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R & D Change in the 1980s

Thu, 04/19/2012 - 10:56am
R&D Editors

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Images: R&D 100 Archive
Globalization, the personal computer, and changing priorities set the stage for R&D 100 Award Winners.

The 1980s were witness to global political, economic, and technological change, and the IR/R&D 100 Awards kept pace with trends. Ronald Reagan took office as U.S. president at the start of the decade, ushering in a buildup of military power, the fall of communism, and a slowdown in research efforts to develop alternate sources of energy.

In 1988, the name of the awards changed from the IR 100 to the R&D 100 Awards.

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Figure 1: IR/R&D 100 Award Winners (1980 to 1989) by product category. Source: R&D 100 Archive.

Economically, newly industrialized economies expanded production. The globalization was evident in the number of IR/R&D 100 Award winners from outside the United States. In the decade, more than 100 companies not located in the United States won IR/R&D 100 Awards, surpassing the total number of non U.S. wins in the first 18 years of the competition.

Unfortunately, several high profile technological disasters marked the decade. The Union Carbide chemical spill in Bhopal, India; the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown; and the ecological damage created by the grounding of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound demonstrated shortcomings in both R&D and technical operations. The explosion of NASA's Challenger space shuttle in 1986 initiated major changes in the space agency's practices.

Technology drivers
While compact disks, VCRs, video recorders, video game consoles, and cell phones became popular consumer products during the decade, the personal computer perhaps had the greatest impact on society and science.

Table 1: IR/R&D 100 Award Winners by Organization (1980 to 1989)
Organization Wins (All divisions or business units)
NASA 43
National Bureau of Standards 40
Oak Ridge National Laboratory 38
General Electric Co. 37
Dow Chemical Co. 29
Argonne National Laboratory 28
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 28
Hitachi Ltd. 23
Martin Marietta 22
U.S. Bureau of Mines 21
DuPont Co. 18
Los Alamos National Laboratory 18
Varian Associates 17
AT&T Bell Laboratories 16
Perkin-Elmer Corp. 16
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. 15
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory 14
Gould Inc. 13
Hewlett-Packard Co. 13
Brookhaven National Laboratory 12
Sandia National Laboratories 12
Westinghouse Electric Corp. 12
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory 11
Toshiba Corp. 11
Toyota Inc. 9
Aluminum Company of America 8
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory 8
Battelle Memorial Institute 7
Eastman Kodak Co. 7
Electric Power Research Institute 7
Honeywell Inc. 7
National Institute of Standards & Technology 7
Phillips Petroleum Co. 7
Idaho National Engineering Laboratory 6
Rockwell International 6
Allied Signal Inc. 5
Corning Glass Works 5
Dow Corning Corp. 5
PPG Industries 5
Solar Energy Research Institute 5
Southwest Research Institute 5
Companies with five or more wins. Source: R&D 100 Archive

 

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Figure 2: IR/R&D 100 Award Winners (1980 to 1989) by organization type. Source: R&D 100 Archive.

The number of award winners in information technologies doubled from the previous decade, and a new technology category—software—was added. Beam instruments and electrical devices played a more prominent role. Analytical instruments continued to be the dominant type of technology represented.

The number of energy and environmental technology winners was flat. In the 1983 Awards report, the editors noted that for the first time since the early 1970s, there were no entries for solar collectors, solar cells, or windmills.

In the life sciences arena, several tests were introduced to diagnose patients with the human immunodeficiency virus. In the latter part the decade, DNA technologies emerged, including a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) system for DNA amplification from Perkin-Elmer Cetus in 1988.

Table 2: Top 20 IR/R&D 100 Award Winners by Organization (1963 to 1989)
Organization Wins (All divisions or business units)
General Electric Co. 165
NASA 80
Varian Associates 65
Westinghouse Electric Corp. 58
National Bureau of Standards 57
Oak Ridge National Laboratory 54
Dow Chemical Co. 53
Argonne National Laboratory 46
Union Carbide Corp. 40
Hewlett-Packard Co. 37
DuPont Co. 36
Hitachi Ltd. 34
Honeywell Inc. 34
RCA 34
Perkin-Elmer Corp. 32
Carborundum Co. 28
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 28
Bendix Corp. 24
3M Co. 22
Martin Marietta 22
Source: R&D 100 Archive

Government research on the rise
Government-sponsored research was more prominent in the 1980s; five of the top 10 award winning organizations were financed by federal funds. NASA led the way with 43 awards, to move into second place in all-time wins.

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