A recent visit to Champaign, Illinois, home of the University of Illinois, got me thinking about the relationship between industry and academia.
On south First St. just past the Assembly Hall, looms the Illinois Research Park. It is growing like crazy, with lots of big names in there. Yahoo, Littlefuse, SAIC and Raytheon are just some of the tech companies there, while Caterpillar and John Deere are among the others onsite and Intel and others are nearby.
The site’s Tech Incubator was in 2011 named in 2011 as one of Inc.com’s “10 Start-up Incubators To Watch,” and is home to more than 30 startups.
And given Illinois has one of the top engineering programs in the world, plus a low cost of living, it’s an attractive place for an OEM or software developer to park a design or engineering lab.
Lots of reasons to be proud, right?
Well, maybe. Certainly there needs to be some relationship between industry and academia. They fill in each other’s gaps. Industry provides the real world need and direction, while universities can engage in the long-range blue sky type of research that future groundbreaking technologies can be built on.
Not to throw a wet blanket on the fun, but is it possible whether the close proximity over time might have a potential negative effect? Is it possible that the near-term thinking industry might corrupt the focus on basic research that is the foundation of academia? Could the tight daily interaction provoke university researchers to limit their thinking to the obvious and doable, instead of dreaming the impossible?
The leveraging of academia shows no signs of abating. The question is, should it?