- Legislative Issues
- Reports & Resources
- TSC News & Events
- University Science Today
- University Research:
Celebrating America's Competitive Edge
Bloomington Herald-Times Op-Ed: Basic research the key to hopeful future
May 25, 2008
Imagine your child has leukemia, but there is no chemotherapy to treat it. Imagine your father has a brain disorder, but there is no magnetic resource imaging (MRI) technology to detect or diagnose it. Imagine your friends are lost deep in the wilderness, but there is no Global Positioning System (GPS) technology available to pinpoint their location.
Imagine yourself with skin cancer, aggravated by ultraviolet radiation streaming through the ozone layer’s hole, a hole enlarging all the time because no one has figured out how to stem its growth. Imagine a life without search engines, YouTube or blogs, because there is no such thing as the Internet.
You have just imagined a world in which basic research is absent. The above discoveries have emerged out of research conducted by scientists who began their work many decades earlier, without precise ideas about future outcomes.
Basic research is the work scientists and other scholars do to explore the unknown and acquire new knowledge. It is, by definition, experimental, open-ended and undertaken without specific applications in mind at the start. And it is the kind of research that quite literally changes our world.
In late April, Indiana University hosted a visit from Dr. Raymond Orbach, the undersecretary for science at the U.S. Department of Energy.
In his presentation, Dr. Orbach observed that the global energy crisis we are facing will be solved not by incremental changes in technology but by the novel discoveries that come from basic research. As Orbach put it in a recent Science magazine article on the federal budget for 2009, “Without transformational (basic) discoveries, we don’t have a very hopeful future.”
In America’s fast-track, instant-gratification culture, the open-ended, exploratory nature of basic research is hard to understand and accept. As gas prices at the pump approach $4 a gallon, and food prices rise at alarming rates, most of us understandably want quick fixes. But when it comes to the basic research being conducted at Indiana University and similar institutions around the world, we simply must take the long view. The key to stimulating life-changing discoveries like those Orbach envisions requires our sustained commitment to and investment in basic research.
At IU and institutions like it, basic research is the daily work of many dedicated people. At IU, to give a few examples, scientists are involved in long-term studies exploring the human dimensions and impact of global climate change, how severe weather systems evolve and what new chemical conversions may produce enough energy to drive engines and other machines.
+READ MORE (subscription required)
This guest column was written by Sarita Soni, vice provost for research, Indiana University.