NAE Deans’ Roundtable / September 2020 Dean's Message


As the inaugural chair of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Deans’ Roundtable, I am working to bring attention to a missing link in how we do research in this country. Solutions to bridge this missing link will have direct positive impacts on students, innovation workers, communities, industries, and our nation's long-term prosperity.

A quick synopsis goes as follows: we know that federally funded science and technology researchers across the US make important breakthroughs every day. The problem is that we do not capture enough of the value of the breakthroughs. That's the missing link. We need to increase the flow of innovation from academic research labs into US companies, organizations and communities. We need to get better at capturing the value of the US research enterprise in order to keep our industries globally competitive.

To do this, the students and postdocs who are making so many of these breakthroughs need new kinds of tools to let them build on each others' work in contexts that are relevant for industry. These tools must be virtualized and democratized so that students and researchers from across the entire country have access. 

I envision accomplishing these related goals together through new forms of public-private research partnerships that bring industry, academia and government together early on in the development of influential technologies which I call "platform technologies" because can be rapidly pivoted to solve emerging problems. 

These kinds of collaborations early on in the cycle of R&D are often called pre-competitive collaboration, because it's focused on questions that multiple companies or industries need to solve as a prerequisite for their own unique projects and products.

One of the outcomes of the public-private pre-competitive collaborations will be virtualized hardware tools and platforms that allow researchers from across the country to implement and test their work in virtual testbeds that put the work into relevant contexts. This kind of in-context engagement involving academic researchers as well as multiple industry and government players will better prepare our students and postdocs to take what they've learned on federal research grants and weave it into US industries where it creates value. This is a concrete proposal to turn our incredible students and postdocs into an even more influential and relevant innovation workforce, and to do it now. 

I am currently working both inside and outside the Jacobs School to develop this topic in general, and also, in particular for a few use cases. One of our first case studies is 6G wireless networks. 

6G wireless looms large as a platform technology of the future. For example, automated and distributed low-latency machine-to-machine 6G networks of the future will embed themselves into all aspects of industry, government, and public and private life. To lead in 6G wireless is to set privacy and security standards for the next major chapter of human society while also setting up the nation for decades of new economic and industrial opportunity. 

I will continue to work on these projects at the national scale through the NAE Deans' Roundtable, and regionally through the Jacobs School Dean's Council of Advisors, and through other organizations. Please get in touch if you have thoughts or ideas. As always, I can be reached at

-Albert P. Pisano
Dean, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering