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Bell Labs Kills Fundamental Physics Research 460

Posted by timothy
from the having-solved-all-the-really-important-problems dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this snippet from Wired: "After six Nobel Prizes, the invention of the transistor, laser and countless contributions to computer science and technology, it is the end of the road for Bell Labs' fundamental physics research lab. Alcatel-Lucent, the parent company of Bell Labs, is pulling out of basic science, material physics and semiconductor research and will instead be focusing on more immediately marketable areas such as networking, high-speed electronics, wireless, nanotechnology and software." Jamie points out this list of Bell Labs' accomplishments at Wikipedia, including little things like the UNIX operating system.
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Bell Labs Kills Fundamental Physics Research

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  • therefore (Score:5, Insightful)

    by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquar ... m ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:22PM (#24784345) Homepage Journal

    when the next laser, the next solid state transistor, is invented, it will be done in China and India

    • Re:therefore (Score:5, Insightful)

      by raddan (519638) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:29PM (#24784451)
      Why, are China and India doing basic science research? My impression that pretty much *everyone* is getting out of the game. Deregulating telecom and breaking up AT&T did wonders for telephone customers, but it did not do good things for smart people with big budgets. Consider the fact that UNIX started as an excuse to hack on computer games [harvard.edu].
      • i agree with you (Score:5, Insightful)

        by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquar ... m ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:43PM (#24784687) Homepage Journal

        china or india aren't doing basic research either, i was merely making an appeal to nationalism

        why do nations invest billions in space programs? its nothing but tribal chest thumping. now you can complain that nations should invest in space programs and basic research for noble goals, or you can swallow your high-mindedness and appeal to what gets you cash. appeal to tribal pride, and you will squeeze some coin out for basic research

        scare americans with stories about chinese and indian basic research. forget the truth or distruth or mistruth or truthiness of those stories. just make an appeal to nationalism. in this way, you will get american funding for basic research

        • Re:i agree with you (Score:5, Interesting)

          by antirelic (1030688) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @05:11PM (#24786069) Journal

          Why appeal to such an ugly thing? Why not appeal to humanity? Do you really, honestly and sincerely believe that all Americans just run around saying "we're the best!" and have some primitive need to "be the best!"?

          I know its "in fashion" to hate America and stereo type Americans as club wielding hate machines that dont do anything except for "profit" or "oil", but a lot of American innovention came from "foreigners" who came to our country to ink out a life that the failed social states of Europe simply couldnt/wouldnt provide.

          I know this is going to get modded troll (because I am posting after 6pm, aka: non-Us slashdot time), but the United States will continue to remain the research and technology leader tommorow for the same reason it has been for the past 100 years: The United States is more welcoming to foreigners.

          You may think I kid, but Germans hate the Turks and the Poles (and other Eastern immigrants), Switzerland has one of the highest bars to entry for immigrants (save refugees, but thats a different crowd), and the same goes for most Socialist nations. Many European nations have elected political parties into power that are very, very outwardly anti-immigrant / pro-nationalist.

          Regardless of what the media portrays, the United States is still the most welcoming country to immigrants who want to make a better life. Regardless if they stay and become American citizens, or go back to their home countries (where they can help to make a better life for their families), this is only possible because of US capitalism, and being a non socialism.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Urkki (668283)

            Why appeal to such an ugly thing? Why not appeal to humanity?

            Appeal to humanity, as in appeal to remove the wrong part of humanity by a bloody war? Yes, that might work too, but appealing to plain nationalism without war is almost as effective,and has less side-effects...

            I'd put a smiley here if it wasn't so sad.

        • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @06:51PM (#24787371)

          scare americans with stories about chinese and indian basic research. forget the truth or distruth or mistruth or truthiness of those stories. just make an appeal to nationalism. in this way, you will get american funding for basic research

          That's not how it works. Joe Public couldn't care less about basic research, and it doesn't really matter what country he lives in. Fact is, research is expensive, and there's no way to predict whether a given line will pay off. We only know that, in the long run, the payback is worth every penny we invest and more. Unfortunately, long-term thinking has always been in short supply.

          Now, if you look at the history of basic research and the resultant leaps in technological capability, there are sharp discontinuities every time there's a major conflict. Forget "tribal chest thumping", think more about "tribal mass murder" and you'll see that nothing gets more funds directed into fundamental scientific research and applied technology than war. Hell, even when there's no active conflict, the mere threat of such serves to justify massive expenditures on all sides. World War II, the Cold War (and concomitant Space Race) are classic examples of how the military demands (and gets) untold billions of dollars (rubles, whatever) to spend on R&D. Yes, that money is primarily for military purposes, but the public benefits from (often pretty directly too) at least in the U.S. Our government has spun off a lot of military tech into the private sector over the years. Is that the most efficient way advance the state-of-the-art? No, probably not, but still a lot of good has come from it.

          The net effect of all this, of course, is that Progress becomes a damned expensive proposition. Nevertheless, I'm happy to be a beneficiary of high tech that resulted from the last few big ones. I'm just hoping that I won't be a casualty in the next one.

          • by Free the Cowards (1280296) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @09:57PM (#24789355)

            I can be argued that the sharp discontinuities produced by war are not drivers of overall progress, and in fact take away from it in the long run. There are really two possibilities (at least):

            1. War pushes more funding, people, effort, and motivation into research, resulting in the obvious consequences. (This is effectively what you're claiming.)
            2. War pushes researchers out of long-term pie-in-the-sky theoretical areas and into instant-gratification practical areas which produce the things that the generals need yesterday. This gives the appearance of vastly advancing the state of the art, while actually doing nothing for overall progress, or even hurting it.

            As a practical example, consider the Manhattan Project. These high powered physicists spent years as effectively glorified engineers. A lot of really practical knowledge was gained on nuclear technology, which drove both bomb and power technology for decades to follow. But no new physics were discovered there, and that is the real driver in the long term.

            Now of course you could go the other way. You could say that physics has advanced as much as it has since 1945 because these practical results gave the theorists something to strive for. It's certainly not cut and dried. I don't really even know which way I lean on the question. But it's interesting to consider whether the sharp upticks in technological advancement due to war are really as beneficial as they look at first glance.

      • Re:therefore (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:55PM (#24784877)

        Why, are China and India doing basic science research? My impression that pretty much *everyone* is getting out of the game. Deregulating telecom and breaking up AT&T did wonders for telephone customers, but it did not do good things for smart people with big budgets. Consider the fact that UNIX started as an excuse to hack on computer games [harvard.edu].

        My old advisor has been spending a lot of time in China and India lately. In his eyes, India really is moving in the direction of major fundamental research. China...not so much. He thinks that if things move at their current pace, there will be a crossover in about 20-30 years when India passes America in innovation. America's technical lead is still quite pronounced today, but not remotely secure.

        • Re:therefore (Score:5, Informative)

          by homer_s (799572) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @04:34PM (#24785503)
          My old advisor has been spending a lot of time in China and India lately. In his eyes, India really is moving in the direction of major fundamental research. He thinks that if things move at their current pace, there will be a crossover in about 20-30 years when India passes America in innovation.

          I'm 29. I'm from India. I've lived in America for the last 6 years. Your advisor must be smoking something good. Please ask him to stop.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by yuriyg (926419)
            I wanted to mod this "Interesting", but then stopped and realized, that I would rather see an insightful post. Can you please elaborate, why do you think that India won't surpass US in innovation.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by dodobh (65811)

              Currently, there is a massive lack of funding for basic research (except stuff which enables showoffs, like putting humans on the moon). Marketing is a higher priority.

              A significant proportion of research is just reshashing what hjas been done elsewhere, not truly new stuff.

            • Re:therefore (Score:4, Interesting)

              by homer_s (799572) on Friday August 29, 2008 @05:26AM (#24792039)
              All the best minds leave India. This has changed in the last 5 years, but it is still the exception for someone smart to stay back in India.

              The schools and colleges in India suck - I once had a professor (meaning, he had completed his Ph.d) who, when stuck with some equation of the form d(...)/dt, cancelled d & d and 'assumed t=1' and solved the equation. This was one of the senior professors.
              In school, answers are graded based on how long they are not by what they say. If you think the education in USA is bad ( and I agree that it is), then you should see what happens in India.

              The amount of resources America can throw at education is probably equal to a good % of the total GDP of India. I still remember how my friend and I felt when we saw a community college here - a freaking community college was bigger and better equipped than any college we saw in India.

              So, anytime someone here talks about India beating the USA in science, I know they're full of BS.
        • Re:therefore (Score:5, Informative)

          by budword (680846) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @07:23PM (#24787759)
          India is still asking women to list their menstrual cycle on job applications. They aren't passing anyone anytime soon.
    • Re:therefore (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Spy der Mann (805235) <spydermann.slashdot@NOspam.gmail.com> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:41PM (#24784657) Homepage Journal

      when the next laser, the next solid state transistor, is invented, it will be done in China and India

      *ahem* What about the "such as networking, high-speed electronics, wireless, nanotechnology" part?

      IMO nanotechnology is today's "basic science research".

      • Re:therefore (Score:5, Insightful)

        by klaun (236494) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @04:30PM (#24785415)

        IMO nanotechnology is today's "basic science research".

        Technology is knowledge about the means and methods for producing goods and services.

        Science is systematically acquired knowledge about the natural world and more broadly the system of acquiring that knowledge.

        Technology is not science, full stop.

        The surface physics and materials physics research that will no longer be done is the science that gave rise to nanotechnology. In as much as we have nanotechnology, it is because of surface physics. In as much as we don't do basic science research, we will no longer have new technologies like nanotechnology.

      • Re:therefore (Score:4, Informative)

        by StrategicIrony (1183007) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @04:38PM (#24785567)

        Negative.

        Nanotech is on the leading edge of engineering disciplines, but is hardly pure science, unless you're talking about atomic or quantum level manipulation of matter.

        The idea of making really small electronics and things are really not fundamental science questions, but just a matter of refining manufacturing techniques.

    • Re:therefore (Score:5, Insightful)

      by avandesande (143899) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:41PM (#24784659) Journal

      Many won't like to admit this but the Ma Bell monopoly is what enabled bell labs to dump so much money into basic research.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        True, but prodding and breaking up monopolies/centralized control structures allowed for greater innovation, such as: cell phones, ability to choose phone providers, and being able to actually purchase your own home phone.
        • Re:therefore (Score:5, Interesting)

          by trb (8509) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @04:39PM (#24785583)

          True, but prodding and breaking up monopolies/centralized control structures allowed for greater innovation, such as: cell phones, ability to choose phone providers, and being able to actually purchase your own home phone.

          I disagree. Breaking up the service monopolies (like the Bell System) enabled greedy companies to skim cream from centers of high profit (like businesses and dense urban areas) at the expense of residential and rural customers.

          Your examples of innovation are weak. Bell Labs invented AMPS, an early cell phone system, and did lots of cell communication research before that. They did scads of other basic research too. Choice of phone providers and buying your phone aren't great innovation.

          I'm not saying that the Bell System monopoly was good or bad, but its monopoly position enabled it to finance true research and innovation. Today's competitive commerce does not allow that kind of research and innovation at all - any "research" investment is in applied research, and is all about short term profits.

          One Bell System, it worked.

          -trb (at BTL 1978-83)

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            I do agree that because of their position, Bell Labs could afford a much longer term view and conduct by themselves better research than any single company could do today.

            But I maintain that the total contribution to research by all of the competitors on the field today is in excess of what Bell could've produced by themselves. It's capitalistic math - enforced monopolies are not as efficient (or innovative) as competition. As evidence I'd say the fact that the many companies fund projects at many uni
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Rich0 (548339)

            Actually, the only reason that Bell did so much R&D was the way that utility regulation worked at the time.

            Basically Bell would document its costs to deliver phone service, add a percentage, and present that to the regulatory bodies, who would approve new rates. The more Bell spent on delivering service, the more money it made.

            If Bell burned $1000 in a fireplace and could argue that it was necessary to provide service, then the regulators would force consumers to cought up $1100. It was like printing

          • Re:therefore (Score:4, Interesting)

            by LurkerXXX (667952) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @07:46PM (#24788045)

            I'm not saying that the Bell System monopoly was good or bad

            Well, I'll say it. It was bad.

            You had to rent phones from Ma Bell. We had 3 phones in our house and had to pay a rental fee each month for each of them. You couldn't buy their phones, and you weren't allowed to attach phones from any other company. All you were allowed to do was rent theirs.

            Ma Bell abused her customers horrible. Yes, the vast profits allowed them to do research at bell labs that turned out some neat things, but that didn't make up for the fact that they were abusing their monopoly power horribly.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by afidel (530433)
            I'm sorry but the advances in the cellular world in the last 8 years are leaps and bounds ahead of what would have come out of a monopoly AT&T in the same time period. Remember it took AT&T almost that long to go from AMPS to D-AMPS (TDMA) and that was with mandated second providers!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jo42 (227475)

      when the next laser, the next solid state transistor, is invented, it will be done in China and India

      There was only so much Bell Labs could reverse engineer from the Alien technology fed to them from Area 51. So unless China or India have access to Area 51 Alien technology, I just don't see that happening. Unless, of course, they have their own Alien gadgets to reverse engineer...

  • by Tenrosei (1305283) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:23PM (#24784353)
  • by geoffrobinson (109879) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:24PM (#24784361) Homepage

    Fundamental physics research, while wonderful, does seem a bit much of a company which no longer has a monopoly to tax Americans to fund stuff like that.

  • Another vicim (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest (867930) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:24PM (#24784363)
    of the "all that matters is the next quarter" school of thought? Between that and over the top IP laws, North America is headed for trouble.
    • Re:Another vicim (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LithiumX (717017) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @04:39PM (#24785581)
      Welcome to the markets of the 21st century! Every company hemorrhages cash just to stay operational, and everyone is owned by stockholders who are only interested in profit. If you're not expanding, you're losing - and if you lose more than a few times, you're done.

      (and if you're not constantly on top of things, you'll be eaten alive by the pseudo-third-world, undisputed master of Cheap Plastic Crap(tm))

      It's ultimately consumers who are to blame. Almost all of us would rather buy low-quality mass-produced items instead of a higher quality product that costs 10% more. We'd rather go for the comfort of eating at a major chain instead of a one-location restaurant (which usually costs about the same). We'll howl about trade deficits, but end up almost exclusively buying foreign-made products. We'll lament the effect of crushing steamroller BigBox stores, but don't even notice the smaller shops we drive by on the way there.

      I'm as guilty as anyone else here, and you know that there's an extremely high probability that you are too - useless token gestures aside.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by turing_m (1030530)

        It's ultimately consumers who are to blame.

        Why are they to blame? There is no feedback mechanism to reward consumers for this behavior. Why should one consumer spend more on a locally produced product for a higher price, when the local person he enriches is likely just going to spend money on the foreign goods? The only way I know of to solve this is force, through protectionist policies.

  • Well... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Kemanorel (127835)

    I think I speak for many when I say...

    Well FUCK!

    So what if it's not immediately marketable. The goodwill alone is worth some investment.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:24PM (#24784373)
    "will instead be focusing on more immediately marketable areas such as networking, high-speed electronics, wireless, nanotechnology and software."

    If they truly wanted to focus on these areas, and the future of these areas, they would continue the research. Bell/Lucent would not be where they are today without those now basic, but groundbreaking at the time discoveries that they've made in the past.

    This seems very shortsighted of them, which unfortunately seems to be the new American way.
  • Welcome to modern western culture... it's all about making a quick buck.

    Any and every company out there is all about making as much money as possible as quickly as possible... what ever happend to making a modest amount of money while actually taking risks?
    • Re:Greed. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:29PM (#24784453) Journal

      It's beginning to look more Rome's last century; Emperors being crowned amidst the decay of the once-great city, old monoliths being torn down to make new ones, because the coin had been so devalued that no one could afford to pay artisans of any skill.

      Little by little the American Empire erodes, its more distant conquests taxing it more and more, its currency faltering, more of its talent having to be imported.

      I'm looking the Democratic National Convention and its soon-to-come Republican counterpart, and I can't help but thinking that they are indeed fiddling while Rome burns.

      • Re:Greed. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by meringuoid (568297) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @05:20PM (#24786227)
        If we're likening America to Rome, I wouldn't say we're necessarily looking at the Decline and Fall of the Empire. We could, however, be seeing the last days of the Republic. An American Empire could surely be founded. The principles of the Republic have been substantially eroded in recent years; all it would take would be a successful, popular, but unscrupulous and ambitious leader, and the Republic would die to the sound of thunderous applause.

        Now the Roman Empire was enormously successful. Despite its grotesque taste in sports, its often appalling system of government, and its slave economy, it lasted for many centuries, and the lands of the empire enjoyed stability and prosperity year after year after year. They weren't plunderers, like so many barbarian kings who seized a land only to loot its wealth; they invested in what they conquered. Aqueducts. Sanitation. Roads. Irrigation. Medicine. Education. Wine. Baths. They knew how to keep order, and on the whole they brought peace.

        Were America successfully to mimic Rome, it might do good for much of the world. But from a practical perspective, there are few places left an imperialist can go without running up against the interests of a nuclear-armed rival. Imperialism today would be a dangerous business. So a tyrant America would not occupy lands like the Romans; they'd build a merchant empire like the British. Already the basics are in place: airbases dotted around the world, battlegroups at sea each with more firepower than most nations. The Empire would not require a vast bureaucracy, nor legions occupying each and every city; all that would be needed would be a tremendous mobility, and the threat to all nations that if they disobey, they'll be destroyed. Fear would keep them in line. America cannot do this at present, for all the world knows they have enough on their hands just in Iraq and Afghanistan. But a tyrant could simply bring in conscription, build more carriers, more planes, more bombs...

        Alas, however, this empire would not be one of investment. When your rule is based not on legions on the ground, nor on merchants in port, but on the threat of annihilation, why would you share the wealth? So this would be no Roman empire at all; just another barbarian plunderer.

      • Re:Greed. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bendodge (998616) <bendodge@b[ ]rog ... m ['sgp' in gap]> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @05:52PM (#24786741) Homepage Journal

        The problem is that we're quickly losing the ability to think and act for ourselves. Britain is a perfect picture of what happens when you follow that road. A lot of British I talk to simply can't comprehend why you ought to carry a gun, pay for your own healthcare, or prefer terrorists over big brother. We don't seem to realize that our freedoms are being eroded by a pressure-washer congress. Just yesterday there was that Slashdot article about wind power advocating that the Feds mandate/fund a new electrical grid. Uncle Sam is already worse than broke. Quit aggravating the problem.

        I was listening to an old Ronald Reagan broadcast the other day, and he talked about how Social Security initially promised that you'd never pay more than $.03 on the dollar. What a laugh. Social Security is looking to pay out trillions more than it has in coming years, and guess who will pay the bill? You'd make more money if your put your retirement into a savings account than into Social Security.

        Also, the FDIC is slowly but surely ruining our financial economy. Why do you think lenders gave out so many subprime loans? Because the owners know that whatever happens, they are personally immune. Why do people no longer care to ensure that the S&L's they put their money in are financially sound? Because they know that they are immune, all this thanks to the FDIC, which Congress paid $166 billion to bail out in '89. Folks, there is no such thing as free lunch. Unless we can get the government to quit fiddling with the economy and loosen the grip of the environmentalists on the energy resources we already posses within out borders, we are going to continue to fall.

        You'd think that after 200 years we'd get the idea; the best market is a market left alone. It actually works. We didn't get where we are by relying on Uncle Sam to bail us out of everything. Look at a chart of per cent deviation in business activity. Things go up and down and up and down, and then there is a sudden boom in 1928. By the end of 1929 deviation is negative, and by '32 it's almost -50%. Then it rises steadily until '38, when it falls nearly as low as it did in '32. We recovered from the depression in spite of the New Deal, not because of it.

        Now Congress is looking to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, simply because they control half of America's mortgages (~$10 trillion) . No company is "too big" to let fail. If we continue to reward financial irresponsibility, it will only get worse in the future. True, it wouldn't be pretty if something that huge fell flat, but postponing it will only make the future worse.

        It's high time we quit turning to Congress to solve our problems. We need real, long-term solutions to problems. Our children should not have to reap the fruits of our irresponsibility.

    • Re:Greed. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by afabbro (33948) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:38PM (#24784623) Homepage

      Welcome to modern western culture... it's all about making a quick buck.

      Modern? At what point wasn't it like that?

      Any and every company out there is all about making as much money as possible as quickly as possible... what ever happend to making a modest amount of money while actually taking risks?

      You can do that with your own money. Making as much money as possible as quickly as possible is pretty much the point of capitalism, where you're using other people's money.

  • Restructuring? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:24PM (#24784385)
    With no basic materials science or semiconductor research, I'm not sure what they're going to be able to develop in the fields of "high-speed electronics" or "nanotechnology". Perhaps they're going to restructure so that the existing basic science researchers are more "product driven", being put into marketable research areas with specific goals, but that strikes me as a sure-fire way of duplicating effort and limiting their scope for innovation.
  • by halsver (885120) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:26PM (#24784417)

    That America has been losing its edge for years and every time you look around, the problem is accelerating? Do new research labs not get any press? Or is it really the case that more and more corporate research labs are being shut.

    I know American Universities are still considered tops, but how much longer will that even matter?

    • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:36PM (#24784591)
      It is all the stupid patent issues. It has become that you can't even write a new OS without it being attacked by patent threats, let alone anything in hardware.
  • The End (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:27PM (#24784429) Homepage

    That's sad.

    I've seen so many of the big labs die. I happened to be at IBM Alamaden the day IBM exited the disk drive business, a sad day and the beginning of the end for Alamaden. I saw Xerox PARC in its heyday; I've used and programmed an original Alto. DEC's labs are long gone, killed in the Compaq/HP takeover. HP Labs is a shadow of its former self.

    Who in American industry is still doing basic research?

    • Re:The End (Score:4, Informative)

      by afabbro (33948) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:42PM (#24784677) Homepage

      I've seen so many of the big labs die. I happened to be at IBM Alamaden the day IBM exited the disk drive business, a sad day and the beginning of the end for Alamaden. Who in American industry is still doing basic research?

      Well, IBM still is [ibm.com], and on a lot cooler stuff that just disk drives.

      • Re:The End (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Goldsmith (561202) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @08:12PM (#24788347)

        IBM researchers whom I've talked to at APS meetings say they must either produce something to fund their research or get outside funding. The answer was to compete with academic labs for federal grants and do contract research for other companies. The problem is this takes away what made the industrial labs so great: the ability of a scientist to work on what they felt was important rather than do what some grant reviewer thought was important.

    • I think a lot of it is being moved (rightly or wrongly) to Colleges and Universities. While you not under the stress of having to make something profitable, but you are reduced to below slave labor having to pay to do your job, just for a chance to get Dr. added to your name.
      Americans have generally been getting much more short sighted lately. Not willing to invest into the future just the here and now.

  • by Shag (3737) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:27PM (#24784431) Homepage

    Fundamental physics research has really taken on a life of its own, and is conducted with really big, really expensive toys.

    I don't think Lucent now (or even Bell back in the day) could really justify building something like the Large Hadron Collider.

    So, yes, a lot of good work was done, but perhaps they've gone as far as they can within the constraints of what's reasonable for them to do as an entity.

    And hey, if the best and brightest minds on their payroll instead work on something that makes my connection faster, it's not like I'm gonna complain.

    • by Btarlinian (922732) <tarlinian&gmail,com> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:35PM (#24784575)
      There is more to fundamental physics research than particle physics though. There's still plenty of work being done in condensed matter physics and AMO (atomic, molecular, & optical). However, I actually don't fault Bell Labs for getting out of this area. Fundamental physics research provides very little for the company. AT&T never made money off of the transistor. They haven't turned into a laser manufacturer. Scientific research is a public good and as such, should be funded by the government. Without the benefit of a monopoly, Bell Labs can't really afford to spend money on fundamental research, which costs a lot of money, and results in very little private gain.
  • by Dex5791 (973984) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:28PM (#24784441)
    I once worked there. Man that place has gone to the dogs. "Less learnin, more earnin!" -Alcatel-Lucent CEO
  • Six Sigma (Score:5, Funny)

    by turgid (580780) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:29PM (#24784461) Journal

    Maybe someone's been hob-nobbing with GE? Core business! Core Business! Eliminate waste! Exterminate!

    • Re:Six Sigma (Score:5, Informative)

      by Avohir (889832) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @04:29PM (#24785395)
      humorous, considering the precursor to Six Sigma was actually developed at Bell Labs...

      from Wikipedia:

      In 1924, Bells Labs physicist Dr. Walter A. Shewhart proposed the control chart as a method to determine when a process was in a state of statistical control. Shewart's methods were the basis for statistical process control (SPC) - the use of statistically-based tools and techniques for the management and improvement of processes. This was the origin of the modern quality movement, including Six Sigma.
  • The Corporate Astrologer indicated that this would be an auspicious time to shift spending and investment from basic science to litigation activities.

  • by Junior Samples (550792) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:30PM (#24784483)

    "After six Nobel Prizes, the invention of the transistor, laser and"

    This was all technology appropriated from the Roswell Crash anyhow.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:33PM (#24784535)

    Here's this old myth being repeated once more.

    Sorry, Bell Labs never invented the transistor. The transistor had been invented (and patented) back in the 1920's. It was in use during WWII (see "A Different Kind of War" by Commodore Myles).

    What Bell Labs DID invent was the SILICON transistor. And of course this was an incredible breakthrough.

    Unfortunately, they also have tried claiming complete credit for the creation of the transistor in general, by propagating the myth that no transistors existed before the invention of the Silicon Transistor.

    Please get your facts right, as it's a discredit to the people who did the original pioneering work in this field. Thanks.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by VeNoM0619 (1058216)

      Please get your facts right, as it's a discredit to the people who did the original pioneering work in this field. Thanks.

      So... who actually did the original pioneering then...? Discredit and no credit at all could be considered the same.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      It was patented in the '20s but we have no evidence that it was ever built. The first transistor at Bell Labs used germanium.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Luyseyal (3154)

      A review of Miles' "A Different Kind of War" [jstor.org] in The Journal of Asian Studies discounts some of his credibility. Furthermore, it was published posthumously in 1967. I find it more likely to believe he was a little braggadocious in his notes and the text just made it worse...

      Citation from jstor:
      H. L. Boatner
      The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Feb., 1969), pp. 400-401

      -l

  • by amorsen (7485) <benny+slashdot@amorsen.dk> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:45PM (#24784739)

    Luckily governments across the world have realized the need for basic research. They have provided universities and other public research institutions with practically unlimited funds, without making demands that the research must lead to products or patents.

    Due to these happy circumstances, there is no longer a need for the private sector to do basic research. It can focus on what it does best: Turning theoretical results into practical products.

  • by KeepQuiet (992584) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:46PM (#24784749)
    In the past, the basic science was led by companies like Bell. They could reason the money they spent with the lack of innovation in the field. Now the basic science is led by universities -- exactly how it is supposed to be. Companies can have their problem worked on by paying a fraction of what they pay to their employees (in academia these people are named either phd student or postdoc). My wife is a postdoc and their projects are funded by the industry. They are trying to solve very theoretical problems. The company couldn't explain spending money on this to their shareholders, but now they can explain it with industry-academia partnership. Academia wins, industry wins. Also, we saw this before when MERL closed part of its research lab. Didn't you notice where most departing researchers go? Yes, academia.
  • by blind biker (1066130) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @03:53PM (#24784849) Journal

    Pulling out from materials science research AND focus on nanotechnology and high-speed electronics? That's nonsense.

    Look at Intel: what keeps them one step ahead from an otherwise very creative company as AMD, (apart from the great team Intel has in Haifa) is huge and continuous investments in materials science. A little bit less electromigration, a bit better control of dielectric coefficients, a few nanometers less here and there - it all adds up.

    As a researcher in nanotechnology, I have huge, HUGE respect for my materials science colleagues (as well as physical chemists).

  • by gelfling (6534) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @04:07PM (#24785031) Homepage Journal

    We are becoming an economy of people selling insurance to each other. We don't make build or invent much of anything anymore. And the few things we are good at the Christian fundamentalists make sure never get done.

  • USA? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 28, 2008 @04:34PM (#24785505)

    Why is this tagged USA? Alcatel-Lucent is a French company.

  • Empty c-shell? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by OldCrasher (254629) on Thursday August 28, 2008 @04:57PM (#24785855) Homepage

    I live in this small town, at the top of the hill is a large edifice to modern technology. The town's zipcode is immortalised in "The C Programming Language" book. K&R both used to be seen in the local Friendly's.

    Things are different now, though. The huge carparks have been empty for years, some of the multiple entrances are often closed on workdays. I have been in the buildings and they smell of history, but sadly they don't smell of the future. This story is simply the black filling in the final period in a long story. The fact is the place has done little of it's famous research in more than a decade. It's an empty shell of a place. C was created there, Unix too, even C++. Many local businesses have failed or moved out as the Labs have withered away. The gist of this story is long overdue.

  • Sad... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SmoothTom (455688) <Tomas@TiJiL.org> on Thursday August 28, 2008 @05:24PM (#24786285) Homepage

    Having worked at Bell Labs, Holmdel back in the '80s, not only does the shutting down of basic research at the 'Labs sadden me, but Lucent dumping that beautiful Eero Saarinen designed building in Holmdel and allowing it to be torn down really bothers me..

    Holmdel was magnificent. Seeing pictures of it's last days, with the atrium forest dying, the building getting into horrible shape, and the places I was so familiar with turning to rubble actually affects me emotionally.

    With the final shut down of basic research at the Labs we are finally seeing the true results of the break-up of the old Bell System 01JAN1984 by Judge Greene. There are no companies left with the income and drive to support good, large scale basic research in the United States. It was more than just Ma Bell who died that day.

    --Tomas

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the demigodic party. -- Dennis Ritchie

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