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Innovation from Research

November 27, 2011

Filed under: future — Terry Wohlers @ 10:25

Does scientific research lead to innovation? Most people might assume that it does, especially given the number of organizations conducting it, coupled with the vast sums of money supporting it. Evidence suggests that scientific research leads to a body of knowledge, but it does not advance the standard of living for the general population. This is according to thought leader Leland Teschler, editor of Machine Design magazine, in his August 25, 2011 column.

Teschler argues that major innovations from the past, such as the steam engine and cotton spinning machine, were developed by tinkering and trial ‘n error, not science. He explained also that the science behind these developments came after their discoveries, not before. Science journalist Matt Ridley believes the real importance of scientific research has been to clarify the empirical findings after discoveries have been made, according to Teschler.

Teschler went on to say that the transistor came from researchers who were not pursuing pure science. Physicists at Bell Labs invented the transistor when trying to improve switching at telephone exchanges. Teschler cites Google and Facebook as developments that did not receive any government research dollars.

One might conclude that funding for scientific research is of value to researchers and their institutions, but few commercially-viable innovations result from it. If you can point to specific innovations from scientific research that have spawned new products or services, I would like to hear from you.

Portugal

November 13, 2011

Filed under: review,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 10:27

My wife, Diane, and I visited this beautiful country in late September and early October. I had visited four times before, but had seen little of the country until this trip. We spent four nights in Leiria, a historic city located about 150 km (93 miles) north of Lisbon. Leiria is home to Polytechnic Institute of Leiria, the organizer of the very successful VRAP 2011 conference on additive manufacturing that I attended. Leiria features the well-preserved Leiria Castle at the highest point of the city and welcoming pedestrian areas near the city center. Fátima, an important religious site, is a short distance away. Leiria is near the heart of Portugal’s vibrant mold-making industry.

Upon our departure from Leiria, we picked up a rental car and headed to Obidos, a small medieval town surrounded by an impressive fortified wall. I had ridden past Obidos several times when going from Lisbon to Leiria. Locals and others said that we should definitely visit and I’m glad we did. We pulled into Obidos at around dinner time and walked the cobblestone streets and walkways through this intriguing place. The following day’s blue skies made it perfect for walking the wall and seeing the buildings, many of which were constructed in the 12th century. The small streets were lined with shops and small restaurants, but the merchants have done well to keep the feel of commercialism to a minimum. With more cork harvested in Portugal than anywhere else, many products made from cork were available for sale. Obidos was a wonderful place to visit and we now know why people have raved about it. We wish we could have stayed longer.

Our next stop was Nazaré, a coastal town of 15,000 people north of Obidos. The main attraction for us was the cliff overlooking the town, beach, and sea. The sights from Sitio, which means an old town on top of a cliff, were spectacular. All of the white buildings with orange tiles roofs were something special to see. Sitio had many shops with hand-crafted products, such as wood boats and automobiles. I purchased two skillfully-made cars and one truck, each about 28 cm (11 inches) in length, for about 12 euros each, as gifts to bring home. We were in Nazaré for only a few hours, barely enough time to see and do what we wanted.

The next and final destination was Porto, also known as Oporto, which is known for its port wine. Porto is one of Europe’s oldest cities, dating back to the 4th century, and for Diane and me, one of the most interesting. The large Douro River runs through the city center, with beautiful architecture and buildings lining the banks and hillsides. We found that views from the Luís I Iron Bridge, located near the city center, were exceptional. One of the highlights was a boat trip down the Douro River. We took a train upstream into the wine region where we boarded a boat that offered fine dining and excellent views of the vineyards. We experienced two major river locks, one said to the tallest in Europe at 35 m (114 ft), at the Carrapatelo dam. The all-day trip was relaxing and definitely worthwhile.

The trip to Portugal could not have gone much better. Our Portuguese friends are wonderful people and gave us good advice on interesting sites to visit. The history, architecture, landscape, wine country (and wine), beaches, and the people make Portugal a great place to visit. We recommend it highly. Click here to see 11 images from the trip.