Do you think research laboratories are boring? Well, we are here to change your opinion on that. Research labs are often commissioned by keeping one thing in mind – solving complex problems. Now that problem could be anything from the nation’s energy crisis to ensure its security to solving ever-growing environmental problems (oh yes that’s a problem).
Without dedicated infrastructure and staff, no nation would be able to create new technology, which means we would be stuck with the old inventions forever. But fortunately, we have several world-class research labs that vow to make our life far easier in the coming years. So here are 15 of the best science and technology research labs in the world.
15. Skunk Works
Production Floor at Skunk Works
Established In: 1943
Little confused about the name? Well, it’s the official alias for Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs ADPs. The word “skunkworks” is extensively used in engineering and business areas to address a small, massively autonomous firm within a bigger organization.
Skunkworks is responsible for many important Lockheed flight projects such as U-2 high altitude reconnaissance aircraft, SR-71 blackbird, the famous F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. Other than making highly advanced fighter jets, Skunkworks has also been involved in an experimental stealth ship known as Sea Shadow.
In 2013, they also developed a compact fusion reactor with a high beta configuration.
14. Boeing Phantom Works
Artistic Concept of Boeing X-51 Waverider, unmanned research scramjet
Boeing Phantom Works is the highly advanced research arm of the Boeing Company’s defense division. It focuses on developing state of the art war equipment and technologies for the U.S military. Initially, it was a part of another American aerospace manufacturing company McDonnell Douglas, but in 1996, following a merger deal Phantom Works came directly under Boeing’s command.
13. 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. The institute performs a wide range of research and development projects for government and private agencies. It also performs several corporate tasks such as forming strategic partnerships and sell research products.
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.
12. Palo Alto Research Center Incorporated
Main Entrance to Xerox PARC in Palo Alto, California Image Courtesy: Wikipedia 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 in the world of computing served as an industry standard for quite a long time and were not surpassed by anything for nearly 2 decades. Currently, the research center performs various researches in UI design, digital manufacturing, ubiquitous computing along with metamaterials and clean technology.
11. 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 it’s the biggest in the entire Midwest region. This research facility was initially created to build upon Enrico Fermi’s work on nuclear reactors and it helped the U.S Navy to get their 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.
10. Broad Institute
Established In: 2004
The Broad Institute is a non-profit organization for biomedical and Genome research and located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is closely tied with MIT, Harvard University and five different 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.
9. 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 all across Germany, specializes in various fields of applied science. One of the famous projects of the Fraunhofer Society is the MP3 compression algorithm. They also contributed to a popular video compression standard MPEG-4 Part 10. The organization has seven research centers in the United States and three in the Asian region.
8. Research At Google
Since 2012, one year after the “Google Brain” was introduced, Google has bought more than a dozen Deep-learning and AI startups including DNNresearch, DEEPMIND, and dialog flow to streamline their ongoing research programs and at the same time to boost its online product technology.
Being one of the biggest IT firms in the world, their 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 “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 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 aspiring project ever funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
6. 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 on science and tech issues. 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 #1 among the world’s leading research organizations for two-time in 2014 and again in 2015.
5. French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission
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 sectors. It is France equivalent to the American DOE (Department of Energy). The organization is involved in manufacturing integrated circuits, tsunami propagation and designing of nuclear reactors. In 2016, Reuters places CEA among the 25 global innovators (government agencies) in the world.
4. 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 essential programming languages 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.
3. 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 and it also maintained a status of having a diversified research program in almost every major scientific discipline, from physical and computer sciences to bioscience and energy sciences.
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. Some notable scientific accomplishments of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory include important observations of antiprotons and the discovery of many transuranic elements.
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.
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, 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 a major 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.