I ran into a guy on the internet who, after looking at a map of the known universe with galaxies showing their relative motion, exclaimed
What a great waste of money. Although they call it a map, it’s not like any human is going to be able to use it, ever. I can’t imagine why scientists get approval for this sort of useless stuff.
To which, I replied
Really? Are you aware that Wifi and cellular technology are direct results of a couple of scientists trying to do radio astronomy on black holes cheaply? No? I’m not surprised. Feel free to look it up.
Fundamental science research is just that, fundamental. Without basic research that may not have any practical application now, we won’t know what is even possible, much less the next set of questions to ask to develop new technologies.
And, you are wrong, many humans use maps like this. They are called cosmologists and they are studying the very makeup of our universe in order to understand the physical laws that govern it. Once we understand physical laws, human have this unique ability to start manipulating them. Electricity, magnetism, radiation, you know, all the things that allowed you to logon to a server computer using Wifi and move some electrons around on a hard disk that results in everyone else being able to read your ill-informed post.
Science. It works. Perhaps if more money was spent on science and STEM education, then we wouldn’t have many of the issues we have today. Like a great variety of ill-informed people posting stuff on the internet that makes no sense.
So after a few seconds of diligent searching on the internet, I came across a list of spin-off technologies that are the direct results of fundamental research into various sciences.
- Magnetism (also used to generate electricity)
This study suggests that in 1985, the economy of industrial nations would be at least 5% less than it was. Keep in mind that this was effectively BC (before computers). Now, I suspect that number would be closer to 35%. (Science Policy and Public Spending, J.A. Kay & C.H. Llewellyn Smith, Fiscal Studies, Vol. 6, No. 3, p. 14, 1985.)
While we’re on the subject, let’s remind everyone that the World Wide Web was invented at CERN which was (and is) a pure, fundamental science facility in high energy physics. It’s estimated that upwards of 200 billion dollars worth of business will be conducted online in 2011.
And there are more spin-off technologies from particle accelerators (like CERN).
- cancer therapy
- medical imaging
Even Einstein’s General Relativity has produced a spin-off technology. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s the Global Positioning System.
So, as I said, we need fundamental research that produces no immediate benefits, just to know what to ask and what’s possible.