I am really worried about priorities..
❖ On a recent science post about the evolution of land plants, a community member worried: “what about poverty?? people are dying in hunger, lack of medical support, clean water and other simple things which can be fixed… but without fixing something for them we are trying to find water in Mars. I’m really worried about the priorities..”
❖ A similar comment lamented the cost of curiosity in the search for earth-like planets (http://goo.gl/9OUM0D). Physics professor Robert McNees had an awesome response:
❝ You posted your comment using technology that exists only because of a chain of discoveries and insights that began with fascination-driven research in the late 19th century.❞
❝ If Balmer hadn’t studied spectral lines, Planck may not have proposed the quantum. Then Bohr may not have conceived his model of the atom, which means Heisenberg and Schrödinger wouldn’t have developed their formulations of quantum mechanics. That would have left Bloch without the tools he needed to understand the nature of conduction in metals, and then how would Schottky have figured out semiconductors? It’s hard to imagine, then, how Bardeen, Brattain, and Schockley would have developed transistors. And without transistors, Noyce and Kilbey couldn’t have produced integrated circuits.❞
❝ Almost every major technological advance of the 20th and 21st centuries originated with basic research that presented no obvious or immediate economic benefit. That means no profit motive, and hence no reason for the private sector to adequately fund it. Basic research isn’t a waste of tax dollars; it’s a more reliable long-term investment than anything else in the Federal government’s portfolio.❞
❖ GIF: Johns Hopkins professor Andy Feinberg spent several days on NASA’s zero gravity aircraft (known as “vomit comet”) trying out different pipetting techniques for future experiments in space. It wasn’t that easy with flying pipet tips and tubes! Andy did eventually figure out the best technique (using positive displacement pipets, seen in the second video in this link http://goo.gl/AFpnJq). Feinberg is leading one of ten experiments in NASA’s Twin Study to examine epigenetics and other biological changes that affect astronauts in space. Samples from Scott Kelly, who is spending a year onboard the ISS, will be compared with those from his twin on earth, Mark. Feinberg credits NASA for funding this study. He says, “They’re very curious people. They really want to know.”
Who knows, one day we may even grow potatoes on Mars! 🙂
Share your favorite example of the unexpected benefits of basic research!
Shout out to Gnotic Pasta who made the GIF. Thanks, Dan!