Recently the Technology Program 'Telecommunications-Transmission and Radar' was integrated into the knowledge network of The Netherlands. We describe some features of this network, with focus on the part in which STW is involved. Radar research has a long standing tradition. Its history bears some interesting lessons for students of science policy, e.g. about university-industry collaboration and the ability of industry to guide academic research (astray).
I welcome this conference here in Amsterdam with its many attendants. I feel proud, because if an international invisible college of experts in a certain field allows such a conference to be organised by a national group, this signifies that they are considered to be important contributors to the field. This conference therefore relieves me for a moment from the omni present research administrators' dread: i.e. something like the appearance of an announcement of a Nobel prize to some scientist whom you refused a research grant a week ago.Thus for me this conference is an inversed science administrator's trauma, as we have been supporting the IRCTR quite lavishly.
Although there is always a network, it does not mean that it is functioning adequately. There are numerous historical examples of discoveries that had existed for quite some time, before somebody began to make use of it. Still, in retrospect one might construct conceivable connections, that could have existed and that would have made knowledge transfer feasible. For the selection of projects for instance the Technology Foundation STW makes use of the fact that the whole world is not further away than four handshakes, or telephone calls. Everybody knows about a thousand persons, whom he or she could call to ask a modest question. When we receive a research proposal, we generally start telephoning some people, whom we know. We tell them about the proposal and we admit that we know that the listener is not the proper person to ask. Subsequently, we ask for suggestions whom to ask instead. I can assure you that, by operating this way, in a few calls we are in the centre of a worldwide network in any specialty. But such a network, although it is quite adequate for this purpose is absolutely insufficient for knowledge transfer leading to applications and feed back.
So for the promotion of a fertile innovative climate the existing network has to be improved, strengthened, or in short: made more communicative. In certain fields - and radar is one of them - there may be compelling reasons for restricted circulation of information. Such is the case in matters of national security and in competitive situations of private companies. We may respect the underlying motivations, but they are usually a handicap to the development of new and reliable knowledge. The history of radar itself contains a number of examples to illustrate this statement. Restrictions were not only applied to potential enemies, but to allies as well. Yes, in various situations the restrictions were even applied to contacts between different parts of the armed forces. During the work on the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, the general in charge tried to prevent the scientists engaged in the project to communicate between different departments. The story goes that he was driven to despair, when he found out that they would discuss their problems with colleagues in the canteen while writing and drawing them on paper napkins over lunch.
STW takes the improvement of the network seriously. In most research proposals which we receive there is already an indication about existing connections between researchers and users. (Without them, the chances of STW support are rather small.) But when an award is made we always make the formation of a users' committee mandatory. Such committees often lead to stronger ties, or to extension to other users and other research groups. Since we are dealing with work leading to applications, we accept confidentiality, or even secrecy, within limits. (When privileged knowledge is handed over for commercial purposes, the user has to pay according to the value of the knowledge.) We do not claim that all of the connections - presently > 2000 - between users and STW-university projects are our making. Most of them existed already in some form. But we are certain that we have strengthened, intensified and extended them. That is also the case with the IRCTR. The radar (and telecommunications) group of the Delft university already held excellent connections with e.g. the defence laboratory TNO-FEL and the companies Philips and Signaal long before STW even existed! The part of the knowledge network of IRCTR for which we share responsibility is shown in figure 1. For this, we guarantee that serious attempts are made to make the connections strong and mutual beneficial to both users and researchers. The IRCTR is a corner stone in the Program on Telecommunications - Transmission and Radar which incorporates the activities at the 3 Technical Universities in The Netherlands. Industrial partners are among else: KPN, HSA, VIFKA, Kingston and others. Today is the official start of this STW Technology Program.
Fig. 1. STW-part of IRCTR knowledge network.
The oblivion into which the Dutch contribution had sunk cannot be better illustrated than by a citation from H.B.G. Casimir, who stated on the 27th of January 1957: 'Radar is one of the few new fields with which we were confronted in 1944' 3 At that time Casimir had just assumed the position of chief scientific officer of Philips Company. He is a very respected person not only for his scientific work but also for his farsightedness and his general cultural knowledge. His statement must have been quite a blow to the small group of people, who were engaged in the developments before and during the war. To them it must have been a pleasant consolation that the American historian Scheina later described the development as the Netherlands-British radar-development during the first years of the war 4. Another detailed account for the General Public is presented to the public in a current exhibition organised by Signaal in Hengelo's educational museum. The story is also told in a book published by the same company 5.
Always eager to learn - and to profit - from new developments wherever, in 1904 the Dutch invited the German inventor, Christian Hülsmeyer, who patented his 'telemobiloscoop' in that same year. He had demonstrated its capability to detect ships on the Rhine near Cologne. A bell sounded, when a ship passed by. The shipping company Holland America Line, transporter of European emigrants to the new world, had him demonstrate his apparatus on the Maas near Rotterdam. By lack of adequate components and technology, the telemobiloscoop has never been put to practical use. It was too cumbersome to operate.
There were two independent developments. One was triggered and mostly carried
out by Philips Natlab in co-operation with the 'Koninklijke Marine', the Royal
Dutch Navy. It originated from earlier work on the magnetron and other high
frequency components. The radar line was a spin-off from telecommunications
experiments. First 'field' tests were carried out in the Marsdiep, the entrance
to our main naval port. The results were disappointing. Reflections from the
water waves made the readings useless. After improvements a new test facility
was established in Wijk aan Zee. This time there were positive results. The
vessel Jan van Brakel, a minesweeper, could be detected at a distance of 3,2 km.
However, this experiment was done just before the German invasion. That event
terminated all further attempts. At the Natlab one man continued the radar work
in deep secrecy till 1942, when it was decided to put an end to it 3
second line originated in serendipity. Like in the UK the government set up a
committee to advise on the possibilities of 'deadly radiation' of which there
were rumours in the twenties. Like in England the committee declared the story
to be nonsense, but advised to arrange for a laboratory for physics research
related to the defence system. This laboratory started in 1927. (In the UK this
happened 8 years later, but as mentioned before, under the dedicated direction
of R. Watson-Watt that effort led to extremely effective and timely results.)
Two of the staff of the new Dutch lab, Ir. J.L.W.C. von Weiler and Ir. S.
Gratama, carried out radio-transmission experiments during which they observed
disruption by birds flying by. They set out to study that phenomenon and they
developed a radar in which they used the pulsed nature of the transmission to
use the same antenna for transmission and reception. Their team was later
strengthened by Ir. Max Staal. The arrangement was technically superior to the
radars developed elsewhere, in which separate antennas were used, which made
them only suitable as fixed stations. 4,
Nevertheless military acceptance proved not to be easy. In 1938 an inspecting general - he came by car, but he was still wearing spurs - noticed the successful detection of an airplane. Subsequently, he asked whether he could throw a bucket of water or a bucket of sand in the apparatus? After the answers and the subsequent affirmation that not every oaf without some training would be capable of operating the instrument, he declared it unsuitable for military use 5. The navy showed more confidence. A preproduction series of 10 was ordered. Few were completed due to the invasion. In order to keep the development secret, the work was split over 2 companies and 2 universities. (The university of Delft built the transmitter and the university of Leiden the receiver.) Shortly an order for 50 pieces was to follow. It was never carried out. The plans and drawings were destroyedd. Von Weiler and Staal escaped together with admiral Dickens, the British naval attaché in The Hague, on one of the last ships that were able to leave. They took two radar sets with theme.
Fig. 2. Picture of a model of the first Dutch radar sett. Courtesy of Signaalapparaten BV.
As a consequence after the war The Netherlands had firsthand knowledge of the newest technology. It was soon put to practice and in the fifties, the Koninklijke Marine was for some time the most modern navy in the world. The radar industry sold its products to more than 30 countries, among which the US, the UK, Sweden and other highly developed naval powers. In the seventies a new Dutch-British development of a 3D radar system with a 300 km range was demonstrated to a US general. His dry comment: "It is the right radar in the wrong country". Generals think military. Merchants might have voiced a different reaction! We had some 3000 people working in the radar industry by then.
There are numerous lessons to be drawn. In fact too many to
highlight them all. For me the most striking fact is that our strategic
advantage - both military and industrial - was in fact due to a serendipitous
event. The more guided approach: navy - big electronic company, happened to be a
dead end in this case. Specialised knowledge in two universities played a
crucial role in a certain phase of the development. Note that here it was not,
as is often assumed, only in the pre-conceptual stadium. Good and reliable
contacts between government labs, industrial R&D and universities can be
beneficial at any moment. It all depends on the proper job at the proper moment
in the proper place. In order to proceed that way, it is necessary to have the
right contacts, mutual trust, willingness to communicate and the flexibility to
let different actors play their different roles.
Presently, we see a tendency that the actors in government and industry try to change the role of the different players. In industry the commercial spirit becomes too dominant. It affects the technical capabilities of the companies, which might endanger the long term strategic strength. Universities are compelled to direct their attention to goals that are not longer dominated by the world wide shifts of the knowledge front. I am worried by these changes. We had extreme difficulties to secure adequate support via special government funds for the IRCTR. The political and financial beliefs are often virtually non sensitive to technical or scientific advice. The liveliness of the field such as demonstrated by the massive attendance of this conference is difficult to convey to policy and financial circles.
I think it is time for a revival: Technicians and scientists unite! If not, we may enter an era in which the ultimate wisdom becomes the collection of stock options, warrants and futures. A trend that will damage our health, wealth and safety.
I am in debt with Ir. F.C.H.D. v.d. Beemt, Program Director of STW, the technical and applied science branch of the Netherlands Research Organisation NWO, who has been active as a product champion for the activities of the Delft IRCTR for many years. He provided me with background material.