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Silicon Valley Wants to Stay On the Road to Prosperity

Williams, a Ph.D. chemist, has spent the past decade pleading with Congress to devote more funding to research and education in the sciences. So far it hasn't happened.

Last year, on a trip to India, he kept running into Indian scientists who earned Ph.D.s in the United States and worked here, but had recently returned to India -- not for sentimental reasons, but because they wanted their kids to grow up in a place with the best opportunities, and, shockingly enough, in their minds the United States was no longer that place.

Soon after, Williams traveled to China, where the government is creating the world's largest nanotechnology research facility and dishing out grants of as much as $100 million to veteran scientists. One woman he met, a 28-year-old fresh out of graduate school, had been given $5 million to pursue nanotech research. "In the United States," he says, "a young assistant professor would struggle to raise $50,000, let alone $5 million."

In Williams's lab at HP, only 18 of the 75 scientists were born in the United States, and 10 of those American-born researchers are over 50 years old; only six are under the age of 35. For now, HP can rely on foreign-born scientists, but "what happens when those people stop wanting to come here?" Williams asks. "That's the scary part."

Williams got through college and grad school in the 1970s thanks to government grants. He reckons he was a good investment. Through taxes, he's paid back the government many times over.

"Technology has been paying the bills in this country," he says. "It's delivering all of the innovation and the profits in the United States. The IT industry has created the wealth that we're enjoying now. But because the industry is doing well, it gets neglected. We're killing the goose that lays the golden eggs."

That's something to think about the next time you're stuck in that traffic on Route 101.

Daniel Lyons is a technology columnist for Newsweek.

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