A research institute is an establishment endowed for doing research. Research institutes may specialize in basic research or may be oriented to applied research. Although the term often implies natural science research, there are also many research institutes in the social sciences as well, especially for sociological and historical research purposes.
Famous research institutes
In the early medieval period, several astronomical observatories were built in the Islamic world. The first of these was the 9th-century Baghdad observatory built during the time of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun, though the most famous were the 13th-century Maragheh observatory, 15th-century Ulugh Beg Observatory.
The earliest research institute in Europe was Tycho Brahe's Uraniborg complex on the island of Hven, a 16th-century astronomical laboratory set up to make highly-accurate measurements of the stars. In the United States there are numerous notable research institutes including Bell Labs, The Scripps Research Institute, Beckman Institute, and SRI International. Hughes Aircraft used a research institute structure for its organizational model  which makes sense given its heavy emphasis on creativity and innovation.
Research institutes in early modern Europe
From the throes of the Scientific Revolution came the 17th century scientific academy. In France Louis XIV founded the Académie Royale des Sciences in 1666 which came after private academic assemblies had been created earlier in the seventeenth century to foster research. In London, the Royal Society was founded.
In the early 18th century Peter the Great established an educational-research institute to be built in his newly created imperial capital, St Petersburg. His plan combined provisions for linguistic, philosophical and scientific instruction with a separate academy in which graduates could pursue further scientific research. It was the first institution of its kind in Europe to conduct scientific research within the structure of a university. The St Petersburg Academy was established by decree on 28 January 1724.
Scientific research in twentieth century America
Research institutes came to emerge at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1900, at least in Europe and the United States, the scientific profession had only evolved so far as to include the theoretical implications of science and not its application. Research scientists had yet to establish a leadership in expertise. Outside of scientific circles it was generally assumed that a person in an occupation related to the sciences carried out work which was necessarily "scientific" and that the skill of the scientist did not hold any more merit than the skill of a labourer. A philosophical position on science was not thought by all researchers to be intellectually superior to applied methods. However any research on scientific application was limited by comparison. A loose definition attributed all naturally occurring phenomena to "science". The growth of scientific study stimulated a desire to reinvigorate the scientific discipline by robust research; in order to extract "pure" science from such broad categorisation.
This began with research conducted autonomously away from public utility and governmental supervision. Enclaves for industrial investigations became established. These included the Rockefeller Institute, Carnegie Institution of Washington and the Institute for Advanced Study. Research was advanced in both theory and application. This was aided by substantial private donation.
The expansion of universities into the faculty of research fed into these developments as mass education produced mass scientific communities. A growing public consciousness of scientific research brought public perception to the fore in driving specific research developments. After the Second World War and the Atom Bomb specific research threads were followed: environmental pollution and national defense.
- E. S. Kennedy (1962), Reviewed Work: The Observatory in Islam and Its Place in the General History of the Observatory by Aydin Sayili", Isis 53 (2): 237-239.doi:10.1086/349558
- The Scripps Research Institute
- Hughes After Howard, Dr. Kenneth Richardson, 2011, pg88, ISBN 978-0-9708050-8-9
- History of Universities: 1994, Volume 13, Peter Denley, Oxford University Press.1995, p142 ISBN 978-0-19-820531-9
- Reingold, Ida H. (1981). Science in America, a documentary history, 1900-1939", The Chicago history of science and medicine. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-70946-8.