1.3. Basic and applied science

For a long time, and even now, the value of science has been a topic of debate. This debate has broadly divided science into two categories according to its goals, but not necessarily 'value':

      Basic science or pure science: the search for knowledge regardless of its possible applications in the short run. Its immediate goal is knowledge just for knowledge's sake, no matter whether there is a practical application or not.

      Applied science or technology: whose objective, on the contrary, is to enable solutions to everyday problems, which, as a general rule, are defined by researchers.

Basic science. What value?

There are some people who define applied sciences as “useful” and basic sciences, however, as “useless” and therefore deserving of less attention. However, if we have a look at the history of science, basic knowledge has enabled, subsequently, the development of remarkable applied science. I will list examples below:

Applied scientific discoveries at the famous CERN (European Nuclear Research Centre) initially can be seen as purely theoretical, but contrary to what most people think, these discoveries have day to day applications like the Internet. For example, discoveries at CERN allowed the development of the world's first web site. Also within the computing world, CERN has made feasible the development of GRID, which is a distributed computing system capable of managing the 15 million GB of data that the CERN generates each year. This GRID system allows the distribution of this amount of information and its access by researchers all over the world.

In the medical field, the development of particle accelerators like LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at CERN has provided the emergence of techniques for the treatment of certain diseases like cancer.
One example of these practical applications is hadrontherapy where the tumour is bombed by protons, which enable both more accurate cancer therapy as well as one with reduced patient side effects. Great progress has also been achieved in noninvasive diagnostic imaging techniques like PET (positron emission tomography).

The environment benefits from the advances accomplished at CERN as well, since the complex electronic systems used for detecting particles in accelerators can be applied in environments in which there is the risk of a radiation leak like nuclear power plants in order to enable early detection.
The former accelerator to LHC, LEP, was built using plastic that did not contain sulphur or halogen compounds, which in case of fire, did not produce extremely toxic fumes. These new non-toxic plastics have now been adopted extensively by industry.

Whilst it is arguable that disproportionate amounts of money are spent in order to enable these discoveries, nonetheless I believe that a large number of solutions could not be found without a broad theoretical knowledge produced by basic science.

Source: OpenStax College, Biology. OpenStax College. 30 May 2013.

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