Eric Brown Labs, LLC

Mission Statement

(1) To carry out scientific research to advance knowledge for all.

(2) To prioritize research and education and the public good, rather than reputation or profit.

(3) To test and demonstrate a model for efficient research in a world where research funding is limited and university costs have been growing rapidly for decades.

Eric Brown Labs, LLC does not do work for profit, and funds are used only to pay for the costs of research, a pre-negotiated salary for employees, and activities that have a positive impact on education and research in society as specified by funding. Funding is sought from U.S. Government research agencies, similar to university funding. I pay my fair share of all taxes (property, income, sales, use, etc.) to support the community.

Why did I start this company?

I was a professor of engineering at Yale for several years. I resigned because I eventually realized that Yale's goals were not compatible with my goals of scientific research and education for the public good. As a professor at a research university, I raised grant funds for research from the National Science Foundation (NSF), as was expected of me. However, Yale failed to provide a lab with utilities needed for the research in a timely manner (such as temperature control), which greatly limited the research I could do. After several years of negotiating to try to get basic lab facilities, I realized that I could produce more research on my own in my basement where I could build a lab that meets the requirements for my research. I can support this work on one grant instead of the three I had at Yale, since I won't need to pay tuition and overhead fees on grants to Yale anymore. Those extra costs on grants were taking limited science funding away from researchers in other organizations whose work is being supported, and by raising them for a university where I couldn't do my research efficiently, they were being wasted. I could not conscientiously continue taking those funds, so I returned the remainder of my grants to the NSF. I stuck around to make sure my remaining Ph.D. students could graduate, then resigned to set up my own non-for-profit organization to do research.

In terms of education, Yale pays for very few instructor hours per student in engineering, which means I had very little time to devote to each student. I now teach at Southern Connecticut State University, where the university supports more teaching staff to keep class sizes smaller, so I can give more attention to each student and give them a better education.

A different funding model for research:

Much of my disapproval of Yale stems from their priorities on fundraising and reputation, which determines their resulting research funding model. Such universities push their faculty to maximize the number of grants they can get. The funds are nominally for the purpose of research support. Laboratory facilities are the foundation that experimental research is build on, and as such are the primary reason for the existence of tuition and overhead costs. The utilities that I really needed to start research: compressed air, a deionized water supply, and humidity control, were things I was able to set up within a week of moving equipment into an unfinished basement with a few thousand dollars. Deionized water and compressed air took 1.5 years to be installed at Yale, basic temperature control took 2 years, and the humidity control took 3.5 years to get to a comparable level at Yale, a university that supposedly has over a hundred years of experience at renovating laboratories for research. While Yale was exceptionally slow, timescales of a year to get utilities are typical at many universities. It's not reasonable to conclude that the time it took to do this at Yale was because it was hard, it was too expensive, or even that they didn't know what they were doing. Rather, research facilities simply aren't a priority at such universities.

The real reason some universities push for more grants is to generate income and reputation, as the tuition and overhead that universities take from grants beyond the costs to support research amounts to tens of thousands of dollars per year per student. They have taken a business-oriented approach where grants are treated as income, but research and teaching support are treated as costs. Funds from grants are funneled towards fundraising and public relations, salaries for numerous administrators, high salaries for faculty to placate them, and construction projects to show off rather than to provide function for teaching and research. Clear indications of these priorities include basing promotion decisions on obtaining external grant funding, providing bonuses to faculty for submitting grant proposals, hiring part time teachers to cut costs instead of full-time teachers, and renovations that focus on making a campus look good rather than utilities for research and teaching, while laboratory renovations take a year or more.

I don't intend for individual organizations to replace all universities, as some universities do make research and teaching priorities. In my particular case, I already had the laboratory equipment and space available, so it made sense for me to work on my own. Rather, I hope to provide a good example for universities to return to their goals of research and education by reconsidering their funding models to focus on generating more research per dollar by provided facilities for research, and to return their focus of educating students.

Environmental impact

Working for the public good includes minimizing our negative effects on the climate. Research organizations can have an oversized impact on contributions to climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions from air travel to conferences, as well as electricity use of certain equipment. To minimize air travel, I encourage the use of online conferences instead of in-person conferences. In my previous lab, a fume hood was the single-largest contributor to electricity and heating needs, largely because massive air exchange rates through the laboratory increased demand on heating, cooling, and humidity control systems. As part of designing a research program focused on the public good, I have made small changes in the direction of research projects to minimize chemical use and eliminate the need for a fume hood. Designing an environmental control system that I can turn on and off at will also saves energy when I am not taking measurements. These design changes reduce the heating, cooling, and humidity control power use by about 86%. I encourage other research groups to look at their environmental impact, especially air travel, the use of fume hoods, and supercomputing [T. Feder, Physics Today, November 2021, p.22 (2021)]. In cases where fume hoods are really needed, replacing bypass fume hoods with models that can turn off can still save a tremendous amount of energy. I am planning to install solar panels in the next year to produce electricity equivalent to 100% of electric, heating, and cooling needs This will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of my research by about 98% from their previous level, leaving only a small amount from the manufacturing and shipping of purchased supplies and equipment, and transport to local conferences.