The Department of Energy manages what many believe is the greatest collection of scientific talent in the world. Each of the agency's national laboratories produces groundbreaking research of the highest caliber. Together, the laboratories represent what may be America's most dynamic source of creative discovery.
At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, we believe our mission calls us to go beyond the goal of solving scientific challenges. In a world in which high-tech economies are increasingly defined by breakthrough technologies, ORNL is actively engaged in a renewed effort to find new ways of moving our discoveries from the laboratory to the marketplace. Indeed, as the United States marshals the nation's resources for the economic competition that will shape our future, technology transfer is emerging as a critical component of the Department of Energy's research agenda.
The relative emphasis on technology transfer to a great extent reflects the culture and management philosophy at individual laboratories. At some laboratories, commercialization of scientific research has long been a well-established priority within the Department of Energy's broader mission. For a variety of reasons, other laboratories have devoted fewer resources to technology transfer activities. In Oak Ridge, the University of Tennessee and Battelle have determined that moving new technologies from the bench top to the marketplace is a critical part of the Laboratory's support of the Department of Energy and the region's economic development.
UT-Battelle has assigned an unprecedented priority to a variety of technology transfer initiatives at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Why this decision was made, and how ORNL is implementing a multi-faceted strategy to commercialize the Laboratory's discoveries, is the focus of this issue of the ORNL Review.
Although the details of technology transfer can sometimes be as complex as the science that precedes it, we are motivated by two simple assumptions—one moral, the other practical. As a national laboratory, we do not conduct research in isolation. Science is an integral component of America's economic vitality. We believe our mission includes not just the ability to develop technological solutions, but also the responsibility to see that those solutions are transmitted quickly into the economic mainstream.
Apart from this philosophical stance in support of technology transfer, we increasingly encounter a scientific community for whom a robust program of commercialization is an important consideration of employment. We do not view this attitude as a compromise of scientific commitment. To the contrary, we contend that commercial opportunity is an inevitable outcome of performing world-class research. The pursuit of these opportunities should by no means be required of the researcher. Each researcher is different, guided by individual goals. Recognizing this diversity, we believe that the tools for commercialization should be made available to those who are inspired by the chance to benefit from their discoveries.
Creating an entrepreneurial culture, particularly in an institution that historically has had other priorities, is an enormous challenge. How we fashion our expectations, and how we measure our results, are questions we continue to address. More certain, however, is the purpose of our efforts. Since April 2000, ORNL has helped create 61 new companies. The new jobs represented by these companies, and more important their contributions to America's economic competitiveness, are rewards of lasting value. One by one, these successes are reshaping the spirit and focus of our Laboratory.
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