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What do potato chips and microwaves have in common? Both inventions had a big impact on people’s lives, and both were invented by accident. In fact, experts believe that serendipity plays a major role in an estimated 30% to 50% of scientific discoveries. But at a time of heavy budget cuts, funding agencies want to make sure the research they are funding is likely to result in purposeful innovation – be it a new drug or a widely-used consumer product. In the journal Nature, science writer Neil Savage outlines some of the ways agencies seek to measure the impact of scientific research – which, Savage admits, still makes for very inexact science. getAbstract recommends his article to research and funding agencies.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How funding agencies try to measure the long-range impact of scientific research they underwrite and
  • What sources of information they are using to measure the returns from scientific research.
 

About the Author

Neil Savage is a freelance science and technology writer.

 

Summary

What can the invention of the iPhone teach about innovation?

Innovation is often a non-linear process, a coming-together of developments from disparate fields of research and technologies originally designed for other purposes. Physicist George Samuel Hurst created the first “electrically conductive screen” in 1970. In 1996, electrical engineer Wayne Westerman developed a display where users could enter information by touching different areas of the screen with a finger. Apple bought the technology in 2005, combined it with Internet-enabled software and cellphone technology and created the iPhone – an invention that changed the way people communicate and access information. Now, research-funding agencies are seeking a way to track how seemingly abstract scientific research can lead to practical innovation. Research and funding agencies have tried to track the impact of scientific research through bibliometrics, tracking how often scientific papers and patent applications cite a research project. Furthermore, if new patents cite old ones, that may indicate that the invention is of practical significance.


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