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From Idea to Innovation: The Power of Applied Research Institutes

Feb. 20, 2024—Although most academic research remains discovery-based, applied research to create practical applications, technologies, and solutions is on the rise. Applied research institutes–organizations dedicated to translational, transformational research projects–offer a unique function and role in the research ecosystem as a vehicle to drive partnerships for innovation and discovery.

Function and focus

They are often created as a nonprofit entity operating within or in close collaboration with the university, leveraging resources, expertise, and facilities. Institutes can collaborate directly with industry and government clients on projects of interest and deliver innovative results. The research agenda can vary widely, from engineering to health carenational security and defense. An interdisciplinary approach to applied research is common; these institutes leverage expertise across fields of study to address complex challenges in bringing ideas to market.

Applied research institutes serve as valuable entry points for cross-sector partnerships. They provide the infrastructure, resources, and project management necessary to support large-scale collaboration. Many applied research institutes employ scientists, engineers, and technologists to conduct research on behalf of their clients. With their collaborative approach, applied research institutes can be a connection point for multiple clients, bringing together university researchers, industry leaders, and government agencies to address challenges and accelerate technologies.

National strategic priorities are a focus for many applied research centers with their ability to bridge the gap between fundamental research and application. The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft institutes, originating in Germany, are a model for this approach, with 76 dedicated institutes and research units operating around the globe. Similarly, the UK’s Catapult Network centers are dedicated to accelerating scientific advancements into market-ready products and services. By collaborating closely with government, business, and other partners, applied research institutes help address national research priorities by supporting research and innovation to solve challenges, strengthen the economy, and more.

Institute examples

Purdue Applied Research Institute (PARI) is deeply integrated with Purdue University’s engineering and science disciplines. It includes four divisions, each with its own specific research foci and objectives: national security and defense, infrastructure research and innovative solutions, global development and innovation, and technology acceleration. Along with research, other functions in PARI’s divisions include DIAL Ventures, a lab that supports startup creation while bringing digital innovation to food and agriculture, and the Purdue Institute for National Security, which partners with several federal agencies for research, testing, and workforce development.

Another example is the Applied Research Institute (ARI) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, housed in the Grainger College of Engineering. ARI is divided into several research cores, including algorithm and software development, contextual innovation and practice, and materials development. ARI intentionally designed its model to integrate the university into its applied research activities. Clients are provided with a research partner to assist with their R&D needs, and faculty and students can participate in research that addresses real-world challenges. ARI is positioned as part of the research ecosystem in the Urbana-Champaign region, providing clients connections to the campus and other industry and federal clients and acting as an engine to develop, design, and commercialize technologies.

Why it matters

With a growing emphasis on translation and application in the global research landscape, applied research institutes are a channel to bring technologies to market. As a platform for industry and government clients to leverage university expertise to advance their ideas and technologies, applied research institutes nurture cross-sector relationships with the potential to create groundbreaking technologies, solve complex problems, and translate research outcomes into tangible technologies and applications.

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The 3-Minute Read is a UIDP member information piece and does not represent the opinions of our members or representatives. We welcome your comments on our LinkedIn profile.