One of the great things of doing research in one of the best Universities in the U.S. is that you can wake up one morning and, while watching the news during breakfast, you realize that the university you work at has a brand new Nobel laureate.
When working at Duke, you already know that there are great scientists in its labs. You meet them in talks, conferences, you work with them and you learn a lot from them. That is extremely rewarding, as that improves yourself as a scientist, making you enjoy even more of your work.
This recent award to Professor Modrich is particularly special in the sense that it is a great example of how pure science, basic research aiming to understand the structure of Nature, has lead to relevant applied science from which we can all benefit, in this case in the field of biology and medicine.
Sometimes, when I talk to people about science, or when I listen to the opinion society has on science, I face the fact that an important part of our community is worried with the situation that we could spend money in something without a clear application. The eternal questions are: What is that useful for? Why should I worry about that?
Very few people know that most of the technology that they use everyday, and most of their comfort and health is a consequence of basic research, work made by scientists whose primary goal was to satisfy their curiosity with a brilliant and well trained mind.
For example, one hundred years ago, some people called Einstein, Bohr, Planck, Curie, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, among others, were struggling to understand the structure of matter, to understand the behavior of atoms, electrons and light at the particle level. There was no a priori practical reason for that research, only scientific curiosity. Nowadays, we have lasers, laptops, scanners, magnetic resonance, nuclear medicine, radiotherapy, GPS, telecommunications, and many more applications due to those curious scientists.
Many scientists have emphasized the importance of basic research, and even though that could be seen as an interested statement, we only have to look at what we have at home and the kind of technological society we like to live in to see that we owe it to science and research. Science is a fascinating, not easy enterprise, with lots of open questions, and lots of answers that can have many different applications. The ways those discoveries are used are in the hands of society, so we should educate for it. It is also in its hands the priorities society imposes to research, but we should keep in mind that we don’t know the new science we are to discover, but experience has shown us that its potential is bigger that we can imagine.
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Physicist, working in quantum optics and nonlinear dynamics in optical systems. Loves to communicate science.