COLLEGE
10/14/2014 05:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Your Smartphone Would Be Dumb Without Federally Funded University Research

Federally funded research projects at universities led to the smartphone as we know it.

As the Association of American Universities illustrated in a post last week, each portion of modern smartphones was developed through university research. The lithium ion battery, for instance, would have been wildly expensive without John Goodenough's research on "less expensive, alternative materials for batteries" at the University of Texas, with funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. The multi-core processor, which allows your phone to run responsively without becoming heated, was first developed by professor Kunle Olukotun at Stanford University with Department of Defense funding.

The technology used in smartphones is the culmination of decades of such research. The TRANSIT Navigation Satellite System, the precursor to the GPS, was created at Johns Hopkins University during the Cold War with funding from the Department of Defense and NASA. In 1946, the first electronic general purpose computer -- which led to phones' CPUs -- was invented with funding from the U.S. Army at the University of Pennsylvania.

And the iconic touchscreen? It was initially developed in 1971 at the University of Kentucky, and improved at the University of Delaware with funding from the National Science Foundation. The research pair at the University of Delaware founded FingerWorks, which was acquired by Apple in 2005.

Federally funded university research has led to dozens of new companies, like Google, which was developed at Stanford University, and Duolingo, developed at Carnegie Mellon University, both with funding from the National Science Foundation. Last year, the University of Minnesota was honored for two startups launched from federal funding, one of which improved MRIs and one of which is finding more effective ways to generate energy from fossil fuels.

Despite the undeniable advances federally funded university research has brought us, research funding has recently been suffering. The AAU made this page because they "worry that policymakers sometimes forget how critical university research is to technologies we use everyday, like smartphones, vaccines and medicines, MRI, even the latest automobiles," explained AAU representative Barry Toiv.

Funding takes a hit with each government economic stumble, from the 2012 fiscal hit to the 2013 budget crisis. The government sequestration hit academic research funding hard, with the National Institutes of Health having to cut $1.7 billion in 2013 alone. As of this July, university research is still suffering from sequester cuts, especially as researchers leave universities for private companies or foreign countries with more abundant funding.

[h/t Politico Morning Education]

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