Better science through coffee

The coffee's cheap at the technology transfer center at University College Dublin. But you have to interact with people to get it.

DUBLIN, Ireland--Necessity is the mother of invention, but coffee breaks help, too.

In an effort to encourage interaction among researchers, Pat Frain, director of NovaUCD, the incubation and technology transfer center at University College Dublin, had the cafe in the center's complex start serving 1 euro cappuccinos. That's a nice deal in a city where a coffee can set you back 3.20 euros, or nearly five dollars.

The deal made the front page of one of the local newspapers. Because it became popular, the facilities manager had him boost it up to 1.30 euros, but the low prices perform the task he wants.

The cafe doesn't get to start serving, however, until 10, after everyone is working. If they cranked out coffees at 9 a.m., Frain figures, people would grab one and scurry off to work. Now, they have to consciously come out of their offices and invariably get stuck in a line, where they will start to mingle.

"You can see a certain amount of fluidity" in the line, he said.

Like a lot of countries, Ireland is trying to unlock research from its university labs to build up its tech industry. But, unlike some countries, Ireland is actually committing a fair amount of money and energy to the project. The goal at NovaUCD, which started a few years ago, has a goal of coming up with 10 start-ups a year.

The center is housed in a manor house next to campus dating back to the 1750s. When refurbishing the building, Frain also had the architect put glass panes in every door and glass walls on outward-facing conference rooms. The only concession he's made is with banners in front of a glass wall for the seminar room, which gets used by visitors. He also had the stairs and elevators moved so people would have to pass each other more often to get to work.

And forget trying to cover the glass pane on your office.

"If I let one person put up something, they'd all do it in a week," he said.

 

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