In todays Wall Street Journal there was a story about the latest Nobel prize in Physics. The prize was awarded to three scientists for developments many years ago that contributed to the fiber optic networks we all depend on today for phone and internet communications and for the technology that we depend on for our digital cameras.
Amazing developments indeed.
However, I want to address a different topic. Two of the winners came from Bell Labs. A second and related Wall Street Journal report was titled: ” Basic Research Loses Some Allure” and discusses how basic corporate research funds are down and how the Bell Labs of the past can not be duplicated.
My first job was with Bell Labs and I remember touring the facility in Murray Hill, NJ and seeing the lobby “shrine” to all the Nobel winners, US Medal of Science etc. A lot has changed since the famous tri-vestiture and ever since I have wondered whether Bell Labs should have remained with Lucent Technologies or somehow become something like NIH and remain a research facility. After the Lucent merger with Alcatel it became even a bigger issue both because of national security issues and also because of the turbulence in the telecom and tech industry in general.
I recall some of my friends admiring Bell Labs for post doc work at the same level as CMU or MIT – those days are gone. Still not sure it was the right thing. Can the googles of today really replace that pure science?
Perhaps so and perhaps we are getting better innovation from new ventures etc but somehow I still believe Bell Labs was (still is?) a national treasure and should be part of something else and not Alcatel Lucent (they can call their labs Alcatel Lucent Labs).