NSF is committing a total of $74 million over five years to create four new Engineering Research Centers (ERCs), the latest round of long-term university–industry collaborative networks. For the first time the Department of Energy is participating, by ponying up $18.5 million to share the costs of two of them.

Innovation has always been at the heart of ERCs, but the current generation of centers places more emphasis on partnerships with small firms, international collaborations, and cultural exchange. “Industry is not taking as many risks as it used to, so a lot of high-risk innovations are sitting idle and not moving into new commercial products,” says NSF’s Lynn Preston, who has been involved with ERCs from their inception more than 25 years ago. The newer centers, she says, are strengthening their commitment to innovation and commercialization.

According to a 2010 study, ERCs to date have spawned some 624 patents, 2097...

You do not currently have access to this content.