GUEST COMMENTARY: Research universities are key asset in future economic growth

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 | 12:51 p.m. CDT

In the wake of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, it is vital that Americans quickly identify ways to accelerate innovation and growth – and in turn, create jobs — in order to move America forward. 

We cannot afford to stand still; the rest of the world certainly will not. In Columbia, we have a unique combination of resources that, if utilized effectively, will enable us to lead America in that growth.

Americans must take a strategic approach that builds on our strengths.  We have an opportunity to move our nation forward by focusing on two areas in which we continue to lead the world: our research universities — our most important assets for economic leadership in a global, knowledge-based economy — and in broadband services and applications. 

America’s leadership in both areas is no accident.  From the Morrill Act of 1862, which created our land grant colleges, through the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency that seeded the work at universities that led to the creation of the Internet, each American generation has invested in ways that built on previous investments to maintain that leadership and create a new generation of opportunities.

Broadband networks around the world will continue to grow. The United States will benefit in a myriad of ways by having a critical mass of communities that have not just world classnetworks but world leading networks. 

It is also clear that the communities where both the economic and innovative climate are best suited for such networks are those surrounding our great research universities.  MU is such a university. As an AAU institution, MU is a leader in groundbreaking research that improves all our lives by making us healthier and providing jobs.

Accelerating the deployment of such networks and services, and the innovation and jobs that follow, does not take new government funding.  Indeed, this climate of unprecedented global competitiveness and constrained public investment compels us to find a new approach, and American ingenuity is up to the task. 

Earlier this year, a broad-based group announced a partnership to form GIG.U: the University Community Next Generation Innovation Project, an initiative to create improved incentives for private risk capital to provide next-generation broadband services. 

Through an open process, Gig.U will work with current and potential network providers to accelerate the offering of ultra high-speed network services to our leading research communities. 

The idea is that by banding together in this process, the project can create a new market that serves the needs of university communities while simultaneously seeding America’s next generation of network deployments – and the jobs that are created along with them.

We see great potential for the Gig.U members in Columbia creating innovations that will spur growth throughout the region into the greater economy.

Top research universities such as MU rely heavily on ultra-high speed networks in order to keep up with the demands of a research climate that is advancing at exponential speeds.

For example, the cost of genome sequencing has dropped with relatively cheap sequencers producing 1 terabyte of data per day. Some genome sequencing labs have 50 of these machines.

Trying to transfer this volume of data even in a compressed form would overwhelm any existing national network. A Large Hadron Collider, on the other hand, has bandwidth requirements that grow exponentially with 20 to 30 Gb data flows today and 100 Gb data flows next year.

A single physics researcher can consume a University’s bandwidth downloading a single data set for hours if not days.

With Datastormand Carfax, among others, Columbia has long been a leader in this area. Two MU computer science graduates created Datastorm, an innovative software package to allow a PC to communicate with a variety of computer systems.

At one time, Datastorm, which was listed in Fortune magazine as one of the top 500 companies in America, employed more than 300 people and brought more than $20 million a year into the local economy.

In 1984, Carfax started with 14 Missouri car dealerships and sent car histories by fax. Carfax launched its first website in 1996 and now hosts 8 billion vehicle records from 34,000 sources.

With such a rich history of fostering an environment that allows for such success, it is no wonder that Columbia and its surrounding areas continue to lead the way in producing innovative technologies.

Miller's Professional Imaging is the largest professional lab organization in the United States catering to high-resolution printing of high-resolution digital images.

MU Health Care was recognized as one of the nation’s top 100 “most wired” health care organizations in the July 2011 issue of Hospitals & Health Networks magazine.

Many Columbia residents enjoy access to campus ultra-high speed networks during the day but cannot continue their work at home.

As Internet use continues to increase across the board, we hope this initiative will help bring the best of broadband to our residents wherever they may be, as we look to make strides in new innovative fields such as smart and connected utility services.

We believe that the Gig.U effort is representative of the very best America has to offer — innovation, creativity and partnership — and that investment made in these communities now will provide the platform for our country’s future economic growth and global leadership. 

While we must have the courage to make some big cuts to assure a sound fiscal future, we should not ignore the opportunity to incent small but strategic investments in those technologies and communities that have enabled us to lead the world today and can enable greater leadership tomorrow.

Robert Duncan is vice chancellor for research at MU.

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Ellis Smith September 20, 2011 | 5:29 p.m.

No argument, just a "minor" note.

Major research taking place in our University of Missouri System is NOT confined to MU.

One example concerns borate glass nanofibers and their use to promote healing of wounds. The fibers, sterilized and placed directly on wounds, seriously speed healing, and the end result is little or no scarring. Clinical trials are in progress, and will also test effectiveness of the nanofibers for healing burns, a serious medical concern.

The campus involved has no medical school, hospital or clinics, so clinical trials will be held elsewhere.

The nanofibers and process used to make them are patented. They will be produced, for their use in trials, by custom glass melter Mo-Sci Corp.

Serious research should be recognized WHEREVER it occurs in academia, don't you think?

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield September 20, 2011 | 10:04 p.m.

"Serious research should be recognized WHEREVER it occurs in academia, don't you think?"

So recognize it here: This is the COLUMBIA Missourian. I don't expect to read about Rolla happenings any more than I do Cape Girardeau goings-on. Yes, MS&T is a good school. We get that. But enough with the constant reminders. They're really very silly.

MS&T is not part of Gig.U, BTW.

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