In order to begin to combat the sad state of US education, where scientists are considered untrustworthy, I’ve decided to do some blog posts on the history of particular scientific/technological advancements.
A creationist recently argued that
Science did not/does not produce ‘all the wonderful substance of life’. Technology did/does. Why do you(pl) continually conflate the two? Is it purposeful or simple ignorance?
To which, almost everyone immediately replied,
If there were no “science”, there would be no new “substance” for “technology” to exploit.
I have, in the past, had to explain why money needs to be spent in fundamental science research. That is, research that doesn’t have an immediately obvious benefit. Applied research is research that can have an immediate benefit. This is the difference between materials research to find a better semiconductor for solar panels and the Large Hadron Collider looking for the Higgs boson.
Without fundamental research into basic science, we can’t even know how things work to improve them. Think about a relatively simple device like lasers. We are now using them in thousands of devices, from cat toys to robotic welding systems, from mice to hard disk drives and fiber optic communication. Yet, we wouldn’t have lasers without some fundamental research that was carried out decades before computers were even thought up.
My mother recently had cataract surgery. Unfortunately, the surgery didn’t go well and she had some blood leaking into her eye. So, the doctor used a laser to repair the damage. So, let’s take a look at the history of both cataracts and laser surgery.
- CE 29
- first references to cataracts and treatment in Ancient Rome.
- CE 200
- Early cataract surgery described by Indian physician
- CE 1000
- Muslim ophthalmologist writes of his invention of the hypodermic needle and the technique of cataract extraction
- Einstein publishes On the Quantum Theory of Radiation (in German)
- Theodore Maiman operates the first functioning laser (Hughes Research Lab)
- My mother is born
- William Bridges (Hughes Aircraft) invents the argon laser
- Excimer laser patented for vision correction
- Steven Trokel performs the first laser surgery on a patient’s eyes
- John Crew first uses lasers to seal damaged blood vessels
- My mother first diagnosed with cataracts
- Mother’s second surgery for cataracts and complications set in
- Use of an argon laser to seal blood vessels damaged by cataract surgery saves my mother’s vision in one eye.
Now, look very carefully at what all happened. We’re talking about almost 2000 years of research. Yes, the first 1500 or so years of research were undirected and confusing. But there were people looking (no pun intended) into this kind of think. The eyes and how they work and how to fix them when there’s a problem.
Look in the early 1900s. Einstein produced a paper of pure, fundamental science. Without that single paper, every that happened later couldn’t have happened. This is why we must have pure research, without a specific goal. Someone, even now, may be writing the paper that will eventually allow us to exceed the speed of light or live forever.
Now consider that Einstein wasn’t an ophthalmologist or even a doctor. Maiman and Bridges weren’t doctors. But finally, a doctor read about this cool new tech called Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation and thought, “I wonder.”
Again, for all intents and purposes, our modern society couldn’t exist without lasers. Yet, the principles that described them were developed by pure research 50 years before the first laser fired.