Partnerships between Universities and Industry

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University of Alaska Anchorage/Engery sector partnerships and MIT/Bell Labs partnerships

Exhaustive search of the public domain indicates that information on partnerships between the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) and for-profit entities is non-existent, and information about partnerships with government and non-profit entities is very limited. The most relevant partnership example available is a project collaboration between UAA and other non-profit entities: the Alaska Energy Data Gateway. This project is part of a larger partnership called the Alaska Microgrid Partnership, and was funded by the Department of Energy (DoE). While collaborations between MIT and various for-profit entities are much more widely covered in available media, all available information indicates that collaboration between MIT and Bell Labs was informal. Industrial partnerships of note in recent years include a 2017 AI research partnership between MIT and IBM, and the Novartis-MIT Center for Continuous Manufacturing. Below you'll find my methodology and relevant findings.


UAA: I began by researching for recent media coverage of collaborations and partnerships between UAA and the energy sector, including the gas, oil, and power segments. This generated multiple media mentions of the recent Alaska Energy Data Gateway project, but no additional examples. I then researched the UAA website for a list of industry partners; but the university pages for both industrial partners and general partners do not list any names, nor was I able to find reference to specific partners or sponsors in third-party sources. Lastly, third-party information profiles such as this one did not generate any recent, relevant media results. For this reason, I have included information on the Alaska Energy Data Gateway and the Ikon Science software donation as the most relevant examples. This does not mean that other partnerships do not exist, just that there is no information about them available in the public domain.

MIT: MIT does publish names of certain high-profile industrial collaborators, so I have used this information as a reference point for researching partnerships individually. Relative to Bell Labs, I researched through current and historical media coverage, interviews, and official and unofficial histories of Bell Labs, but was unable to discover any information indicating that Bell Labs and MIT have ever had a formal partnership or collaboration. All available resources indicate that MIT was part of the consortium that worked on creating MULTICS in conjunction with Bell Labs, but no more recent collaborations at the macro-level were discovered in my research.


UAA's most recent collaboration covered in the public domain is its contribution to the Alaska Energy Data Gateway (AEDG) website update project. The UAA Institute of Social and Economic Research partnered with other academic and research entities to update the website, which was previously criticized for being hard to use, with the aim to provide a tool for private companies to assess the potential for bringing "new energy projects [to] rural Alaska." While there is no information which explicitly covers how UAA was invited to participate in the project, we can reasonably assume that the new information added to the website, which includes data on "fuel surveys, energy prices, municipal tax records, vocational training, state community aid and the local workforce," is the sort of data for which it would be useful to have a social and economic research institute assess and organize. The AEDG was created in 2013, and is a part of the Alaska Microgrid Partnership, which is funded by the Department of Energy.

The only other mention of industrial or energy partnership with UAA is the 2017 media coverage of Ikon Science's $18M donation of software to UAA's recently recommissioned, but unnamed, "teaching and research computer lab." Further research of the assistant professor running the software did not generate a name for the lab. Available information is limited to press releases, and indicates that the software is being donated under academic licensing. There is no information available publicly regarding the terms or length of the licensing agreement. The software will be used to train graduate students on the software platform; and the intended aim of the donation is to train skilled professionals who can competently operate the RokDoc system.


Exhaustive research failed to generate any mention of an official partnership between MIT and Bell Labs, which indicates that partnership between these two entities, when it exists, is either informal, or is the result of individual relationships rather than macro-level relationships, or both. The most significant, and only, explicit examples of MIT-Bell Lab collaboration are the 1960s consortium of academic, research and industry entities that worked together on MULTICS (which indirectly led to the development of UNIX); and a 2000 neuromorphic engineering project which was conducted at Bell Laboratories by MIT researchers who were simultaneously Bell Lab consultants. Otherwise, available resources indicate that this kind of simultaneous connection to both entities is rare, and that it is more common for scientists to move from one to the other in sequence: "The barriers between academia and Bell Labs were apparently permeable in both directions; numerous scientists resumed careers in academia after stints at Bell Labs, and some even ping-ponged back and forth multiple times."

MIT's history of industrial partnerships/sponsorship dates to the school's founding era. Highlighted examples include:
- the IBM-MIT partnership which began in 2017;
- a Novartis-MIT partnership which is still in progress;
- and the MIT GovLab.
While there is no information available which specifically explores how any of these individual partnership got started, a recent article by MIT Sloan Review notes that corporations often seek out university partnerships; and that currently, such partnerships are frequently initiated by personal relationships between "an academic and corporate researcher."

1. IBM-MIT Partnership (2017-2027)
Via a $240M partnership agreement between IBM and MIT, the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab was established in 2017 to "conduct advanced AI research." The agreement is for 10 years, and both IBM researchers and MIT students and faculty will conduct research in the lab. Research will focus on AI specific to the healthcare and security sectors. IP rights do not seem to be clearly defined, but known objectives include:
- MIT's intention to publish papers based on the research conducted;
- IBM's intention to use at least some portion of the generated IP within IBM services and products;
- MIT's intention to further AI-based startups;
- both parties' intention to open source a significant portion of the code.

2. Novartis-MIT Partnership (2013-2023)
Via a $65M partnership agreement between Novartis and MIT, the Novartis-MIT Center for Continuous Manufacturing was established in 2013 to "transform pharmaceutical production [from the] industry’s conventional batch-based system [to] a continuous manufacturing process." The agreement is for 10 years. Research is conducted by MIT students, faculty, staff and fellows; and the research results are then used by Novartis in "industrial-scale projects and new manufacturing process pilots" in the manufacture of their own products. Novartis committed both its manufacturing and its R&D capacity to the project, for the duration of the agreement.

3. MIT GovLab
MIT GovLab is a globally-focused research center which specializes in research aimed to foster "innovation in citizen engagement and government responsiveness." The lab is staffed by MIT political science academics, researchers and students, and is funded by multiple non-profit entities. Despite the fact that neither the MIT GovLab website nor any third-party sources offer detailed information about funding particulars or its founding history, I have included it in this list of examples because of its unique collaboration with governments worldwide.


To wrap it up: research indicates that UAA and MIT differ significantly in the information available about their industrial partnerships: MIT's history of such partnerships is long and well-covered, whereas UAA's industrial partnerships are not disclosed in the public domain. Notable recent partnerships between MIT and corporate entities include the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab which is funded through 2027, and the MIT-Novartis Center for Continuous Manufacturing, which is funded through 2023. All my research indicates that partnerships between Bell Labs and MIT have been informal.
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UPenn and their partnership with ENIAC (the first computer) for the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation and Standford/Silicon Valley Partnerships.

UPenn was paid by the United States Army to create ENIAC to further their weapons technology. It was an important step in the evolution of computers. Stanford is working with Apple to use the Apple Watch to monitor health issues. Facebook has hired Stanford and other universities to help them create new technology.

John Atanasoff began working on ABC (Atanasoff–Berry Computer) in 1941 at Iowa State University. John Mauchly from the University of Pennsylvania continued Atanasoff's work and wrote a paper in 1942 entitled “The Use of High-Speed Vacuum Tube Devices for Calculation”, which the Army heard about. The Army commissioned UPenn to begin building the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC) on May 31, 1943, originally called Project PX."

The United States Army signed a contract with UPenn on June 5, 1943, to build the classified computer. ENIAC was the first multi-purpose computer designed to calculate a variety of computations. The US Army wanted ENIAC to determine firing tables for their weapons. The Army was producing new weapons that required calculations for wind and other factors in order to properly aim, so firing tables were necessary to avoid having to do the calculations on the battlefield.

One of Mauchley's professors, J. Presper Eckert Jr. was the main engineer of the project. It took over 2 years to create and build ENIAC so World War II was over by the time it was done. On February 14, 1946, information about ENIAC was distributed to the public. The US Army paid approximately $500,000 to build ENIAC, which is about $6 million today. In July 1946, the US Army Ordnance Corps received ENIAC. In November it was closed down for an overhaul.

ENIAC was moved to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland in 1947. At this point the ENIAC was used to determine the arithmetic for the United State's thermonuclear hydrogen bomb. There ENIAC was used to improve weapon accuracy, as well as predicting the weather, and many additional scientific purposes. It was the first computer to be used for such functions. ENIAC was capable of performing computations so much faster than any calculator that it revolutionized science and mathematics and opened up possibilities that had never before been considered.

Some dispute that ENIAC was actually a computer since in reality, it was numerous adding machines connected together. It also needed to be programmed with each equation. Mauchly and Eckert retired soon after ENIAC was made public and started a new company, Electronic Controls Company. In December 1948, the formed Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation and created a computer for the US Census Bureau. In February 1950 Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation was sold to Remington Rand and became the Univac Division of Remington Rand. The UNIVAC computer was completed in June 1951 for the Census Bureau. ENIAC was retired in 1955 and parts of it are now located in the computer lab at UPenn and another part is on loan in Bozeman, Montana to the American Computer and Robotics Museum.

Stanford and Apple have created a partnership to use Apple Watches to detect heart problems. Constant heart monitoring may be able to predict heart attacks and strokes. Apple would like for Apple Watches to become necessary for monitoring people's health to increase sales. They have already seen an increase in sales as some people realize the implications of all the features of the watch.

Apple is also exploring the ability for their watches to monitor blood glucose levels, which would revolutionize diabetes monitoring. In June 2017, the executive director of Stanford Medicine’s center for digital health was hired by Apple to further examine all the health issues the watch could check on. Stanford is currently conducting a study to compare an ePatch, worn on the chest, to the Apple Watch to verify the accuracy of the watch. This study is specifically checking for atrial fibrillation. This study will run from November 29, 2017 to January 31, 2019. Early diagnosis of atrial fibrillation is crucial. Though the watch will not diagnose this condition, it may indicate there is a problem that requires medical intervention. Apple would like to continue working with doctors and researchers to monitor these issues, but also help advance medical technology.

Along with 16 other universities, Stanford started doing research for Facebook in December 2016. Facebook is conducting secretive research in their Building 8 division. Though the nature of the research is unknown, it is safe to assume they are trying to keep up with Google and others by creating new hardware. Facebook is paying them to make their theories a reality.

The United States Army funded UPenn for the construction of ENIAC in order to advance their weapon's technology. Stanford and Apple are working to make their watches a necessary part of monitoring heart and other health issues. Facebook and Stanford are working together to create new hardware technology.

From Part 01