by Joaquin Palomino
Over the past fifteen years, UC Berkeley has experienced an explosion in privately funded research. In 2002, the engineering department’s CITRIS lab, which conducts energy, transportation, and medical research, received an initial investment of $75 million from dozens of industrial partners. The lab continues to secure roughly $50 million a year in both federal and private grants. In 2012, the Energy Biosciences building was constructed with more than $90 million from numerous private investors. And last spring, Texas Instruments gifted $2.2 million to UC Berkeley’s engineering department to upgrade classrooms and labs.
The infusion of corporate cash at UC Berkeley also has drastically changed the type of research being done at the university. For decades, much of the research on campus was federally funded and driven primarily by scientific curiosity. The results of this basic research allowed the public to better understand such concepts as genetics, the origins of humanity, and the laws of physics. It also won UC Berkeley numerous Nobel prizes.
Federal agencies still fund the majority of research at UC Berkeley. But the university, and others like it across the nation, have experienced a forty-year decline in federally supported basic science research because of government cutbacks. The rise of corporate funding, in turn, has spawned a dramatic increase in the amount of applied research on campus. It’s typically funded by industry and aims to develop products that can be quickly brought to market — and create corporate profits.