Since January 2003 Gerald Boyd has been manager of the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge Office. In this role, he is often the primary liaison between DOE and Oak Ridge National Laboratory's programs, including technology transfer. Boyd's tenure in Oak Ridge has been characterized by a willingness to work with DOE contractors on a variety of unconventional approaches to operational challenges. He has been a champion of environmental remediation on the Oak Ridge Reservation and of innovative technology transfer efforts at ORNL, including a new technology park located adjacent to the Laboratory. His personal commitment to partnership with both DOE contractors and local civic groups, including a successful effort to renovate Oak Ridge High School, has generated renewed support for DOE within the Oak Ridge community. A native of Tennessee, Boyd came to Oak Ridge after previously serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology in the Office of Environmental Management and as Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology. Boyd received a bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry from the University of Mississippi and a master's degree in education and administration from Florida State University.
Q. Why is technology transfer important to the Department of Energy's mission?
First, we are required by law to have a tech transfer program. Aside from that, I personally believe if the taxpayers' money is going to be spent on research, logically that scientific information and the resulting technologies should be transferred into the market, when possible, in a way that results in economic benefit to the nation.
Q. Does promoting technology transfer detract from the Laboratory's basic research mission?
I think that technology transfer and basic research—the core mission of the Laboratory—can be mutually supportive. Without good, solid, basic scientific research, we cannot create technological advantage for America's economy. Conversely, commercial application identifies and shapes basic research, because real-world problems quite often have to be addressed in the basic research phase.
Q. Why have federal laboratories seemingly been slower to embrace technology transfer than other institutions, such as universities?
There has been a cautious effort on the part of the Department to ensure that national laboratories do not unfairly compete with the private sector. What these laboratories do best is take on big problems that are too costly or too complex for the private sector to address. National laboratories should not develop a widget that is 5% better than the old widget. Rather, their focus should be on helping society deal with major problems. In this context, we arenow allowing laboratory contractors such as UT-Battelle to come forward with innovative approaches to technology transfer—ideas that maybe we were not interested in before because we were cautious of playing the wrong role. I think UT-Battelle in particular has been exceptionally good at bringing creative new approaches to this field.
Q. Speaking of innovative approaches, one of several new initiatives you have supported at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is privately funded technology transfer. What do you see as the role of this initiative?
Because the Laboratory's core mission is basic research, there is often a need for additional funding to ensure that we have pushed tech transfer through commercialization to the extent possible. Privately funded tech transfer is a complement to government-funded tech transfer, which often is not adequate to commercialize technology fully.
Q. Another ambitious technology transfer initiative is the Science and Technology Park to be located on the ORNL campus. How would you like to see the park develop?
Having a science and technology park enables a stronger partnership between the commercial sector and the Laboratory. The close proximity will, ideally, make it easier for technology coming out of the Laboratory to be commercialized at a much faster pace. The park also facilitates the private sector's ability to invest in a partnership with the Laboratory to solve problems with ORNL's world-class scientific capabilities. The new park is the latest component of a multifaceted tech transfer agenda at the Laboratory, and, I think, is a great idea.
Q. What do you view as the single most important thing a lab can do to encourage technology transfer?
The single most important role for a laboratory in licensing and commercialization of technology is private investment. That includes forming strategic partnerships with large, established businesses and helping small start-up companies seek partnerships and venture capital to mature technologies and bring them to the marketplace.
Q. How does tech transfer fit into ORNL's broader agenda?
ORNL has concentrated heavily on modernization, including construction of new research facilities, upgrading old buildings and bringing new capabilities online so that the research agenda can truly be fulfilled. Technology transfer is the next big frontier that the Lab is pursuing. I think there is a greater emphasis on commercialization now at ORNL because of a new culture and management strategy put in place by the Laboratory's leadership. We think that there could be a new model for tech transfer within the Department of Energy, and the model is being developed here in Oak Ridge.
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