The NSF Engineering Research Centers and the University–Industry Research Revolution: A Brief History Featuring an Interview with Erich Bloch


The NSF engineering research centers (ERC) program served notice of a sea change in university research funding and institutional designs, representing a transition from department-based, principle investigator-oriented university science to a new center-based model encouraging universities to work with industry and to work beyond the strictures of academic disciplines. In our view, the past three decades of U.S. science and technology policy have not seen an institutional change of greater importance. This paper begins with a brief history of the ERC program, including discussion of the program’s origins, goals and research foci, growth, and influence as a model for other science center programs in the U.S. and abroad. Our ‘‘primary data’’ include an interview with Erich Bloch, former NSF director who was one of the chief architects and advocates for the ERC program. Because of the historical importance of this interview, we present the entire interview with the original material largely unaltered. We conclude with discussion of the managerial challenges that ERCs face within the context of traditional university structures.

Full Paper

Barry Bozeman and Craig Boardman (2004) “The NSF Engineering Research Centers and the University-Industry Research Revolution: A Brief History Featuring and Interview with Erich Bloch,” Journal of Technology Transfer, 29, 365-375.