The Scientific Role of Commercialization

CEO Peter Egelberg comments on his presentation at SPIE 2018 in San Francisco — “The evolution of Phase Holographic Imaging from a research idea to publicly traded company”.

Over Greenland, February 4, 2018

Galileo and the field telescope

Science needs new tools to progress. The most striking example of this is when Galileo Galilei in 1609 used the newly invented field telescope to discover the moons of Jupiter. At the time it was believed the universe was created for us. Since then the tool that was initially intended to spot enemy forces has taught us how utterly insignificant we are; we live on an insignificant planet orbiting around an insignificant star in an insignificant galaxy, among the billions of galaxies that make up our universe. The evolution of the telescope and the subsequent realization of our insignificance has democratized our society by changing how we view authorities: “If we humans are so insignificant that we just barely exist, any human authority must be equally insignificant!”.

400 years of telescopic evolution: Galileo’s telescope (left), the Hubble Space Telescope (right).

Galileo* did not invent the field telescope. The true heroes of this story are Hans Lippershey and the other nearly forgotten eyeglass makers who invented and commercialized the telescope a few years earlier. Galileo just happened to be one of the first astronomers to hear about the field telescope and did what any astronomer would do — direct it towards the sky and make the improvements needed for the new purpose.

*Curiously, unlike other famous historical figures Galileo is referenced by his first name.

A numbers game

Science is a numbers game. If only a few wealthy scientists have access to a new technology, chances are slim that any significant discoveries will be made. However, if the new technology is inexpensive and available to all scientists, chances are that new discoveries will be made that fundamentally improve our lives once again.

To transform an invention to a product that can be purchased by any scientist is the often unappreciated but crucial role of commercializing enterprises. This was the underlying theme of my presentation at SPIE 2018, “The evolution of Phase Holographic Imaging from a research idea to publicly traded company”. The manuscript can be read here.