Posted in Contact Angle, D L Williams, FTIR, Hansen Solubility Parameters, Physical Chemistry, Raman, Solubility, Solvent Blending, Spectroscopy, UV-VIS-NIR, XPS

Corporate Research Funding in Uncertain Times

Some points that describe the current R&D funding climate:

  • Continued uncertainty in corporate R&D hiring
    US non-financial corporate cash holdings rose to $1.24 trillion at the end of 2011 according to Moody’s. One reason among many is a reluctance to hire until the uncertainty surrounding benefits costs is reduced.
  • Tightening of government funding of university R&D
    The US government still funds a significant amount of chemical research, but competition for those funds is increasing greatly. The growing deficit must eventually have an impact on the availability of funds for chemical research.

As a physical chemist, I am partial to APPLIED chemistry research, and the interactions I have had with corporations and government contractors have been enjoyable and fruitful for both parties.

I have prepared this blog post and my new “Sponsors Page” on my university website to actively address the R&D needs of corporations and government contractors.  Many of these entities are under a hiring freeze, and yet, their chemistry-related problems continue unaddressed.

When I worked for a government contractor, I dealt with these issues:

  • “I could solve this problem in 6 months, if I didn’t have to support production, also.”
  • “I’d love to hire someone to research this and other issues but
    1) we are under a hiring freeze,
    2) we don’t have the budget for a whole person (1.0 FTE),
    3) we can afford the salary but are reluctant to commit to an unknown fringe benefit committment,
    4) we can afford a science temp, but we need a Ph.D. chemist.”
  • “Maybe a university researcher could help, but there’s no telling what an Ivory Tower Pinhead is going to spend our money on.  And, what would we have to show for it?”

To quote a recent President, “I feel your pain.”  But not all residents of the Ivory Tower are Pinheads.  Here are the benefits of funding an APPLIED-SCIENCE-MINDED university professor and his students to address your problem.

  • Academic salaries for Ph.D. chemists ($70k, 2012 median) are 65% of that in Industry ($107k, 2012 median) according to the ACS Employment Survey, so renting a brain is potentially cheaper than buying one.  Often these are 9-month salaries, but this annualizes to $93k, which is $14k less than the industry median 12-month salary.
  • Academic chemists are able to spend 100% of their effort on your problem during the summer months.  If the median salary of $70k is for 9-months, then funding this scientist for three full months in the summer is only $23k.  Universities tack on varying amounts of overhead and fringe benefits costs to this number so the actual costs will be more like $40k ($85 / hr all-inclusive).  This is still a very reasonable amount for 3-months of a PhD chemist’s time.
  • Academic institutions have an amazing array of instrumentation that your company could not justify purchasing.  The overhead costs tacked onto the academic chemist’s labor rate is the price of admission to the instrumentation lab or computational facility.  Our lab charges consumables costs on a per-day or per-sample basis in the range of $20.  This may seem to add up, but so do the costs of solvents, vials, etc.
  • Academic institutions are FULL of eager chemistry majors who LOVE to study research problems that are “real life”.  These students are also inexpensive when compared to hourly chemical technicians.  A typical student will have a fully-burdened (with overhead) rate of $20 per hour all-inclusive.  These students will graduate with a working knowlege of your industry and will be excellent prospects for future hires.

The number-one factor to consider is the principal investigator (PI).  Does he or she understand your problem?  Have they done similar work in the past?  I have turned down funding because I did not think I could deliver value to the sponsor.  Find someone who understands your terms, your culture, your requirements, and the practical aspects of implementing the ideas proposed.

If your interests are in any of these areas, I’d love for you to contact me.

  • Cleanliness verification, contact angle measurements, coupon tests
  • Solvent properties, surface tension and hydrostatic densities, Hansen solubility parameters vs Hildebrand solubility parameters
  • Solvent blending, solvent blend prediction, miscibility
  • Solvent substitution, reduction of hazards, reactivity, ozone depletion potential, or global warming potential
  • Material compatibility, polymer stress cracking, polymer swell, polymer processing solvents
  • Recrystallization and crystal morphology control based upon non-solvent interactions
  • High-explosive detection, solubility, modeling, spectroscopy, recrystallization, precipitation, and PBX production/processing
  • Spectral assignments and predictions (FTIR, Raman, UVVIS, XPS)
  • Computational chemistry, ab initio, density functional theory, quantitative structure property relationships (QSPR/QSAR)
  • Six-Sigma Blackbelt – consulting services

There are ways to continue innovating in the current business climate.  I’d love to help if I can.

-Darren

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Author:

Dr. Darren L. Williams (pchem4u) is an Associate Professor of Physical Chemistry at Sam Houston State University. When he is not blending solvents, he is tinkering with contact angle measurements, FTIR microspectroscopy, etc. http://www.shsu.edu/~chm_dlw/ . He welcomes your comments and questions by phone (936-294-1529) and by email (williams “at” shsu.edu).

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