Research laboratories are essential for the betterment of our society. They are tasked with developing new, better advancements in different sectors by solving complex problems. Now that problem could be related to a nation’s defense, Information Technology, energy crisis, space, or general advancement in any branch of science.
Below, we have listed the 17 best science and technology research labs in the world that spend billions on studies and experiments.
17. Skunk Works
Skunk Works Assembly line
Established In: 1943
Skunkworks is the official alias for Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs or ADPs. The term “Skunkworks” is extensively used in engineering and business operations to address a small, massively autonomous firm within a bigger organization.
It is responsible for the design and development of several famous Lockheed aircraft, including U-2 ( a high altitude reconnaissance aircraft), SR-71 Blackbird, F117 Nighthawk, F-22 Raptor, and F-35 Lightning II.
Other advanced Skunkworks projects include a high beta fusion reactor.
16. Boeing Phantom Works
Artistic Concept of Boeing X-51 Waverider, unmanned research scramjet
Boeing Phantom Works is the highly advanced, and secretive, research arm of the Boeing Company’s defense division. It focuses on developing state-of-the-art war equipment and technologies mostly for the U.S military.
The organization was founded by aerospace manufacturer, McDonnell Douglas. It came under Boeing’s control in 1996, after a merger deal.
15. SRI International
SRI International Headquarters at Menlo Park, California
Established In: 1946
Revenue: $540 million (2014)
The SRI International research institute was established by the Stanford University trustees to promote innovation as well as to support the economic development of the Menlo Park region in California.
SRI focuses on areas such as material chemistry, biomedical sciences, Earth sciences, economic development, and energy studies along with computing and national defense. The institute is widely known for developing SIRI, the first virtual personal assistant.
The institute performs a wide range of research and development projects for government and private agencies.
14. Palo Alto Research Center Incorporated
Main Entrance to Xerox PARC in Palo Alto, California Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Established In: 1970
Can you imagine your life without laser printers, Ethernet, or personal computers? Surely not. And the one research lab that owes our gratitude is the legendary Palo Alto Research Center Inc. or PARC.
After it was established in 1970 as an R&D division for the Xerox Corporation, it quickly became the powerhouse of the modern IT industry. Many of its inventions served as an industry standard for quite a long time.
Currently, the research center performs various researches in UI design, digital manufacturing, ubiquitous computing, along with meta-materials and clean technology.
13. Argonne National Laboratory
The Zero Gradient Synchrotron’s Cockcroft-Walton generator.
Established In: 1946
Annual Budget: $760 million
Argonne National Laboratory, situated just outside the city of Chicago, was the first National Laboratory in the United States, and the biggest in the entire Midwest region.
The research facility was initially created to build upon Enrico Fermi’s work on nuclear reactors, and it helped the U.S Navy to get its first nuclear-powered ship.
After the lab’s nuclear mission was ended in 1994, it shifted its primary focus on other research areas such as energy, sustainable development, renewable energy, etc.
12. Broad Institute
Established In: 2004
The Broad Institute is a non-profit organization for biomedical and Genome research located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If often conducts joint research with MIT, Harvard University, and Harvard hospitals.
Over the years, the Broad Institute has developed various therapeutic drugs, done extensive studies on genes and cancers. It has also been associated with revolutionary CRISPR technology.
Right now, the institute has nearly a dozen principle faculty and about 195 associates from MIT and Harvard University and is the home of one of the biggest Genome sequencing labs in the world.
11. Fraunhofer Society
Image Courtesy: Michael Kramer
Established In: 1949
Annual Budget: €2.1 billion
The Fraunhofer Society is an organization of a total of 69 premier German Institutes situated all across Germany. The institution specializes in various fields of applied science.
One of the most notable projects of the Fraunhofer Society is the MP3 compression algorithm. It also made significant contributions contributed to a popular video compression standard MPEG-4. The organization has five operational research centers in the United States and three in Asia.
10. Research At Google
Since 2012, one year after the “Google Brain” was introduced, Google has acquired several AI and Deep-learning startups, such as DNNresearch, DEEPMIND, and dialog flow, to streamline their ongoing research programs.
As the largest tech firms, Google’s goal is to rapidly innovate to benefit society by collecting the information and make it accessible to customers. But unlike most other companies, where research and development are two different things, Google has chosen what they called a hybrid approach.
Over the years, the “Google Brain” team has been able to achieve a substantial amount of success in the fields of security and cryptography, language translation, and robotics. Currently, this technology is used in multiple Google platforms such as Android’s voice recognition, G+ photo search, and video recommendations on YouTube.
Other research areas include data mining and modeling, parallel computing, electronic commerce, cryptography, and speech processing.
Simplified diagram of an Advanced LIGO detector
The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory or LIGO created history after becoming the first observatory (along with Virgo Observatory) to witness gravitational waves in 2015-2016. In August 2017, it detected a total of 5 gravitational waves, including one caused by a collision of two neutron stars.
For those who are not aware of LIGO, it is a large-scale observatory configured to be able to detect cosmic gravitational waves. After it became operational, LIGO became the largest and most ambitious project ever funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
8. Chinese Academy of Sciences
Established In: 1949
Chinese Academy of Sciences or CAS acts as the national scientific think tank that provides advisory services to the government on sensitive issues regarding the economy, social development, and, more importantly, in scientific matters. It is the largest research organization in the world, with over 60,000 researchers working in 114 institutes across China.
Based on the total number of research papers published in Nature and its affiliate network, the Chinese Academy of Sciences ranked first among the world’s leading research organizations for two-time in 2014 and again in 2015.
7. French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission
Image Courtesy: cea.fr
Established In: 1945
Annual Budget: $5.82 billion
CEA or French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission is a government-funded French research organization that works extensively in the area of health, IT, and defense. It is France equivalent to the American DOE (Department of Energy).
The organization is involved in manufacturing integrated circuits, tsunami propagation, and designing nuclear reactors. In 2016, Reuters placed CEA among the 25 global innovators (government agencies) in the world.
6. Air Force Research Laboratory
Martin–Marietta X-24B developed by Air Force Research Lab and NASA
Established In: 1997
Annual Budget: More than $2 billion
The Air Force Research Laboratory is dedicated to the development and integration of airplane warfighting technologies. It provides advanced warfighting capabilities to the US space and cyberspace forces. It is also responsible for planning and executing the Air Force’s entire science and technology budget.
So far, this laboratory has conducted thousands of experiments and technical demonstrations in partnership with DARPA, NASA, National Laboratories, and other research firms within the US Department of Defense.
Some of its extraordinary projects include the Tactical Satellite Program, Advanced Tactical Laser, HTV-3X, and X-53.
5. Bell Labs
Established In: 1925
Bell Labs is one of the most influential private research institutions in the world. This historic lab was first established in the 1880s after Alexander Graham Bell secured the Volta Prize of 50,000 francs (about $270,000 in the current market) by the French Government for his invaluable contribution to the telephone.
Over the years, Bell Labs have contributed immensely in almost every sphere of human life. From crucial advancements in radio astronomy, transistors to the UNIX operating system, and programming languages such as C and C++. Did you know that 13 Nobel Prizes have been awarded for the work completed at Bell Laboratories?
From 1925, four different companies had a controlling interest in the Bell Labs. In 2016, Nokia bought a France based global telecommunications company Alcatel-Lucent S.A. for $16.6 billion to become the sole owner of Bell Labs.
4. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Berkeley Lab’s staff on the magnet yoke for cyclotron in 1938 Image Courtesy: Berkeley Lab
Established In: 1931
Annual Budget: $803 Million (2016)
Since its establishment in the 1950s, the Berkeley Lab has remained one of the premier research centers for physics. It has also maintained the status of having a diversified research program in almost every major scientific discipline, from computer sciences to bioscience and energy sciences.
Some notable scientific accomplishments of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory include important observations of antiprotons and the discovery of many transuranic elements.
So far, twelve researchers associated with the Berkeley Lab have been awarded the Nobel Prize, including American nuclear physicist Ernest Lawrence and Chemist Yuan T. Lee, who became the first Taiwanese to become a Nobel Laureate.
The Lab is managed by the University of California under a federal contract with the U.S Department of Energy. The entire lab is spread over 80 hectares or 200 acres with more than 70 buildings in the Berkeley Hills.
3. United States Naval Research Laboratory
Part of the NRL main campus in Washington, DC
Established In: 1923
Annual Budget: $1.1 billion
The US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) performs basic scientific research and develops various advanced prototypes for the US Marine Corps and the US Navy. It specializes in material science, space physics, plasma physics, and tactical electronic warfare.
The laboratory has multiple R&D facilities, including the nanofabrication cleanroom, the lab for autonomous systems research, and quiet and ultra-quiet measurement labs.
These facilities work on a wide range of subjects:
- High-powered lasers
- The dynamics of explosive gas mixtures
- Plasma shockwaves
- Quantum computing
- Graphene devices
- Carbon nanotube electronics
- Solid-state chemical sensors
- Organic optoelectronics
- Self-assembling nanostructures, and much more.
NRL is one of the top ten institutions in the world for most cited papers in material research. It provides intellectual value to US patents through its research in physics, engineering, and technology.
CERN’s Main Site
Established In: 1954
CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) is a European research organization that operates the biggest particle accelerator in the world.
CERN’s primary focus is on particle physics; investigating the smallest observable particles in the universe and their fundamental interactions. The facility is famous for the Large Hadron Collider that works on antimatter and the discovery of W and Z bosons.
Most of you might not know that CERN is the birthplace of the World Wide Web. It all started with a project named ENQUIRE by legendary Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau sometime in the year 1990. Then soon a concept of hypertext-enabled researchers to share files among them. For those who want to see it, here is the first-ever web page that went online.
1. Los Alamos National Laboratory
Established In: 1943
Annual Budget: $2.2 billion
New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory is the research component of the U.S Department of Energy national laboratory. It was established specifically to work on nuclear weapons under the Manhattan Project. During the entire project, this laboratory was used as a headquarters from where overall coordination was done.
Then, during the Cold War, Los Alamos, along with Berkeley, was assigned a new variety of bombs, but after the war, both labs turned their focus on civilian prospects. Today, Los Alamos is one of the biggest research institutions in the world, conducting multidisciplinary research in fields like nuclear fusion, nanotechnology, supercomputing, and space exploration.
Frequently Asked Question
Why is lab research important?
Conducting lab experiments is critical to the learning process across almost all fields of study. It has been proved that people who engage in well-designed labs develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Most labs are designed as a confined space for experts, where they can utilize advanced tools and techniques to conduct experiments and analyze results.
Today, different types of lab services are provided in schools, universities, government, industry, and military facilities. Special scientific labs can also be found aboard ships and spacecraft.
How do research labs make money?
Most laboratories get funding from private companies, granting agencies, and governments. What these labs do with the money depends on the condition of the grant. They may use allocated resources to buy equipment and hire experts to conduct a study.
Universities also support labs by paying staff salaries and maintaining infrastructure. Some labs focus on a particular area of interest, which often leads to patents and industrial agreements.
Which is the best AI research lab?
Over the past decade, we have witnessed immense growth in the popularity of Artificial Intelligence systems across almost every industry. As a result, hundreds of AI Research Labs have been established, some of which are taking the lead in research and development.
- The Alan Turning Institue: provides the fundamental research and expertise into algorithms and mathematic required to solve real-world problems.
- Microsoft Research: employs more than 1,000 computer scientists, mathematicians, and physicists. They have made significant advances in areas such as computer vision, deep neural networks, machine translation, and other fundamental underpinnings of AI.
- Google AI: works to ensure that the advantages of machine learning and deep neural networks are accessible to everyone. Their researchers regularly publish in academic journals, release tools as open-source, and apply findings to Google products.
- IBM Research: focuses on deep learning and puts significant resources into neurosymbolic AI, which merges the power of neural networks with symbolic methods to help AI solve complex problems more effectively.
What does United States Army Research Laboratory do?
Established in 1992, the Army Research Laboratory conducts a wide range of scientific research directed towards optimizing high-performance computing and signal processing algorithms.
The lab develops multifunction radio frequency equipment, advanced ballistic defense systems, and more reliable and safer air combat vehicles such as helicopters. It also provides expertise in the survivability, vulnerability, and lethality of all army systems.