A parable of the pure and the practical why we must pursue basic scientific research
A Parable of the Pure and the Practical
Why We Must Pursue Basic Scientific Research
Sheldon Lee Glashow
Harvard University, emeritus
WINDOWS ON THE UNIVERSE
Rencontres du Vietnam
Quy Nhon, August 2013
Many representatives of Government, Industry and Academia arguethat governments should invest only in research that is likely togenerate immediate and specific benefits, either wealth creation orimprovements in the quality of life. They find undirected researchin particle physics, mathematics, cosmology, low-temperaturephysics and many other basic sciences to be useless and expensiveluxuries that consume resources rather than promoting EconomicGrowth and Human Welfare. They are wrong!
THESIS (from a letter to the Economist)
Fundamental physicists would be hard-pressed to point to anythinguseful that was directly dependent on their theorising. Thediscoveries of particle physicists or cosmologists are intellectuallyirrelevant to almost everyone—does it matter how old the universeis or if matter consists of two or 17 particles? If individuals wish tocontemplate the universe, let them do it in their spare time at theirown expense. It is far more important that we encourage our "bestbrains" to solve real problems and leave theology to the religiousprofessionals.
Had Faraday, Rontgen and Hertz focussed on solving the "realproblems" of their day, we would have waited much longer forelectric motors, X-rays and radios. It is true that today's"fundamental physicists" are concerned with exotic phenomenathat are not at all useful in themselves. Nonetheless, their work hasmade and continues to make an enormous impact on our lives.
We shall demonstrate how curiousity-driven searches forfundamental knowledge have proven to be at least as effective asdirect searches for solutions to specific societal problems, whetherfrom the discoveries themselves or from the frontier technologiesthey required.
But our Critic has a point. Consider CERN:
ere research facility for high-energy physics; Supported
by its 20 European member states; With 2500 full-time employeesCERN hosts about 10,000 visiting scientists from 113 differentcountries. CERN, among its accomplishments:
I Found the neutral currents of the electroweak theory,
I Used neutrinos to confirm the quark hypothesis,
I Discovered the W and Z bosons.
I Counted the number of neutrino species,
I Created the first anti-atoms and
I Discovered the long sought Higgs Boson last year!
None of these triumphs are likely to contribute anything at all tohuman health or wealth. Useless Science?
Not quite useless: Think Technology Transfer!
CERN is a hotbed of innovative technologies involvingAccelerators, Cryogenics, Detectors, Electronics, InformationTechnology, Magnets, Material Science, Superconductors &c.
Through licencing or joint ventures, CERN makes these resourcesavailable for scientific and commercial purposes. Some examples ofCERN's Technogical Spinoff:
I 1965 The World-Wide-Web, by physicists but for the world!
I 2004 GEANT-4: CERN's simulation software for physics,
space science, medicine and radiology.
I 2003 DxRay, a spinoff company, develops advanced digital
X-ray scanners based on CERN technology.
I 2012 "Thanks to scientists working on particle acceleration at
CERN, the Geneva International Airport is the proud owner ofthe largest solar energy system in Switzerland" (Forbes).
But CERN's primary purposes are to pursue the secrets of Natureand to train the next generation of innovators.
The Many Virtues of Basic Science: I. Clinical Medicine
I 1932 Antimatter
I 1950 Nuclear Magnetism
I 1912 Radioactive Isotopes
I Particle Beam Therapy
I Forensic Medicine
I 1928 Penicillin (by Chance!)
I Disease Control
I 1953 DNA Structure
Each of these discoveries earned a Nobel Prize!
II. Basic Science and Information Technology
I 1888 Radio Waves
I Wireless Transmission
I 1947 Holography
I Secure Credit Cards
I 1947 Transistors
I 1st Computer Revolution
I 1951 Integrated Circuits
I 2nd Computer Revolution
I 1966 Optical Fibers
I Rapid Data Transmission
I 1976 PK Cryptography
I Secure Data Transmission
I 1988 Giant Magnetoresistance
I 1986 High T Superconductors
I Energy Storage (?)
I 2012 Quantum Manipulation
I Quantum Computers (?)
All but two of these discoveries earned Nobel Prizes!
III. Yet More Fruits of Basic Science
I 1839 Photovoltaic Effect
I 1905 Photoelectric Effect
I Charge Coupled Device
I 1912 X-Ray Diffraction
I 1916 General Relativity
I Global Positioning
I 1938 Nuclear Fission
I 1949 Carbon Dating
I Climate Research
I 1969 Charge Coupled Device
I Digital Cameras
I 1985 Bucky-Balls (Fullerenes)
All but one of these discoveries earned Nobel Prizes!
How ‘Atom Smashers' Became Big Business
Cyclotrons were created for pure research: to study the basicbuilding blocks of matter. But these and other particle acceleratorscontribute directly to wealth creation and human welfare. Some30,000 accelerators operate today. Very few do fundamentalresearch. Mostly they are used for industry and medicine: IonImplantation, Material Processing, Particle Beam Therapy, MedicalIsotope Production, Food Irradiation, Nondestructive Inspectionetc.
Energy loss due to ‘synchrotron radiation,' once a problem atelectron accelerators, has become a multi-billion dollar bounty.
Synchrotron light is useful for many basic sciences, medicine andindustry. About 70 of these large, expensive and sophisticated lightsources are deployed in 20 countries. Far more powerful ‘FourthGeneration' light sources are on the horizon.
Between Idea and Implementation
I GMR Effect to Gigabyte Hard Drives:
I CCD to Digital Camera:
I Transistor to Transistor Radio:
I Radio Waves to Wireless Telegraphy:
I Fission to Nuclear Power:
I General Relativity to Global Positioning:
I Photovoltaics to Solar Panels:
The latency period have can various causes, among them:Necessity (e.g., solar panels); War (e.g., nuclear power); or MissingTechnology (e.g., GPS needs satellites and sophisticatedelectronics as well as general relativity.)
La Chance ne sourit qu'aux esprit bien pr´
Research must be done with eyes wide open
Five Very Short Stories
I Once upon a time a Prince searched for a needle in a
haystack. Instead he found the farmer's daughter.
I In 1856 young Henry Perkin to tried to synthesize quinine.
Instead, he discovered the first aniline dye.
I In 1896 Henri Becquerel set out to prove that the sun emits
X-rays. Instead, he discovered radioactivity.
I In 1965 a chemist was assessing the efficacy of an anti-ulcer
medication. Instead he stumbled upon the blockbusterartificial sweetener aspartame.
I In 1996, chemists at Pfizer held clinical trials for a new drug
to treat angina and hypertension. The trials failed, but anentirely unanticipated side effect on men led Pfizer to marketViagra for male impotence.
International Scientific Cooperation
A Paradigm for Peace among Nations
Basic scientific research is among the few areas wherein nations ofthe world cooperate. Modern science emerged as an multinationalendeavor: Copernicus (a Pole), Tycho Brahe (a Dane), Kepler (aGerman), Galileo (an Italian) and Newton (an Englishman) taughtus our place in the heavens. Whilst these were all white, Christian,European men, today everyone can contribute to the ScientificAdventure regardless of nationality, religion, race or sex. Amongmany international collaborations:
I Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer: 16 nations
I International Space Station: 15 nations
I International Linear Collider: 19 nations
I ITER (Thermonuclear Research): EU + six nations
I CERN: Scientists from over 100 nations
States with Formal Contacts with CERN
Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan,Belarus. Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China,Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark,Ecuador, Egypt. Estonia, France, Finland, Georgia, Germany,Ghana, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy,Japan, Jordan, Korea, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Macedonia,Madagascar, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, Mozambique,New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Palestine, Peru,Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Rwanda,Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovenia, Slovak Republic, South Africa,Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia,Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Ukraine, USA,Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam.
Five (of Many) Physicists Who Spun Themselves Off
I Allan Cormack: Nuclear and particle physicist, longtime
chairman Tufts physics dept., invented the CAT scanner forwhich he won the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
I Walter Gilbert: Accomplished theoretical physicist became
molecular biologist, shared Nobel in Chemistry, cofounder &first CEO Biogen, now celebrated art photographer &philanthropist.
I Paul Ginsparg: Theoretical physicist and IT expert, founder of
the free online archive for physics and many other sciences.
Won MacArthur award for "changing how physics gets done."
I Leon Lederman: Experimental physicist, codiscovered second
neutrino & fifth quark, Nobelist, many STEM initiatives, e.g.,creating the Illinois Math & Science Academy.
I Andrei Sakharov: Famed Soviet theoretical physicist. human
rights champion and Nobel Laureate in Peace, led hisgovernment to sign nuclear test ban treaty.
Technology Impacts Basic Science!
I Steam engines were invented long before they could be
understood, thus challenging physicists to develop the scienceof thermodynamics.
I The 19th century inventions of spark coils (by Ruhmkorff),
photography (by Daguerre) and mercury air pumps (byGeissler) made many turn-of-the-century discoveries possible:radio waves, X-rays, radioactivity, the electron, atomicnumber, cathode ray tubes.
I The antenna used by Penzias and Wilson to discover the
cosmic microwave background was built by ATT for earlysatellite communication.
I Mysterious gamma-ray bursts were detected by US Air Force
satellites looking for illicit Soviet nuclear tests.
I Supercomputers enable otherwise impossible calculations in
both pure and applied science, e.g., the four color theorem.
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