Voices Of Innovation: Cherry Murray

Senior vice-president of physical sciences research and a veteran at Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs

How has the corporate lab system changed during the past 20 years?

Large companies have become global and are no longer only focused on one market. Also, research and development around the globe was not possible when communication was only directly from person to person. The pace of R&D has gone up dramatically [with the advent of] the Internet. For example, in the '80s, we had a research prototype: It took about seven years of development before we put out a product. Today R&D occur simultaneously. There's no opportunity anymore to do research first and develop the technology gradually.

Are companies increasingly doing more research overseas?

It depends. Every large corporation is a global corporation with global markets and customers. The real reason for going global with R&D is twofold: first, to connect with your customers; second, to make sure you're getting the world's best talent -- and the world's best talent doesn't necessarily come to the U.S.

What are the most promising areas of long-term innovation?

One is nanotechnology. We are just on the verge of being able to create materials and devices that don't exist in nature but are modeled on biological principles. I'm running a conference on [another innovation which] will take 20 years to develop. [The conference is] on the things that are at the intersection of biology and physical machines. These will be important for medicine and, of course, society. And there are things [in the works] like very broadband wireless pervasive networks.

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