Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Real Job Creator/Savior

Jobs of substance, those with upside for both workers and the economic world around them, are almost always born of invention and research. For all of the antiscientific feelings rippling through the United States, the cars we drive, the electronic connectivity we share, our military strength and the safety of the food we eat were all born in the minds of our scientists and engineers. We owe them most of our growth, our standard of living, and, if you will, our very survival as a nation. Unlike Wall Street which makes its fortunes by moving money around (basically producing the extreme economic polarization we see today), scientists and engineers make stuff… real stuff.
We are slashing government budgets to pare down “pure research,” the kind of stuff you see in great universities and incredible research institutions, the legendary spin-off technologies that had once defined American inventive creativity are withering away with every austerity vote in Congress. One of America’s proudest and accomplished government agencies, one that planted Americans on the moon in 1969 (and we have landed people on any other planet since), is NASA. And no, they did not invent Tang, Velcro or Teflon… but they did bring us a whole lot more.
For more than 50 years, the NASA Technology Transfer Program has connected NASA resources to private industry, referring to the commercial products as spin-offs. Well-known products that NASA claims as spin-offs include memory foam (originally named temper foam), freeze-dried food, firefighting equipment, emergency ‘space blankets,’ Dustbusters, cochlear implants, and now Speedo's LZR Racer swimsuits. As of 2012, NASA claims that there are nearly 1,800 other spin-offs in the fields of computer technology, environment and agriculture, health and medicine, public safety, transportation, recreation, and industrial productivity.” Wikipedia You can add these technologies to that unending list: infrared ear thermometers, ventricular assist device, artificial limbs, medical uses for light-emitting diodes, scratch-resistant lenses, and the tons and tons of computer and GPS technologies, etc., etc., etc. Whew!
But sometimes the spin-off technologies have such absolutely unintended benefits that we are shocked… and pleasantly surprised. There are survivors of tornados and, most recently, the massive earthquakes in Nepal, who have our “rocket scientists” to thank for an unexpected benefit from a technology created for an entirely different reason.
John Price, a program manager with the Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security, worked with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop this revolutionary new device called FINDER, short for Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response.
“This mighty, but easy-to-use, low-power radar tool enables first responders to detect and rescue people trapped under rubble more quickly than other technology allows, even if these victims of disasters ranging from earthquakes to tornadoes are stuck beneath fallen buildings and unable to move or talk, or have been knocked unconscious.
“Price’s achievement is extraordinary, according to his colleagues, who said he recognized the importance of the technology NASA had developed to measure orbital distance and detect small changes in ocean levels. Price served as a bridge between the technical experts and the first responders, oversaw the field tests and worked quickly to make sure the game-changing device was refined to be most effective for its new purpose.” The Washington Post, May 14th.
So as we fail to support our educational systems, cut back on needed infrastructure repair and expansion and pull back on government-sponsored research, the biggest losers are the taxpayers… the people of America (and the world) who will be denied those incredible new jobs or life-saving technologies that might have been. Somehow, we need to learn the difference between investment and raw spending with a rate of return. It seems that our Congress is not only science averse… but reflect our horrific test scores in mathematics. They just don’t get the numbers.
I’m Peter Dekom, and living in a nation run by legislators who cannot see beyond the end of their elected term is terrifying for our long-term survival and prosperity.

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