Technology transfer isn’t rocket science … or is it?

Cherri Schmidt

Cherri Schmidt, head of OPTT, wrote this column.

As a technology transfer professional, I have to admit that I suffer from NASA-envy. For more than 50 years, NASA has been committed to technology transfer as an integral part of its primary space mission.

The results NASA has achieved are impressive. It has recorded more than 1,800 examples of tech transfer over the years. Also, some studies indicate that the economy is boosted by up to $7 or more for every $1 the U.S. government spends on the space agency. Not only that, NASA does it with panache. From the glossy, four-color Spinoff publication, first published in 1976, to the more recent YouTube videos that are narrated by celebrities, NASA has been able to capture — and hold — the imagination of the American public.

Like NASA’s mission to Mars, Fermilab’s discovery missions require the development of many new technologies to achieve objectives that are five, 10 or even 20 years in the future. From new materials and fabrication techniques to new data management and computing capabilities, Fermilab scientists, engineers and technicians are constantly pushing the boundaries of existing technology to meet the needs of our future science programs. And, like NASA’s technologies, many of the technologies we create have commercial value in industry, including energy, environment, health and national security applications.

The trick is to identify these potentially valuable inventions and creations early. And the solution lies with each member of our technical team — in particular, the people who design, build, operate, maintain and improve the tools that we use to perform our science. As you go about your daily work, ask yourselves these questions:

Question 1:Am I currently working on solving an interesting technical problem?

I suspect that most of you will say yes. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be at Fermilab.

Question 2:Have I been able to find an existing solution in industry?

I suspect most of you will say not exactly. In most cases, existing technologies do not quite meet Fermilab’s design requirements for form, fit, finish or function.

Question 3:Did I help invent, create or develop something today that I am willing to write about, share with others or put on my CV or resume as an accomplishment?

Quite frankly, if you are willing to write about it, speak about it, share it with others or take credit for it in any way, shape or form, you might have an idea worth protecting.

Protecting potentially valuable intellectual property supports the spin-off of Fermilab technologies into new uses that save lives, improve quality of life, create jobs and boost the economy. This, in turn, helps us broaden the base of support for Fermilab beyond our own scientific community and help secure the future of the laboratory. In short, by reporting your new inventions or creations, you can help Fermilab make the most of the taxpayer’s investment in basic science. Let’s put our talent out there!

If you answered “yes” to question 3, then we want to hear from you. Email the Office of Partnerships and Technology Transfer to schedule a consultation.