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the laser, a ubiquitous device with uses ranging from surgery, precise machining, and nuclear fusion to sewer alignment, laser pointers, and CD and DVD players.

Enormous economic gains can be traced to research in harnessing electricity, which grew out of basic research (such as that conducted by Michael Faraday and James Maxwell) and applied research (such as that by Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse). Furthermore, today’s semiconductor integrated circuits can be traced to the development of transistors and integrated circuits, which began with basic research into the structure of the atom and the development of quantum mechanics by Paul Dirac, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg, and Erwin Schrodinger21 and was realized through the applied research of Robert Noyce and Jack Kilby.

In virtually all those examples, the original researchers did not—or could not—foresee the consequences of the work they were performing, let alone its economic implications. The fundamental research typically was driven by the desire to answer a specific question about nature or about an application of technology. The greatest influence of such work often is removed from its genesis,22 but the genius of the US research enterprise has been its ability to afford its best minds the opportunity to pursue fundamental questions (Figures 2-4, 2-5, 2-6).


One straightforward way to view the practical application of research is to compare US life expectancy (Figure 2-7) in 1900 (47.3 years)23 with that in 1999 (77 years).24 Our cancer and heart-disease survival rates have improved (Figure 2-8), and accidental-death rates and infant and maternal mortality (Figure 2-9) have fallen dramatically since the early 20th century.25

Improvements in the nation’s health are, of course, attributable to many factors, some as straightforward as the engineering of safe drinking-water supplies. Also responsible are the large-scale production, delivery, and storage


J. I. Friedman. “Will Innovation Flourish in the Future?” Industrial Physicist 8(6)(December 2002/January 2003):22-25.


See, for example, National Research Council. Evolving the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative to Support the Nation’s Information Infrastructure. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1995.


US Census Bureau. “Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970.” Part 1, Series B 107-15. P. 55.


US Census Bureau. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2000. P. 84. Table 116.


F. Hobbs and N. Stoops. Demographic Trends in the 20th Century. CENSR-4. Washington, DC: US Census Bureau, November 2004.

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