Research focused on achieving a specific goal is applied research. Inventors use research to work on an invention. Applied research often relies on information gained from basic research. Thomas Alva Edison and companies such as General Electric and Westinghouse built laboratories to work on basic and applied research.

Edison Labs

“My principal business consists of giving commercial value to the brilliant, but misdirected, ideas of others.... Accordingly, I never pick up an item without thinking of how I might improve it,” is a quote attributed to Thomas Edison. He was an inventor that founded Edison Labs in Menlo Park, New Jersey. It was the first application of mass production principals to combine with invention. Edison’s lab was equipped as a machine shop, chemical laboratory, and modern instruments and equipment that a manufacturing or science laboratory would have.

Edison, Borroughs and FordCredit: Public Domain

One of his developments still used is the light bulb. Humphrey Davy invented the arc lamp in 1906. It put out a great deal of light, but was impractical for home use. The concept is still used in searchlights today.Thomas Edison in lab.Credit: Public Domain


Because Edison improved the electric light, he is generally thought of as the inventor. Perfecting the incandescent light bulb required thousands of experiments with various filaments and methods to increase the lifespan. It was the first practical light bulb for home use. The light bulb required power stations and distribution systems to make his bulbs available to anyone. Without power, they were useless, so Edison built power stations. During his lifetime, Edison received 1,093 patents. Research played a large part in his innovation.

General Electric and Westinghouse

Companies build research labs to develop products and processes. Bell Laboratories is one of the most famous for scientific research. Both General Electric and Westinghouse built research labs with the purpose of doing applied research. Most of their interests are in developing electrical products and processes.

An example of their use of applied research would be in nuclear science. The basic nuclear power research was done by universities and the government. Enrico Fermi engineered the first controlled fission chain reaction. It was on December 2, 1942 at the University of Chicago. The government funded the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb.

The government uses companies such as General Electric and Westinghouse to do research for their projects. Using knowledge gathered from governmental and academic research, Westinghouse and General Electric do the engineering to build things such as nuclear power plants. This symbiotic relationship between the government, universities and industry allows research without a specific goal in sight by spreading the cost over several groups. This arrangement allows companies to produce advances that otherwise wouldn’t be completed because of cost or complexity.

Basic, Applied Research and Serendipity

Serendipity is a chance discovery. This can happen when someone is working on a project that gets an unexpected result. The invention of the microwave oven is such an example of serendipity.

Serendipity provided Percy Spenser, a Raytheon engineer, with an invention. He was working with microwave radiation. When Spenser found a melted candy bar in his pocket, he surmised it was due to the radiation. This was confirmed after experimentation. The information was used to make a microwave oven.

Inventors rely on research for their inventions. They use knowledge from all sources to apply to their ideas. It is the raw material for their inventions.