Mork Calling Marcus! Mork Calling Marcus! Nano, Nano!

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Forbes has an interview with Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, who has given massive green to fund nanotechnolgy at Georgia Tech (let's hope the Rambling Wreck's fortunes at manipulating molecules at the atomic level is more successful than their football program). Marcus forked over $15 million and was named "Forbes/Wolfe 2006 Nanotech Person of the Year" for his largess.

A snippet:

Is it the government or the private sector that drives it forward?

Government has the advantage of enormous amounts of money. When used intelligently, great things can happen. NIH does tremendous work in helping with medical research. Putting a man on the moon had a great positive effect on science and product development. The military has made great inroads in medicine. They are creative, entrepreneurial and wonderful when it comes to medical research. They are motivated by a basic need: to learn how to take care of our soldiers. The research has yielded treatments that have saved lives of soldiers who'd have died 10 years ago.

But I think the free enterprise system of investors, entrepreneurs and great ideas is what really drives nearly all of this forward. I'm not too old to not be amazed by the young entrepreneurs of today and what they have done. It took me 27 years with the Home Depot to create the value it did for the U.S., it put more than 350,000 people to work, created wealth for shareholders and owners. Some of these young entrepreneurs are doing it in three years, and it's all about creating value and embracing technologies. The next Bill Gates will come from nanotechnology. There is no doubt in my mind.

Whole thing here.

Back in 1995, Ed Regis did a great profile of nanotech visionary K. Eric Drexler for Reason. Check out the small print on the big idea here.

Reason's Ron Bailey on nanotech here.

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  1. Did you lose money betting on Tech’s games or something, you sound pretty annoyed at their lack of pigskin success.

    I guarantee you though, the MEMS (micro electro-mechanical systems) program at Tech is a very well organized and well worth investing in for more nanotechnology research.

  2. I, for one, am greatly pleased at the Ramblin’ Wreck’s lack of football success. May it ever be so.

  3. Solitudinarian,

    What are you, a Georgia fan?

  4. “Government has the advantage of enormous amounts of money. When used intelligently, great things can happen.”

    Socialism cannot calculate. Even if the government was populated with geniuses, it cannot “intelligently” use resources it took from our pockets. Marcus is probably giving lip service to the Nanny-State before setting himself to saying the obvious without stepping over some Marxist’s sensibilities: that the market delivers.

  5. Marcus is probably giving lip service to the Nanny-State before setting himself to saying the obvious without stepping over some Marxist’s sensibilities: that the market delivers.

    Here’s a puzzler for you: the problem with basic science research is that we don’t know what useful products may come out of it, and we don’t know how long it will take for this to happen. In a company, the goal is to bring a product or service to market as soon as possible in order to recoup your investment or deliver value to shareholders. In academia, there is no such pressure, but if something proves useful thirty years from now, it can still be brought to market. This also means that we can explore fields that at first glance appear unprofitable (as genomics did twenty years ago).

    In practice, in the USA, what happens is that publically-funded researchers are paid to churn out new ideas and knowledge without regard to economics, and if a potentially commercially viable product/process emerges from this research, it is commercialized (i.e. “spun off” into a new company or sold to an existing one) and the market takes care of the rest. Examples include the Internet, DNA sequencing, and many modern medical treatments. None of these would have become viable as early as they did without the government pouring money into them; at the same time, none of these would have reached consumers without companies to turn them into actual products. Everyone wins.

    I realize that outcome-based judgements aren’t in vogue around here, but you’re going to have a hard time convincing me or anyone else that a purely market-driven system would work any better, and an even harder time convincing me that it wouldn’t lead to less knowledged gained overall. I won’t argue against the notion that the free market ultimately drives human progress, but at least in life sciences (where I work) virtually no one would claim that business is better at basic research.

  6. Nat-

    I would say two things:

    1) Universities competing with each other for grants tend to be at least as cost-effective as federal labs in general.

    2) Universities are healthier when they have a variety of funding sources that include private foundations and industrial sponsors, especially if those industrial sponsors are also collaborators, providing useful experiences for grad students (while students hopefully do something useful in their role as cheap labor).

    I think this second point is compatible with what you say, it’s compatible with continued economic growth and innovation, and compatible with the direction that many on this forum would like to move in. (It’s not compatible with their destination, but at least it’s a step in the same direction.)

  7. But I think the free enterprise system of investors, entrepreneurs and great ideas is what really drives nearly all of this forward. – Marcus

    So, Mr. Home Depot, you couldn’t find a private university or research outfit you could have donated the dough to? You had to give it to a government operation?

    Kevin

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