Rags of Light

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The Rise and Fall of the Corporate R&D Lab.

I link to this article because it brings back many memories.

I grew up in New Jersey, and my dad was a chemist employed by the huge Bell Telephone Laboratories (universally known as Bell Labs) in Murray Hill. He never did anything but “pure” chemical research, and had a perhaps snobbish aversion to applied science. But Bell Labs happily employed him: their philosophy was that enough good research would in the long run be good for them. We knew some outright weirdos who I doubt would be employable in industry today: a family acquaintance was a mathematician who was occasonally psychotic and devoted his workdays to studying time reversal, whatever that might mean. But Bell was happy to have such people if they were brilliant enough.

The Bell Labs philosophy certainly paid off: the transistor and the laser both came out of that facility. I doubt that a modern concern for “shareholder value” would allow such a place to exist today.