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Editorial: DOE shorts tech transfer

The best-case scenario is that the U.S. Secretary of Energy is a mission-focused academic with a case of myopic mispeak. How else to justify Ernest Moniz’s trip to New Mexico – where Sandia, Los Alamos and the Air Force Research laboratories routinely make important advances that translate into technology transfers – and a speech where he emphasizes tech transfer is not a lab’s principal mission?

Did anyone other than the secretary think it was? We may live in New Mexico, but we all get that the drivers of DOE’s 17 national laboratories are national security and scientific research and development in critical areas like energy. They did design and test the atomic bomb here, after all.

And does anyone except the secretary underestimate the importance of utilizing the vibrant technological discoveries at the national labs to not only improve economies but lives? The many brilliant researchers and scientists here know findings rarely have a singular application.

On the same Journal Business page as Moniz’s unfortunate “I want to make it very clear, technology transfer is not our primary mission,” was the announcement a Seattle company, Oncothyreon Inc., will pay $27 million for a Sandia-University of New Mexico spinoff of protocell technology. The discovery allows doctors to inject huge doses of cancer-killing drugs into tumors without harming healthy tissue.

Moniz, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, is correct that tech transfer is not the labs’ primary mission. But by downplaying its importance he does a huge disservice.

Tech transfer is an essential ancillary responsibility that not only honors the nation’s scientific discoveries, but the billions of tax dollars that are spent finding them. Its importance should not be shortchanged.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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