APS ‘Deconstructs’ the iPad, Shows Congress Link Between Research and Innovation

By Mary Catherine Adams

Congressional Presentations

All Photos By Brian Mosley/APS
Ipad talks at Congress one

Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-14th-IL) delivered introductory remarks on Sept. 21 during the Capitol Hill briefing, “Deconstructing the iPad: How Federally Supported Research Leads to Game-Changing Innovation.”

Ipad talk at Congress two
Luis von Ahn, of Carnegie Mellon University, who moderated the event, addressed the audience.

Ipad Talk to Congress three

Martin Izzard, of Texas Instruments, discussed the integrated circuit, which led to the development of the microchip and powers today’s iPad.

ipad talk to Congress four

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-10th-TX) offered remarks on the importance of research and innovation.

IPad talk to Congress five

Nobel Laureate William D. Phillips provided an overview of how research on atoms led to the atomic clock and the global positioning system.

Congressional staffers gathered at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 21 to learn how early stage scientific research was integral to the development of the iPad – a tool many on Capitol Hill use daily.

In an effort to educate Congress about the importance of scientific research, the American Physical Society, along with the Task Force on American Innovation (TFAI) and several other organizations, hosted an event called “Deconstructing the iPad: How Federally Supported Research Leads to Game-Changing Innovation,” which specifically targeted conservative freshman members of the House.

“Our goal was to inform members of Congress on how technologies in the iPad are rooted in early-stage scientific research,” said APS press secretary Tawanda W. Johnson.

William D. Phillips, a Nobel Laureate working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), explained that federally funded research was critical in developing the global positioning system (GPS) that enables commonly used navigation apps on the iPad.

Federal funding in the 1950s enabled the creation of the world’s most accurate timekeepers – atomic clocks – without which GPS systems would not work. The same research on atoms that led to the development of atomic clocks is now serving as the basis for the development of quantum computing, which has the potential to revolutionize data encryption and bolster national security. Though scientists don’t always know where research is going, Phillips said, simply doing it can lead to amazing things like the better understanding of the atom in the 1950s did.

Benjamin Bederson, a University of Maryland professor and co-founder of Zumobi, Inc., which develops apps, told the story of a disabled University of Delaware graduate student who struggled using a standard computer keyboard. The student helped develop capacitive sensing – the thing that makes touch-screens work – in the 1990s thanks to a National Science Foundation (NSF) fellowship and an NSF grant. Martin Izzard, a scientist and researcher at Texas Instruments, spoke about the history of the integrated circuit, which is used in nearly all electronic equipment today.

Luis von Ahn, of Carnegie Mellon University, and founder of reCAPTCHA, who moderated the event, said, “The iPad isn’t the culmination of technology; it’s a mile marker.” He also told the staffers that because industry primarily funds projects with clear outcomes and obvious profit potential, scientists rely on the federal government to fund things that don’t have clear outcomes but that do result in important discoveries.  

About 100 people attended the House presentation, which started at noon. Another presentation for Senate staffers was held in the morning and was also well-attended.

The Task Force on American Innovation (TFAI), of which APS is a member, spearheaded the event. Three Republican Congressmen joined the TFAI in sponsoring the event: Randy Hultgren from Illinois; Michael McCaul from Texas; and Ben Quayle from Arizona. Other organizations that sponsored the event include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the Association for Computing Machinery, the Computing Research Association, IEEE-USA, and Texas Instruments.

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