Changing Gears is a public media project about the future of the industrial Midwest. Each week, reporters Dan Bobkoff in Cleveland, Niala Boodhoo in Chicago and Kate Davidson in Ann Arbor cover issues of interest to the Great Lakes region. Changing Gears also sponsors public events and conversations.
Innovation is a tricky thing to track. Everyone talks about it, but it’s almost impossible to predict where it will happen, or what it will be. But you know it when you see it.
And so it is with a new invention out of Case Western University. A group of five undergraduate students at the Cleveland school have come up with a potentially brilliant solution to a nagging problem. They’ve built a better pothole patch.
They’ve done it with something called a non-Newtonian fluid. Without getting too technical, a non-Newtonian fluid is a material that acts like a liquid in some situations, and a solid in others – like the ketchup that stays stubbornly stiff when you shake the bottle, but pours out evenly when you coax it with a butter knife.
Another example is a mixture of cornstarch and water, which appears to be a liquid, but acts like a solid if you run across it. If you’ve never seen how this works, it’s pretty incredible.
The U.S. is the world leader is research and development spending, in terms of both government and private sector spending. In 2009, the United States spent about $338 billion on research and development – China was the next closest, at about $124 billion.
What’s interesting is how that spending gets broken down: The federal government spends much more on the research side. Private industry focuses on development, creating products that can make more money.
That’s what makes Battelle Memorial Institute such an interesting place. I reported earlier this summer on Battelle, a nonprofit research and development organization in Columbus, Ohio, that brought us the technology behind bar codes, cruise control, tamper-proof bottles, and more.
That story focused on how to Battelle takes things from ideas to economic reality. Our friends at National Public Radio’s Morning Edition were interested in that story, so I’ve branched beyond our initial report and taken a second look at the company, and this time focused on how it prioritizes research-and-development spending. You can check out the new report here.