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Chapter 5: Balancing Act

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LABORATORY'S COLLECTIVE STRENGTH

"There is a general view, nurtured by members of the academic community, that the really worthwhile basic research is research done at universities. But those who hold this view are thinking of research in a parochial and narrow fashion. They are thinking mainly of the brilliant individual flashes of theoretical and experimental insight which characterize the best university research as performed by a gifted professor and his coterie of students. They seem to overlook the other style of research, perhaps originally exemplified by the German institute, where a massive attack on a given set of problems is made by teams representing different disciplines. No one member of the team may be as brilliant as the best professor in a university. But the members of the team bring a professionalism to their jobs that goes much beyond what graduate students can do; moreover, cooperation is much easier in such an institute than it is in a university. In the institute the whole is greater than the sum of its parts since the members of an institute interact so strongly with each other. 

"Now the research style of the institute, rather than of the university, characterizes basic research in the best of the large government laboratories. The people in these laboratories are usually not geniuses (although Eugene Wigner is spending a year here at Oak Ridge), but they are competent and they are professional. At Oak Ridge, and the other AEC laboratories, they are given great freedom provided only that the area in which they work is relevant to the mission of our supporting agency. 

"My main point is to persuade you to state in unmistakable words that the professionalism and interdisciplinary competence found in the AEC laboratories is an extraordinarily valuable national scientific asset." 

—Alvin Weinberg to E. R. Piore of the President's Science Advisory Committee and Naval Research Advisory Committee, February 2, 1965 

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