Research and development is the lifeblood of the most innovative companies. To keep it flowing, we need to ensure that today's students will kindle an interest in science that leads them to become tomorrow's researchers. School science fairs can only help spark this enthusiasm -- but recent economic woes have led many of these fairs' big-name benefactors to cut or eliminate their support.

For the sake of the future discoveries that might drive tomorrow's best businesses, it's up to individuals like you and me to help fill that gap.

She blinded me with science!
The nationally renowned Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) International Science and Engineering Fair is the world's largest pre-college science fair. It features 1,500 youngsters selected from a pool of 6 million, and awards more than $4 million in prizes and scholarships.

Many Intel fair participants qualify through smaller, regional fairs, some of which are now threatened. The 60-year-old St. Louis Science Fair, for instance, lost half its $130,000 budget when Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) pulled out, leaving just Monsanto (NYSE: MON) as the major sponsor. Fair management is determined to keep it running, but that task will be difficult.

A little poking around online reveals more science fair dropouts. Motorola (NYSE: MOT) was a high-profile sponsor of the New York State Science and Engineering Fair in 2007, but it hasn't been listed as a benefactor since.

Eureka! A positive development
Thankfully, other companies seem unlikely to waver in their dedication to science fairs. (Even Pfizer may continue to some degree, since it has supported many fairs across the country.) Broadcom (Nasdaq: BRCM) has launched a new national middle-school competition, focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math. 

In addition, new funds for fairs are coming from unusual sources: In 2009, Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) divided a $1 million prize among several researchers who came up with an algorithm to improve video recommendations. One team from AT&T (NYSE: T) is donating part of its prize to the North Jersey Regional Science Fair.

Supporting science fairs is smart for many businesses; after all, these fairs could help develop their future employees.

Fools can help, too
The Motley Fool is doing its own part to boost education, lending a hand to the powerfully performing Thurgood Marshall Academy in our nation's capital. Learn more about the school, then consider supporting its mission. Even the comments you post on our discussion boards and articles will help us generate money for the academy. By sounding off on the importance of science education or your favorite research-intensive investments today, you'll be helping us nurture tomorrow's researchers and engineers.

Learn more about retiring richer. Click here to read the Fool's new special report, The 7 Secrets to Salvage Your Retirement Today.

Intel and Pfizer are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Netflix is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor choice. The Fool owns shares of and has bought calls on Intel. Motley Fool Options has recommended buying calls on Intel and a synthetic long position on Monsanto. Try any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Netflix. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.