AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume 41, No. 1, Spring 2009
Image for HoPI Final Report article
The American Institute of Physics' HOPI report is available as a hard copy and also online in PDF format.

Final Report of the History of
Physicists in Industry Study is Published

The History Centerís five-year study of the work that physicists do in industry today and the records that they create was completed in 2007, and the final report is now available online and in print. This is the first systematic study of the organizational structure, communications patterns, and archival records of industrial physicists in the U.S., and it provides general guidelines for understanding and documenting their work. The study confirms that the organization and management of industrial research and development is volatile, changing in response to economic cycles, new managers and management philosophies, and a variety of other factors. It also confirms that historically valuable records that document R&D are at risk and, in fact, are often scattered and lost.

The report is divided into two parts. Part I describes the recent history of research and development at the 15 companies in the study. Part II describes the archival findings of the study, including communication patterns and organizational structure relating to records and documentation. It briefly describes information management programs at the R&D labs at 3M, Agilent Technologies, Corning, Eastman Kodak, Exxon Mobil, Ford, General Atomics, General Electric, Honeywell, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Lucent Technologies Bell Laboratories, Raytheon, Texas Instruments, and Xerox.

Part I traces the shifting funding and organizational structures of industrial research at the 15 corporations since World War II. The funding and organizational structure of R&D have undergone radical changes, mainly since the 1980s. Those changes include shorter research time frames, shifts in the nature and source of R&D funding, and sometimes a shift from knowledge creation to knowledge evaluation and acquisition. At the same time, industry has not yet, and may never, arrive at a consensus on how to conduct R&D or even the appropriate relationships among science, technology, and business interests. Companies are struggling to find the best mix of centralized long-term research focused on developing new basic and disruptive technologies, and distributed short-term research programs tied closely to current product improvements. Many remain unsure of the relative benefits and risks of government research and university collaboration. Others are forming research alliances similar to patent pooling programs that became widespread in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Part II surveys the extent of record preservation and the changing nature of records used in industrial research. Company policies regarding research records vary widely. The project particularly documents a decline in use of the lab notebook and the absence of an electronic replacement. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 standardized financial and related business records that pubic companies must retain, but it does not cover records that document the R&D process or the resulting intellectual capital. As a result, the preservation of these records remains haphazard. The report analyzes the differing roles of corporate technical libraries and archives and describes academic and public archives where some companies preserve important records. Part II concludes with a list of best practices and recommendations.

The final report is online at Write to for a print copy.

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