Try to imagine life without your smartphone. No email, no tweets, no Facebook updates, no alerts from the office. We use smartphones at work, to stay in touch with family and friends, to shop and to explore the world around us. For most of us, life without a smartphone is unimaginable.

Now, picture your smartphone without the pioneering federally funded research done at America's research universities. You can't, because your smartphone would not exist without that research. First, they would likely be far bulkier because they would use bigger batteries. Location-based services? They would not exist without GPS. Your fingers would not work on the touchscreen because multi-touch screens would not exist. And more fundamentally, with no chip or memory they would be empty aluminum shells - if that. All of these components owe a significant debt to federally funded research at America's research universities.

Click on the smartphone below to begin your journey through the smartphone, and see how different it would look without federally funded university research.

Explore the phone below to see the research behind it
Click on one of the phone parts to learn more

Multi-Touch Screens

The resistive touch screen (a screen that can be manipulated with a finger or stylus) was developed in 1971 by Samuel Hurst at the University of Kentucky. The multi touch functionality was developed by Wayne Westerman and John Elias at the University of Delaware, with funding from the National Science Foundation. The two Delaware researchers would go on to found FingerWorks, a touch screen manufacturing company. FingerWorks would be acquired by Apple, Inc., and play a major role in the functionality of the Apple iPhone when it rolled out in 2007.

Central Processing Units

Three university researchers are credited with inventing the first CPU: John Atanasoff of Iowa State College - now Iowa State University - and John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert of the University of Pennsylvania. Atanasoff created the first automatic electronic digital computer but stopped work on the machine when he left his faculty position for the war effort during World War II. In 1946, using funding from the U.S. Army, Mauchly and Eckert announced the first electronic general purpose computer.

Multi-Core Processors

Professor Kunle Olukotun and his research group at Stanford University in 1995 used Department of Defense funding to develop the first multicore processor, which allowed computers to become more responsive and powerful with less heat generation. The iPhone has used multicore processing since 2009.

Magnetic RAM

MIT researcher Jay Wright Forrester performed the U.S. Navy-supported research that resulted in the creation of the first magnetic core RAM, a predecessor to Dynamic Random Access Memory. The development of magnetic core memory laid the groundwork for the smartphone's modern computing processes.


Satellite navigation was invented during the Cold War by a research team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, led by Richard B. Kershner. Under contract with the Department of Defense and NASA, the team developed the Transit Navigation Satellite System, the precursor to today’s modern, commercial GPS.

Lithium Ion Battery

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries were made possible by the invention of lithium cobalt oxide cathode materials by physicist John Goodenough during his time at Oxford University. Later at the University of Texas, with funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, he made further discoveries on the use of less expensive, alternative materials for the batteries. This work enabled widespread use of the batteries in compact devices such as phones and laptop computers.

Without University Research

This is your smartphone without university research.

Learn about more groundbreaking university research.