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Want to open my own lab one day

  1. Jan 3, 2010 #1
    Every now and then I entertain this thought. The more i study the sciences the more i want to continue studying. I've spent hundreds of dollars on books ranging from physics to mathematics to organic and biochemistry to eletronics, I bought Kent's Mechnicals Engineer's Handbook today(mainly for referencing). Very sexy looking book it is. Anyway, say I wanted to open a lab, however I wanted to get a science degree first (why not?) , could i simply start my own bussiness and employ myself? Eventually buy a lot, put a massive building on it, and use it for research and engineering ( and higher people interested in the goof for humanity!).

    I'm sure my plan has more holes in it then swiss cheese(not to mention that's simply a gist, what was that quote about einstein and keeping your mouth shut?). Feel free to inform me on how things like this go about.
     
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  3. Jan 4, 2010 #2
    The short answer is yes, you can start a business and pay yourself as an employee, build a large lab, and do research on whatever interests you.

    If you have the money.

    If you don't have the money, the hard part is convincing people who *do* have money to give it to you. They don't do this out of a desire to help you or advance humanity though.
     
  4. Jan 4, 2010 #3
    Indeed. But thats where my many other ideas can kick in. Thanks for answering this! Makes me very happy.
     
  5. Jan 4, 2010 #4
    The good news is that starting your own company is something that physicists, engineers, and biotech professionals do all of the time. It's also not hard to start a non-profit foundation. Starting a company or non-profit is easy. Running a company or non-profit is hard, hard work.

    The other thing is that there *are* people out there that do give people rather large amounts of people to help humanity. The hard part is convincing them to give *you* that money, and a lot of it is where reputation and personal connections comes in.

    One reason not to start your own research company/non-profit is that if you do then 75% of your time is going to be spent fund raising, and a lot of people in science and technology would rather do the research and let other people worry about the money issue.
     
  6. Jan 4, 2010 #5

    f95toli

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    But is this even realistic? I can't think of a single example of a privately owned research institute where they do research in physics (not counting the Perimeter institute and similar places where someone is picking up the bill). It is quite common in e.g biotech, but that is probably because that research is almost inherently more applied (new drugs etc).

    A few large companies still have R&D divisions where they actually do some academic research (e.g IBM and NTT) but most of the "non-applied" groups at those places are struggling and what little money that was available is increasingly being re-directed to more applied work (Bell labs...)
     
  7. Jan 4, 2010 #6
    If the OP has access to a personal fortune, I think it's totally realistic.

    Obtaining funding without a specific, realizable goal is probably not realistic though. I tend to think that philanthropists and VCs are united in their desire for tangible results leading to a direct benefit, with the only real difference being *who* should benefit.

    It all strikes me as an extreme long shot, but one never knows...
     
  8. Jan 4, 2010 #7
    I will not have a problem allocateing some funding to start off with.

    But I do have an interest in both PURE and APPLIED sciences. I sorta wanted to open the lab to a couple different sciences. And of course an engineering group for the more applied stuff.

    I sorta want it to hold multi purpose. Where pure and applied work can be done.

    And the applied side could easily lead to making money. That could help fund the pure research. Who knows. Thanks for all of your input.

    My Brother is an engineer(whereas my study is in physics not engineering), and we've been planning on something like this, so I'm not quite alone.
     
  9. Jan 4, 2010 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    There are more than a few. One of the ones with a more whimsical name is http://www.muonsinc.com/" [Broken]. Many of these companies survive on programs like SBIR and STTR.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  10. Jan 4, 2010 #9
    IBM still does a lot of physics research. Yes, it's mostly applied, but it's still pretty basic physics research. Also, a lot of the big universities are private institutions.
     
  11. Jan 5, 2010 #10

    f95toli

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    Yes, but aren't those mostly "engineering-type" firms who just happens to design instrumentation etc for physics experiments?
    There are of course a few companies that do a fair bit of quite "basic" research simply because of the nature of the products they sell, Intel&co would be obvious examples but also companies like D-Wave (who are trying to build a commercially viable quantum computer).
    However, in all these cases the final goal is to make and sell a product; the research is just a means to an end.
     
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  12. Jan 5, 2010 #11

    f95toli

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    Well, my impression from talking to people who work for some of these companies (including IBM) is that they are increasingly moving from "blue sky" research which might pay off perhaps 20 years down the line to research with more obvious applications.

    I occasionally collaborate with people who work for the R&D divisions of some large Japanese companies and some of them are indeed doing what I guess one could call basic research, but that is mostly due to the rather strange way research is funded in Japan (and they still get most of their money from government grants). I suspect it would be very difficult to do something similar in USA or Europe.

    Also, I wonder if the OP realize how much money you actually need to run a research institute...
     
  13. Jan 5, 2010 #12
    I know of at least one private institution doing basic physics research. http://www.iaphysics.org/" [Broken] in Colorado. I'm quite sure there are others.
     
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  14. Jan 5, 2010 #13

    Vanadium 50

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    I'm sure there are some of those, but there are also companies that exist solely on SBIR and similar grants.
     
  15. Jan 8, 2010 #14
    Rhine720, I think it's a great idea! I have been contimplating something similar, want to open an astrophysical/cosmological research lab with no certain goals other than discovery and possible refinement of current models. While my idea is a little more of a "niche" area which would probably see little to no outside funding, I think it is still a great idea. F95toll, what would you estimate for running a research facility of my nature as well as the OP? I figured initial investments will amount to somewhere around 2 million, but I may be naive in this estimate. I day go for it Rhine, job security will be very strong aside from funding, but as you mentioned that isn't really an issue. I also know that when you're footing the bill you get to study what excites you, not the investor. Good luck.

    Joe
     
  16. Jan 8, 2010 #15

    Vanadium 50

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    Perimeter started with $100M and has 13 faculty. So, scaling, your $2M would support one faculty, at one quarter of the resources of Perimeter.
     
  17. Jan 8, 2010 #16

    f95toli

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    Well, at the moment we are making a "shopping list" in the group I belong to. We are basically trying to figure out what "expensive" (capital) equipment we will need for our projects over the next 3 years. The equipment budget for these 3 years is about £1M (which I guess i about $1.5M) and we are talking about equipment (measurement electronics, vacuum equipment, a couple of new lasers etc) for about 15 researchers.
    And this is obviously just a small part of the total budget (where the biggest post by far is salaries, then you have rent, overheads...).

    $2M in annual funding might be enough for a small institute with a few theoreticians...
     
  18. Jan 8, 2010 #17
    I think it would depend a lot on what kind of work you want to do and how much you expect to pay people. Can you make do with off-the-shelf equipment or do you need things custom-built? What is the scale of your rent? How many people are involved? What salaries will they expect?

    As with any business, expenses come down to Salaries, Capital and Overhead. If you are avoiding commercial research, income comes from grants, donations, or your pocket. As was said before, unless you have a personal fortune, most of your time will be spent fund-raising.


    Perimeter is cool, but they built a custom building for themselves. I am sure that ate a good part of the $100M startup donation.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Perimeter_Institute.jpg
     
  19. Jan 9, 2010 #18
    This is something that I *will* do at some point in my life. I've set up my finances so that I'll be able to retire at age 60, and so the question is whether I'll be able to start a research lab at age 60 or age 45.

    What's interesting is that for this type of research, money is not an issue. The major costs are computer time. The problems are:

    1) Time. I'd be able to do astrophysical research *NOW* if I could convince my boss to give me a three to six months off each year. Because of the way employment works, this really isn't feasible, and a lot of my time is spent thinking about *why* this doesn't work.

    2) Social networks and reputation. Science is based very much on a reputational economy. If people think that you are doing good work, you'll find it easy to get the money and resources to do what you need to do. Getting a good reputation means writing papers, finding collaborators, attending conferences, and generally just talking to people. It's basically branding and marketing. The trouble with branding and marketing is that it takes a lot of time and energy.

    $2 million sounds about right. The thing about $2 million is that this is roughly the amount of money that you need in the bank to retire comfortably. The reason 60 is the magic age is that I'll be able to pull money out of my 401(k) and IRA's at age 59 1/2.
     
  20. Jan 9, 2010 #19
    A lot of this comes from financial imperatives. The general business wisdom in the United States was that corporations should be "lean" and "lean" gets translated into "get rid of research and development." One of my interesting ideas is that it would be interesting if the US government forced investment banks to invest some of their physics Ph.D.'s in "basic research" as a condition for government backstops.

    Also do you know of any papers on how science is funded in Japan? Japan has an economic system that is *very* different from the US, and I'm interested in trying to figure out how that works. Also, if I were to try to open a research lab, it would be in China (since I speak the language).

    It depends on what you are researching. One reason I got into astrophysics is that it's relatively cheap. Also your perspective changes once you are in different places. I don't think of a billion dollars as that much money, and if the name of the game was to try to convince someone to give me a billion dollars, then this would be "merely difficult" rather than impossible. (Step one. Find people with a billion dollars.) Needless to say, this is more of a sales and marketing problem than a science/engineering one.

    Also you really need to know what you are getting into. If you really want to do research, you probably ***don't*** want to be the head of a major research lab. The head of a research lab is basically a secretary, fund raiser, salesman, whose main job is to set up an environment that they people that work there can do the real research. If you are the head of a research lab, you *aren't* going to be the one making the discoveries. You'll be the manager that gets the money so that other people can get the Nobels.
     
  21. Jan 9, 2010 #20
    Two fish: You're reasons are exactly the same as mine. For astrophysics research it is pretty much a one time sizeable investment, aside from salaries. Also as you said if you were able to spend 3-6 solid months of just research, you would do it now, as would I, but retirement fits in with both time and monetary constraints. As well as providing a fun and interesting retirement. I also want to run my own research lab due to workig for a major lab you can only be a tech, experimentalist, theorist, or manager, and management doesn't fullfill the passion for physics. Good luck to you in the future. Might you be able to let us in on what type of astrophysical research you would like to do? I looked up perimeter and it looks to an awesome facility. Something like Eddison did with his inventors facility.

    Joe
     
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