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Putting On the Gloves For Funding

The relentless migration of electronics manufacturing to China typically brings the now familiar European response of electronics executives and engineers talking up domestic research and design strengths. And they are absolutely right to do so.

Thanks to the network of highly skilled universities, accomplished semiconductor companies, and very specialised research groups and organisations, the development of sciences like nanotechnology and organically based electronics (the manipulation of electron motion in organic modules) continues to progress. This level of research at the physics and chemistry levels is critical. Why, then, is it a constant fight for research groups and universities to secure sufficient funding to support their work?

Only recently here in the U.K., Sir Alec Broers, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering said, “we might have to go to ‘war’ to secure a 72 million silicon mini-fab here in the UK.”A slight over-statement perhaps, but the sentiment is often justifiable. This particular project is currently under consideration by the Office of Science and Technology, part of the U.K. government’s Department of Trade and Industry that advises the U.K. government on science and engineering matters.

So, when you hear Prime Minister Blair say “The science base is the absolute bedrock of our economic performance,” why must it be a battle to implement such projects?

Predictably enough, it all comes down to money. But history can teach us an important lesson here. Back in the early 1980s, then Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher declared that no technology startups would be shown any financial favours. One of her favourite quotes was that they had to “stand up on their own hind legs.”

But—and here’s the lesson—at precisely the same time, the Korean Government was pouring substantial sums of money into its embryonic electronics industry. This was the time when Samsung only had a very low profile globally, and virtually no one had heard of Lucky Goldstar. As we know, these companies grew and prospered thanks to their government’s attitude on funding.

So beware of bean-counting attitudes to the financing of activities like research into pure physics and associated sciences, which are key to the development of future electronics technologies. It’s always worth funding forward thinking.

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