Panel discussion on propelling innovation
MRS Bulletin held a Special Issue session on Wednesday that featured distinguished scientists, all of whom have experience with materials applications. Anke Weidenkaff (University of Stuttgart) served as moderator, while Stephen Forrest (University of Michigan), Cathy Fleischer (BigSky Technologies), W. Jud Ready (Georgia Institute for Technology), Sabrina Sartori (University of Oslo), James Stasiak (Hewlett-Packard), and Stan Whittingham (Binghamton University, The State University of New York) served on the panel.
Much of the discussion focused on bridging the divide between fundamental research and applied industrial science, which is addressed in the special December 2015 issue of MRS Bulletin, entitled “Materials & Engineering: Propelling Innovation.” This special issue concentrates on the unique interplay between materials and engineering, which drives and motivates materials innovations and a large proportion of materials science research.
When asked their thoughts on the intertwining of materials and engineering, many agreed that ideally they come together because it takes a mixture of the disciplines for integration. Applications would not be successful without the underlying research. Also, many professionals may change their focus based on their work and experience, and discovering their interests.
“You have no way of knowing that the ideas you have today will be important tomorrow. Be focused on doing really good work, and don’t worry about where it will lead,” said Forrest.
Stasiak added that having a breadth in between disciplines is important in industry and will make you successful. “It’s a virtuous cycle. The drive for ever-increasing performance assists in the development of new materials. These materials help to develop other technologies.”
“It’s a matter of what fits you,” said Fleischer.
When asked when is a good time for a start-up, Forrest said, “Nobody’s out there who’s going to tell you that this is the day. Entrepreneurialism is something you have to have inside you. To make a product, there are about ten-thousand dimensions. The right time is when you’re ready to dedicate your life to it.”
“There are many ways you can start a company based on the stage of your life, preferences, and situation,” said Ready.
But is there a way we can prevent materials innovations from failing because of mismanagement? “75%-90% of startups fail—the environment around them can be hostile. There are great ideas that don’t make it to the top,” said Stasiak.
“There are three elements,” said Forrest, “Team, idea, and market. Of those three, ideas are the least important. If you try and fail, it’s likely you will get another chance because you now have experience.” It was a common sentiment that it is better to try and have the experience than to not have tried at all.
“You have to be agile and willing to make adjustments because of a constant change in demands and expectations,” said Ready.
So what can the Materials Research Society and its Spring and Fall Meetings do to improve the relationship between science and the applications? “A key is networking and seeing how your research fits in with the global community,” said Ready.
“If you start from simple things and let people know about them, you will gain their interest,” said Sartori.
“Locate opportunities and find the need,” said Whittingham.