Asked to compare research in Europe and the USA, Ian Poll, head of the UK's Cranfield College of Aeronautics, says the difference is in "the grand challenge": in the USA, it exists, he says. In Europe, it does not.

Poll, who has conducted aeronautical research at several US institutions, including NASA-Langley and Stanford University, says "a grand challenge" inspires research. Knowing what the end result is supposed to be and having a product to show for it sustains research.

"You know what the challenges are and you know what you're trying to do. In Europe, there's none of that - apart from France. I've not experienced any research environment in Europe as congenial or productive as in the USA."

According to a proposal issued last January by Philippe Busquin, European Commissioner for Research and Technology, for a European Research Area, 8,760 European students obtained doctorate degrees in the USA between 1988 and 1995. Five years after obtaining their degrees, half had remained there.

Until the European research climate evolves into a more welcoming, inspired, focused and well-funded environment, Poll predicts that Europe will continue to lose many of its best and brightest to the USA. Poll cites examples of top Cranfield students who have put their brain power to work in the USA, such as the project manager for the Northrop Grumman F-117A stealth fighter and senior contributors to the Boeing blended-wing programme and the NASA Rockwell Space Shuttle.

"We've exported our best talent," Poll says. "They went, and they're never coming back." He says if it were not for wanting to raise his children in the UK, he too would have stayed in the USA. "I know things aren't all exactly hunky dory in the USA, but the difference is amazing: you work like a slave and you're glad to do it."

Source: Flight International