Basic and applied
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The recent letter from William L. Krayer ("Taxpayers Should Question Pitt's Research," Jan. 16) unfairly characterizes University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg's Jan. 6 op-ed "Perpetuate Pittsburgh's Progress" and the impact that university research has on our economy. I wanted to respond to Mr. Krayer's letter in part because he specifically mentions two organizations that I care deeply about: Eaton Corporation (I was the president of Eaton's Pittsburgh-based Electrical Sector-Americas until my retirement last year) and the University of Pittsburgh, which was, and continues to be, an important partner in Eaton's workforce and technology development efforts.
What Mr. Krayer misses is the distinction between basic research (often the domain of academia) and applied research (more often associated with industry) and the important role that university-industry partnerships play in transitioning technology from one end of the spectrum to the other. A company like Eaton is able to build upon advances made in university laboratories and tailor them specifically for their products and customers. Ironically, Thomas Edison (referenced by Mr. Krayer) is a perfect example of this -- he did not invent the incandescent light bulb, but rather perfected the basic work done by people like Sir Humphrey Davy in the early 1800s at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. Without the prior groundwork of basic research, Edison would never have been in the position to perfect the light bulb or anything else.
The research conducted by institutions such as the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon is the engine that fuels technological development, which is the life blood and foundation of our nation's future growth. Our economic growth more than ever is based on the nurturing of scientists, mathematicians and engineers who will develop the next great technology, system or invention. Without the engine of our university and college R&D programs to fuel new ideas and thought, we are in a weakened position and our future is not as promising.
The bottom line is that the short-term thinking exemplified by Mr. Krayer runs the very real risk of cutting off the fuel that drives the innovation process within our leading companies. I believe our legislators and all citizen-taxpayers should be watchful of that.
JERRY R. WHITAKER
Upper St. Clair
First Published January 27, 2013 12:00 am