is huge and continuous investments in materials science. A little bit less electromigration, a bit better control of dielectric coefficients, a few nanometers less here and there - it all adds up.

As a researcher in nanotechnology, I have huge, HUGE respect for my materials science colleagues (as well as physical chemists).

Don't worry... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24784861)

The government will take care of it! Who needs private industry when you have the government to solve problems?

An idea for future investors. (1)

Gordon Bennett (752106) | more than 5 years ago | (#24784917)

I look forward when the erstwhile manufacturers of toilet bowls, Armitage Shanks, takes over as parent company of Alcatel-Lucent - just imagine the possibilities!

Economy of people selling insurance to each other (4, Insightful)

gelfling (6534) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785031)

We are becoming an economy of people selling insurance to each other. We don't make build or invent much of anything anymore. And the few things we are good at the Christian fundamentalists make sure never get done.

Don't Fret (3, Interesting)

shimbee (444430) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785045)

While big commercial labs may be dying, basic science is not going to die. Basic science will move to universities with big endowments (see Harvard) that have no profit-motive (apart from their endowment managers).

This result was likely precipitated 20 years ago by the Bayh-Dole Act http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayh-Dole_Act [wikipedia.org] , which brought about the ease of commercialization of university inventions and the rise of "tech transfer offices" within such institutions.

This is an opportunity for great American universities (widely regarded around the world as the top in research) to become even stronger. Having basic science tied up in the back rooms of corporate laboratories is no way to go about advancing human scientific progress. As universities move toward making all their professors' research available freely online, this will in fact be quite the boon to basic science (in America and elsewhere). See http://www.fas.harvard.edu/home/news_and_events/releases/scholarly_02122008.html [harvard.edu]

Sucks to be you Rich (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24785047)

eom

Hidden costs of deregulation (1)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785079)

Somebody has to do the basic research.

If you change telecommunications to a free-market system which rewards companies and their CEOs primarily for their quarterly earnings, private corporations sure aren't going to do it.

So, either you better add a Bell Labs'-worth of funds to the budget of the National Science Foundation, or figure it's OK if the United States falls behind in basic research.

Since there's at least a decade's lag between basic research (Leo Szilard conceives of the chain reaction in 1933) and application (the 1945 bomb test at Alamagordo), the loss of Bell Labs probably won't affect us until the 2020s.

So many neat things from Bell Labs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24785101)

They did a lot of public service and education in their day, I have a series of 7 or 8 of the Bell Science educational videos from the 50s - 60s that cover subjects like Time and DNA http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bell_Laboratory_Science_Series - even today they are quite good. Not to mention the CARDIAC cardboard computer http://www.porticus.org/bell/belllabs_kits_cardiac.html

Not to mention a lot of research - while they may not have invented all the technology the research centers played a key role to help us understand it as well as find innovative uses for the technology.

Decide in haste, repent at leisure. (1)

OneIfByLan (1341287) | more than 5 years ago | (#24785123)

Ma Bell shutting down Bell Labs is like a kid quitting school so he can make more money as a waiter.

Atlas Shrugged (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24785131)

This book has some frightening parallels to things going on today in our wellfare state. By directive 10-289, for the sake of the needy, all private research shall be terminated and all privately funded research labs be closed.

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