Guest Editorial by Dr. Robert Ambrose, former Chief of the Software, Robotics, & Simulation Division of NASA and Myron Moser, Chairman Emeritus of Hartfiel Automation.
What if you could harness the power of the stars? On December 5th, 2022, scientists did just that. Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) achieved a feat known as Scientific Energy Breakeven, better known as Fusion Ignition, for the first time ever. Scientists were able to create a nuclear fusion reaction that generates more energy than it consumes, offering exciting new potentials for clean, sustainable power and national defense using the same fueling mechanism as the Sun.
This scientific breakthrough will encourage an influx of companies to advance renewable, clean energy and the technologies necessary to scale this worldwide. To fuel this development, a surge of exciting new opportunities and career paths will present themselves to the next generation of innovators; but to successfully leverage this opportunity, the private and public sectors must play a key part in both empowering students to pursue STEM early on and providing the financial backing to explore new innovations.
Paving the Way for Innovation
American history has shown time and again that innovation and invention booms follow significant scientific and technological breakthroughs. When Neil Armstrong famously stepped foot on the moon as part of the Apollo Program in 1969, it impacted many other industries beyond Aerospace. For instance, experiments in vacuum packed meals led to the creation of modern-day infant formula and the clear material created by NASA to protect radar equipment is now used for invisible braces.
Two decades later, the Internet which was developed by researchers was made public in April of 1993 – forever changing the way we communicate, work, and engage with one another. E-mail, video chats, social media, smart phones all came along to harness the full potential of the world wide web, and the number of new types of smart devices and AI-enabled gadgetry continues. According to the United States patent and trademark office there was a 40% spike in patents filed nationwide when the internet was first made public, and that amount continues to grow year over year.
We’re already seeing the latest industries and inventions that are shaping our energy future. Everything from battery storage to electric cars, solar power panels, wind turbines and more. It’s difficult to say exactly what new industries could be formed but we know jobs within engineering, manufacturing, and technology will likely all be impacted. It’s an exciting time for this industry and now is the time for businesses to get in on the ground floor.
Funding a New Industry
We know this is a costly investment, but businesses of all sizes can take advantage of one of the most powerful federal tax incentives available to aid these timely investments.
The federal Research & Development tax credit was first introduced in 1981 to increase technical jobs in America by encouraging businesses to innovate. The credit can be claimed by taxpaying businesses that
develop, design, or improve products, processes, formulas, or even software.
Companies seeking to revolutionize the energy industry with new types of power plants that can harness and distribute this new energy source can claim this credit, allowing them to hire, retain, and grow their pool of talent.
Empowering the Next Generation
However, the Fusion era cannot propel us forward without the help of the next generation. So, how can businesses inspire today’s youth to become interested in careers in clean energy, or STEM, and one day fill these positions? The challenge is to empower the next generation through mentorship.
It is vital to peak student interest in STEM fields before they graduate from high school. A practical way businesses can create these pathways is through mentorship programs with local schools. By showing students the career opportunities available to them, companies will empower the next generation to become the innovators of tomorrow who will go on to fill positions in STEM industries to come.
But the mission to strengthen awareness and recruitment goes beyond high school. Businesses should also partner with local technical colleges to offer students hands-on learning. Invite them into your facilities, give them access to the tools and technologies you use, so they feel engaged and truly understand the opportunities with your field.
It is critical for companies to harness the excitement surrounding industry breakthroughs, like Fusion Ignition, to bring diversity to the industry, drive new developments, and also ring in the next generation of engineers, physicists, and developers.