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Science as “the foundation of everything”

mariette_dichristina1Science is the engine of human prosperity. Economists have said that a third to a half of U.S. economic growth has resulted from basic research since World War II. The cars and trains that got us to this building, the smart phones we are all carrying, the energy we are using to run the lights in this chamber, the clothes we are wearing, the food we eat: All of these things were developed through the process that we call science. And before the conveniences that we enjoy today existed, researchers had to pioneer the basic concepts that provided a sound foundation for those applications—and they did that pioneering not necessarily knowing where it would lead. I know Einstein wasn’t thinking about the conveniences we enjoy from GPS in our smart phones when he formulated his theory of relativity a hundred years ago, for instance. But knowing how spacetime works helps make our measurement from orbiting satellites accurate.

For all of these reasons, we need to make it a national priority to provide steady and sufficient support for basic research in science, and to STEM education and public outreach. We need to take the long view on R&D investment for the nation’s continued future wellbeing, just as we need to nurture, educate and inspire our children over their K-12 careers so that they can succeed in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. Successful basic research takes careful work and patience. Typical funding grants are five years long. It takes time to run the experiments, gather the data, analyze it properly, and confirm the findings. Conducting basic research properly also means following human curiosity and exploring questions that may not have immediately obvious answers or applications.

Click here to read more from this July 22, 2014 Scientific American article (based on July 17 Senate testimony by Mariette DiChristina).

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