Power Electronics

Are Technology, Innovation and Education Interrelated?

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CHRIS HORWITZ had some interesting remarks when responding to my editorial in January. He's the CEO of Electrogrip, which makes high voltage equipment for the semiconductor industry. Today's nano-structured electronic devices can't be touched on their fragile tops during manufacture, and Electrogrip makes “electrostatic chucks” which hold these devices in plasma vacuum chambers, and in air, by applying high electric fields on their backsides. You will find components processed by Electrogrip chucks in virtually every computer in the world.

Horwitz said that this work requires a knowledge of material science, chemistry, plasma, thermal, electric, and materials physics, as well as of mechanical design, to make these products work for the customer. Thus high education levels are important for him, and that, he feels, is part of the secret to regaining worldwide competitiveness for the U.S.

“There is much hype over the competitiveness of the U.S. versus China and India, and that's no surprise since they each have four or more times the population of the U.S. and will always be formidable competitors as well as customers. However, the latest CIA World Factbook shows that the GDP per capita (based on purchasing power parity) of the U.S. population is 14 times that of India, and 6.5 times that of China…these countries have a LONG way to go before their population at large has similar purchasing power,” Horwitz said.

Horwitz continued, “More relevant to the U.S. experience is what a country such as Germany can tell us, since it is at a similar developmental level to the U.S., yet has maintained and bettered its competitive export capability with respect to both China and the U.S.. This is in spite of their cosseted workforce with comparatively lavish unemployment benefits, and an extended ‘growing-up time’ for students, who can continue studying at government expense (and of course with medical needs covered) until they should decide to end after say four degrees and finally start a job. The CIA World Factbook shows that while the gross export ranking of the U.S. went from #1 to #3, and China went from #4 to #1 over a period of 8 years, the ranking of Germany stayed between #1 and #2 throughout. So they are doing something good that we don't do here. And they have less than 1/4 the population of the U.S..”

Horwitz's comments make me wonder whether the U.S. is just plain complacent about surviving in today's global economy. Even the President talked about innovation in his State of the Union address. He pointed out the necessity of improving science and math education. However, my feeling is that fell on deaf ears. The pressure to reduce spending in the U.S. will certainly have an impact on education. While other countries have programs that push education, the U.S. has no such emphasis.

One of the greatest things that helped the U.S. after World War 11 and the Korean War was the G.I. bill. Today, there is some form of a bill, but those in the volunteer military are not likely pursue it to the degree that those who were drafted did after those two wars.

What this country needs is a means for those students who want to attend college can do so with some government funding. But, unfortunately we are now trying to fight our way through a recession that lingers on. The U.S. gave money to banks and automobile companies to help them through this period, why not put some of that money to work to enhance college educations? The return on investment could far outweigh the cost.

The question remains how do you convince those in Congress to invest in the future of the U.S. technology industry? I'm convinced their response will be “the answer is no, what is the question?”

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