Wired: Bell Labs Kills Fundamental Physics Research

Another shitty move by (Alcatel-)Lucent, who wrecked Bell Labs and blew all of my stock money…


Bell Labs Kills Fundamental Physics Research

By Priya Ganapati

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.

The idea is to align the research work in the Lab closer to areas that the parent company is focusing on, says Peter Benedict, spokesperson for Bell Labs and Alcatel-Lucent Ventures.

“In the new innovation model, research needs to keep addressing the need of the mother company,” he says.

That view is shortsighted and may drastically curtail the Labs’ ability to come up with truly innovative discoveries, respond critics.

“Fundamental physics is absolutely crucial to computing,” says Mike Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society. “Say in the case of integrated circuits, there were many, many small steps that occurred along the way resulting from decades worth of work in matters of physics.”

(continued at http://blog.wired.com/gadgets/2008/08/bell-labs-kills.html)

In case you weren’t previously aware, here’s a list of some of the great inventions to come out of Bell Labs in the past:

At its peak, Bell Laboratories was the premier facility of its type, developing a wide range of revolutionary technologies, including radio astronomy, the transistor, the laser, information theory, the UNIX operating system, and the C programming language. There have been six Nobel Prizes awarded for work completed at Bell Laboratories. [1]


Yes, that’s the transistor, the laser, UNIX, and the C programming language, let alone everything else they invented.

Thanks again, (Alcatel-)Lucent. Great job. 😦

1 Comment

  1. Well, it is sad, but not new. The place has been dying since 1999, and on a respirator since 2001. What they recently shut down is just the last handful of people doing real research out of what was once about a thousand.

    The thing that made Bell Labs great was the fact that you could walk down the hallway and find an expert on nearly anything. That can’t exist in a small group. That, and the expert you found would have enough freedom to (maybe) help you.

    It doesn’t really even exist in universities these days: a good university will have experts, but the experts won’t have freedom. They will all have teaching commitments or they will be on the research treadmill (writing grant proposals, then frantically trying to live up to the proposals). So, go to a professor with a brilliant half of an idea and ask his/her help; what happens? If you’re lucky, one of two things. You may get an offer to collaborate on a grant proposal which may — but usually won’t — turn into money in a year or two. Or, if the idea’s really good and you’re lucky, you can work with a half-trained student to turn the idea into the student’s thesis.

    There are still a few odd corners of the world where researchers have expertise and freedom to follow a good idea they hear about, but they are rare and precious. (Certainly, we wouldn’t want to tell any research managers about them! Freedom to choose is rarely consistent with being managed…)

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