Industrial Physics Forum: An intersection between industry, academia and government

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Publication date: 
11 April 2013

Industrial Physics Forum, organized by the Corporate Associates of the American Institute of Physics (AIP), features invited speakers from industry, academia and government agencies who give presentations at AIP Member Society meetings or are hosted by Corporate Associates member organizations.  This dialogue allows scientists to hear from experts across all disciplines of physics on issues including new applications of physics, product development, and economic impacts of physics research.  Participants have the opportunity to learn about new developments in each area of physics, interact with the industrial community, and learn about the direction of future scientific innovation.  The Forums also provide insight into the contributions that physics makes to the broad global economy. 

The most recent Industrial Physics Forum was held in partnership with the American Physical Society’s Forum on Industrial and Applied Physics with support from the Division of Biophysics.  The American Physical Society is an AIP Member Society.  The Forum included sessions on innovation and entrepreneurship, nanomanufacturing, frontiers in physics, and biophysics.  

The session on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, in particular, was relevant to many topics discussed on Capitol Hill.  As Congress looks US industry to create jobs and boost the economy, they also rely on the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics community and its ability to solve complex technical challenges.  The speakers discussed applications of physics that go well beyond university laboratories and are used in a variety of industries.

Forums such as this one allow the industrial community to highlight the application of physics research and the process of getting this research from laboratories into new economic markets.  These discussions are critical in helping policy makers determine long- and short-term research and development priorities.  As Congress examines the challenges facing the US research enterprise, it is critical that industry provide examples and strategies to improve research and development.

For example, Robert Colwell, director of the Microsystems Technology Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), spoke about technologies from one industry being used in an apparatus for a different industry as he described how accelerator technology originally designed for the wii gaming system, was used in blast gauges worn by soldiers in the field.   The use of a certain technology in multiple industries has definite economic benefit, but the reasoning behind the intellectual leap that results into inserting a component developed for one application into a novel application in a different sector can be confusing to non-scientists.  As policy makers search to make strategic cuts to the federal budget, the use of one sub-discipline of science research for broad and unexpected purposes and the economic benefit that results, provides a basis for a strong argument in support of funding research and development. 

Within the same Forum session, Mason Peck, Chief Technology Officer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), described multi-industry and multi-agency innovation partnerships established to address difficult scientific problems.  These collaborations produce results that would not otherwise be reached, were one of the partners to attempt to address the same challenge without input and resources from the others.  As NASA broadens the scope of its portfolio of programs, these collaborations can help provide decision makers with examples of effective allocation of resources.

Due in part to the Obama Administration’s current emphasis on reinvigorating the US manufacturing industry, many policy discussions in Washington have focused on the role of manufacturing in research and development.  Alexander Liddle, Group Leader of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology Nanofabrication Research Group at the National Institute of Standards and Technology outlined the challenge of pairing nanomanufacturing technologies emerging from university laboratories with products that can be manufactured economically on an industrial scale. 

Integrated circuits and their $300 billion contribution to the global economy were a topic in a few sessions during this Forum.  Liddle described the use of optical lithography in the manufacturing of semiconductor wafers and a presentation from Robert Doering of Texas Instruments highlighted the growing economic market for integrated circuits and the technical challenges needed for continued progress – challenges that physicists are well-poised to overcome.

The voice of the industrial community is critical in defining the effects that budget cuts have on federally funded research – the effects of such cuts were described in detail in the most recent Forum.  While Congress may have difficulty understanding the complexities and challenges of specific problems in the laboratory, the industrial community helps provide support for that research since they help define how it is applied in product development.  Specific examples of the uses of physics as presented by industry leaders can help build support for funding for physics and other sciences that contribute to the future economy.  Forums such as this one provide physicists with access to the industrial community to strengthen this dialogue.