During the 2018 Materials Research Society (MRS) Spring Meeting in Phoenix, I had the opportunity to gather with a group of friends for dinner. All was going well until our food arrived (I place the blame on the catalytic effect of oysters). At that moment, a member of the group, let’s call him Don, leaned in and dropped a bomb on the table: “Why should governments pay for research?” he said. “If it is useful research, why isn’t industry doing it?” As Don’s question hung in the air taunting us, I believe I saw an oyster quiver in discomfort.

MRS President, Sean Hearne

Many of us receive at least some, if not all, of our research funds from governmental agencies. These grants may be for advancing the forefronts of existing technologies or for creating a new phase of matter or compound for yet-to-be-discovered applications. In the short term, we encounter ebbs and flows in the scale and focus of the funding based on the brouhahas and emphases of the government de jour, which require us to be nimble. Longer term, as aptly discussed by David Kaiser (Nature 472 (7341), 30 [2011]), the pendulum of funding eccentrically swings between governmental, industrial, and private funding, evolving continuously based on society’s needs. However, one overarching principle remains: We are the trustees of these monies and must return a value far in excess of the expectations of our funders. Fortunately, we have ample evidence of the impact of academic research on society (J. Int. Econ. 47, 399 [1999]), but part of our role as a trustee is to continually inform the public, as well as the decision makers, of the (positive) impacts of research on their lives, be that research from universities, governmental laboratories, or companies.

To that end, MRS proactively advocates on behalf of the global materials research community, edifying the broader scientific community, the general public, as well as government sponsors on the need for, and impact of, research. These activities take many forms, including connecting researchers with government officials to provide technical expertise, funding independent scientific fellows to be a resource for lawmakers, working with other societies to raise the visibility of the impact research investment has on society, and providing outreach activities to the public…

Read the full opinion piece for free in MRS Bulletin, published jointly by the Materials Research Society and Cambridge University Press.


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