April 27, 2006

 

Scientists Call Corvallis Home

 

By Dawn Marie Woodward

Corvallis -

Many places around the country are often referred to as  college towns where the local college or university dominates employment, economic and cultural life  but a new study suggests that Corvallis and Oregon State University may really deserve that reputation more than most.

According to a recent survey of science and engineering indicators issued by the National Science Foundation, Corvallis ranks second in the nation for the number of scientists as a percentage of total employment  at 12.7 percent.

That s behind only Boulder, Colo., home to the University of Colorado  and ahead of such famed areas as the Silicon Valley around San Jose, Calif.; the  Research Triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill in North Carolina; the huge numbers of science and technology experts in Washington, D.C.; all of the Ivy League; and even the medical powerhouse of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

It s not just OSU, of course  large numbers of scientists and engineers in Corvallis are also employed at Hewlett Packard, and new companies such as AVI BioPharma or SIGA Technologies are expanding operations, often with close ties to the university. But OSU alone has more than 3,000 faculty members, and thousands of graduate students and others involved in original scientific research - which comprise a pretty big chunk of a small city s population.

 We knew that OSU plays a big role in Corvallis, but this is pretty amazing, said Sherman H. Bloomer, dean of the College of Science at OSU.  It s clear that innovation, new ideas and scientific discoveries are going to drive economic growth in the future, so this is good news not just for Corvallis but for the state of Oregon.

Many of the other major science and research employers in Corvallis, including Hewlett Packard, at least in part began operations or moved there because of the close collaborations they could form with the university, and also to draw upon the steady stream of science and engineering graduates it provides.

 Scientists want to work with and be around other scientists, Bloomer said.  Interdisciplinary collaboration is the way of the future, and you need other people to bounce ideas off of, talk to, share your enthusiasm for the work you re doing. A strong science-based community just builds on itself. The global challenges that Oregon faces in this area, however, are considerable.

Another report by the National Academies, called  Rising Above the Gathering Storm, concluded that  the scientific and technical building blocks of our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength. The low-wage structure in many developing nations is now giving them competitive advantages not only on the factory floor but also in scientific laboratories, the report noted. It outlined four key areas for needed change, including K-12 education and economic policies  and the need for expanded scientific research and more support of higher education.

According to other parts of the new report from the National Science Foundation, Oregon has concerns in several areas. Corvallis may be a hotbed of scientists, but the state as a whole ranks in the bottom fourth of science and engineering graduate students (ages 25-34) per 1,000 individuals. It is in the top quartile, however, of science and engineering degrees as a share of higher education degrees conferred. So part of the challenge, educators say, may be to get more Oregon students to attend college, and then keep them there through graduate school.

Oregon ranked in the third quartile in student aid per full-time undergraduate college student, less than half the amount spent by some of the leading states. Oregon is also above average in the amount it charges undergraduate students in public four-year institutions. Other findings from the analysis (caution: some findings are from older data):Oregon was fairly high in the number of people in the workforce who hold a bachelor s degree, more than 35 percent.

The state was above average, in the second quartile, of numbers of computer specialists, life and physical scientists, and holders of doctorates in science or engineering.

Industrial research in the West is strong. Much of the Northeast and several western states  Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho  were in the top group of industry-performed research and development, measured as a share of private industry output.

The report also has a section on the public understanding of science and technology. It concludes that the public often lacks knowledge about basic scientific facts and the process of science. Many in the science community, it said, are concerned that this may translate into a lowered level of support for government-sponsored research and the numbers of students who pursue careers in science and technology.

Text and information provided by OSU News & Communications.

 

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