A great first day of meetings! If it’s all like this, it’ll be a) super-interesting and b) quite hard work!
I started off with a visit to an organisation called Wireless Philadelphia, a public/private/NGO tie-up to deliver broadband to as many Philadelphians as possible. A bit out of my knowledge zone, but interesting on the nature of public/private partnerships and the lack of any broadband roll-out policy in the US, even at State level.
Then to 30th Street station to get the train to Wilmington, Delaware, where I met a number of people at DuPont. A fascinating afternoon. This is a company whose life’s blood has been science, and for much of its life, BASIC science. In the early 20th century they recruited a research scientist from Harvard who brought others along and what did they get – Nylon! For the mid-20th century they were invention-led and only recently has the emphasis moved to more “applied research”. They have research centres all over the world, with new ones just opening in China and India, but interestingly this is less to do with the scientific potential of the people there than the commercial potential of those markets and the need to do research that is related to consumer needs.
In terms of university/business links, they do have sponsored research, where they work with universities perhaps because that gives them access to specialised equipment or skills. They also licence some IP from universities where needed. They also have grant programmes such as Young Professorships.
There were concerns voiced about the US education system (primary and secondary) when it comes to science and many of the same concerns we have in the EU about losing graduates, either people not taking science, or going into other careers after graduation (more prestige, more money or both!). We talked about what they do on biofuel development, including second generation and beyond. They also are focusing a lot on nanotech, where Du Pont have worked with an NGO to develop a framework for safe nanotech – interesting relation to our code of conduct.
As I said, a very interesting day. Some preconceptions were blown away, some reinforced. Also Wilmington was a side of the US you don’t get to see when your usual destination is Manhattan!!