Is Big Science Worth the Price Tag?

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the great-grandchild of the – at the time, relatively costly – apparatus that Rutherford used to discover the atomic nucleus and proton. Proton is essential for the operation of MRI, an indispensable tool in medicine and the study of the anatomy of the brain. Nucleus was essential for the discovery of quantum mechanics. Without nucleus, we would not have had QM. Without QM, we would not have had lasers, transistors, microchips, and the computer/smart phones we are using to communicate … mostly our frivolities, but once in a while, big ideas!

LHC may not have an immediate pragmatic application such as a new toothpaste, a more grease-cutting dish washing liquid, or even a laser device, or an LED, but without it, we would not be able to test some of the most abstract theoretical ideas of our time. Without LHC we cannot pursue the collective curiosity of our species, just as without kites, wires, batteries, and magnets of two centuries ago we could not have pursued our curiosity that led to the invention of power plants, radio, television, and all the electrical gadgetry that define our civilization today.

There is an unbroken line that connects LHC to the two stones that one of our ancestors bashed together for the first time, not because it had any application, but because an opposable thumb provided the skill to do so.

If the discovery of bashing was anything like today’s discoveries, hundreds of years must have passed between the first bashing of two stones and the first application of the end products in cutting skin and flesh.

The other angle from which I want to answer the question “What’s the point?” has to do with the grumbling scientist’s view of fiscal priority. It is unfortunate that the very scientists who are contributing to the betterment of the entire humanity, are so parochial when it comes to research funding. It is the assumption of these scientists that research funding is limited to one pot and they have to expend their effort entirely to fight other scientists for their share of the pot. However, a glance at the expenditure of a typical (American) consumer reveals how incorrect and counterproductive this provincial strategy is!

One thought on “Is Big Science Worth the Price Tag?”

  1. Well said, my friend. Well said. It is important that we continue to pursue scientific endeavors, not only through the research performed within the confines of the Large Hadron Collider, but everywhere, in the classroom, in the field, and in your garage. Science is, the only means in which we can successfully arrive in the future which we have long fantasied.

    – Jor

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