Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why My Research

My name is Claire Thomas and I am a graduate student in physics at UC Berkeley.  While camping in Yosemite this winter, I befriended a neighboring camper and he said to me, "Tell me something, if you were responsible for my tax dollars, would you really spend it on just... basic research?"

I realized then that the general population doesn't know how vital our work is.  We depend on federal funding, and so it is our responsibility to justify our importance not just to our funding agencies but to everyone.  Sure, we write grants to compete with other research groups for the money set aside for science.  But right now that money set aside for basic science is being threatened, and most people do not know why that matters.

Many of us do not do science because it furthers technology, but it does.  We do it because we love it, because it inspires us to learn how our world works.  Einstein's nobel prize was for the photoelectric effect.  He studied this because he wanted to explore the wave-particle duality of light, but without that discovery the scientists at Bell labs never would have come up with the CCD, which is what enables us to take digital photographs.  This is just one of thousands of connections that people do not see, where technology that we use every day stems from fundamental research. We are not necessarily engineers or entrepreneurs, we do not necessarily want to start companies or capitalize on our discoveries, but we need to continue studying in order for someone to do it.

The work that we do is fundamentally connected to innovation in our world, and it is our responsibility to make that clear to our fellow citizens.

For science,

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