Industrial and basic research: Different, but overlapping worlds


Both, industrial and basic scientists, use the scientific method to achieve their goals. Yet industrial and basic research have fundamentally different requirements for their research outcome.

  • Outcome of industrial research: It has to work, it does not necessarily have to be new.
  • Outcome of basic research: It has to be new, it does not necessarily have to work.

Of course this is a gross generalization, and there are cases where the above said does not apply. Industrial research leading to patents has to create something new, and many engineering and medicine related sciences are inherently driven by trying to find working solutions for peoples’ needs and demands. Still there is a lot of truth to this pun. For publications and basic science funding most critical is novelty. In industrial research it is mostly about getting something to work. Sometimes industry is also interested in understanding and learning – which is then applied to get something to work.

Needless to say there is a lot of mutual benefit for cooperation between the worlds of academic and industrial research. Industry brings resources to science and science brings ideas and methods to industry. As a researcher I like to work in this overlapping field. From a strategic career planning point of view it may be considered a stuck-in-the-middle choice: Chances are that I will neither get famous nor rich. Nevertheless I am enjoying this position between basic and applied science, it gives me the opportunity to work on a lot of very different problems, together with very different people.



Ulrich Hirn, Assoc. Professor

Institute of Pulp, Paper and Fiber Technology - Graz University of Technology