Spinoffs from Fundamental Science

I find that some people just don’t believe scientists when we point out that fundamental research has spin-off benefits for modern society.  The assumption often seems to be that it’s just a bunch of egghead esoteric researchers trying to justify their existence.  It’s a real problem when those scoffing at our evidence are congresspeople of the United States and their staffers, or other members of governmental funding agencies around the world.

So I thought I’d point out an example, reported on Bloomberg News.  It’s a good illustration of how these things often work out, and it is very rare indeed that they are discussed in the press.

Gravitational waves are usually incredibly tiny effects [typically squeezing the radius of our planet by less than the width of an atomic nucleus] that can be made only with monster black holes and neutron stars.   There’s not much hope of using them in technology.  So what good could an experiment to discover them, such as LIGO, possibly be for the rest of the world?

Well, Shell Oil seems to have found some value in it.   It’s not in the gravitational waves themselves, of course; instead, it is in the technology that has to be developed to detect something so delicate.   http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-07/shell-is-using-innoseis-s-sensors-to-detect-gravitational-waves

Score another one for investment in fundamental scientific research.


53 responses to “Spinoffs from Fundamental Science

  1. We explore the limits of reality because we are an exploring species, but it is good to see byproducts that will speak to the masses and keep science alive.

  2. kal varnsen

    404 page not found on Bloomberg. Tell me again about this technology that detects gravitational waves which proves that another technology that detected gravitational waves first is socially productive.

  3. Thanks Matt for your post. Internet, electronics, etc. are all industrial and commercial spinoff’s. People have short term memory usually. Regarding the Oil industry, it has acknowledged our [HEP] efforts in past as well, if I am not wrong, the neutrino-based oil exploration, etc. The sad truth is that people love sci fi but hate real science, as it is not really everybody’s cup of tea and requires long hard years in science.

  4. Tell ’em Matt!!

  5. Stephen Tuck

    Science has become greedy and corrupt. I have derived and integrated the Unified Field Equation, which finishes Special Relativity and corrects both General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. At the heart of the inverse form of this equation, I found the Multivariate Form of the Quantum, Entropic Schrödinger Equation. However, scientists are motivated by their own self-interests. Theoretical Physicists would rather get paid to think about crap that has already been done. They are just PR guys for the universities that mooch off taxpayers for grant funding. Would you like to publically try to refute my equations? My research is highly-refined now. You can argue theories all day long, but it is much harder to disprove Multivariate Calculus that links all the variables, the laws of physics, and yields the correct answers. Gravitation is due to the transference of dipolar, rotational kinetic-energy through Subspace (the Aether). Chemistry and thus Biology (Biochemistry) can be modeled through the Entropic Force Equation. That would be a project worth scientific funding. However, the expert in that field (myself) has no college degree and even if I had that achievement, I doubt I could attain funding for such a revolutionary project as the Biogenesyn Project. I don’t have much empathy for someone in your circumstances because you are not part of the solution helping to fix Science.

    • @Stephen Tuck, why don’t you do us all a favour and check your own work and posting against this:


      • Stephen Tuck

        That is just absolute ignorance at its best. I know that there are many amateurs that think their theories are right and have little concept of math. However, I have absolute and undeniable proof in my equations. Scientists always want to label any works outside the academic community as cranks. I imagine even if I had a college education and pursued a Ph.D., that my research wouldn’t be accepted. My equations are not wrong and that will not change with any amount of “higher” education. They are simple Multivariate Calculus Equations. The institutions would merely ignore my work and try to block publication and recognition since it isn’t in their financial interest to have my research formally acknowledged.

      • Joao Streibel

        Hahaha wow Baez just nailed it….

    • The Multiverse Ate My Homework

      Obvious, self-aggrandizing crank.

      There, I’ve even given you a bit to add to your persecution narrative. Lucky you.

  6. Kevin Norman

    Not at all surprised that this would be useful.

  7. Alexander Franklin

    Hi Matt, Thanks for the email. Unfortunately the link doesn’t work. Best, Alex


  8. Dear Prof., sorry but that’s misleading.
    Oil companies use seismic data and copyrighted methodologies to find new discoveries… It’s well known but the relation to Einstein relativity is missing. It’s just media claiming buzz words about sensors precision and their improvements…

    • Giulio, you have failed to do the totally basic homework exercise. The whole company producing these things is a direct spinoff of the gravitational wave research. For your convenience, here is the page innoseis dot com slash about :

      Innoseis is a spin-out company from Nikhef, the National Institute for Subatomic Physics in the Netherlands and is born from Nikhef’s Gravitational Physics group. Our technology is derived from cutting-edge technology developed for particle physics experiments carried out in conjunction with Nikhef, specifically the Virgo gravitational wave detector experiment that started operating in 2007.

      Virgo aims to carry out the first direct detection of gravitational waves. These are minute distortions in the fabric of space-time predicted by General Relativity and caused by the violent events in the Universe (e.g. black-hole mergers). Even the smallest amount of seismic motion and seismically induced vibrations would upset Virgo’s ability to take accurate measurements. The team therefore needed to develop seismic sensing technology and elaborate electro-mechanical systems to suppress unwanted vibrations – by many orders of magnitude. It was during this process that we realised these technologies had applications outside of the area of pure research.

      This deep scientific expertise sets us apart from our competitors. We specialise in re-thinking problems from first principles, enabling leaps forward that existing industrial players cannot achieve. Our close association with institutes such as Nikhef means our team can easily work with some of the best scientific minds to imagine and implement new solutions to old problems.

      • Hi Lubos,
        it’s long time I’m not having an online discussion with you, I hope to find you well.
        This is an interesting topic and I understand you’re point (and Matt’s one)
        I remember that I told you – in one post of your blog – that oil discovery is a very lucrative field for a physicist 🙂 so I don’t disagree about the importance of research here. I was only pointing out that the “relativity” part is irrelevant. It’s just technology somehow… Also is there a new patent of Shell about this oil application or which is the best company at new oil discovery? Then of course there is a lot of important research also in the new generation of bio fuels. And that’s the oil future

      • Unfortunately now I’ve read also your blogpost and … you never change Lubos, your comments are ignorant and aggressive, so you need an appropriate reply. I know much more than you about oil companies and it’s pretty obvious that 1) seismic data have always been carefully analyzed and specific patented methods have been already developed 2) it’s naïve to think that particle physics boosted a big oil company’s production investment: it’s the opposite, they helped the physical experiments, leveraging the European funds to gain their own advantages. Hypocrisy is very common, sadly. And again, this is misleading for people that don’t understand relativity cause they tend to confuse Newtonian gravity (lunar tides, seismic phenomena, etc.) with the GR quadrupole, momentum, etc… so the ultimate objective to explain physics is lost this way.

    • This is just one example, LIGO has led to advancements in a number of areas, indeed it would be strange if building a massive machine that’s incredibly sensitive didn’t provide some spinoffs. From the isolation tables which are useful in manufacturing where you don’t want a target to move (E.g. in laser etching fine detail) to the algorithms used to filter out noise (useful in areas such as image processing and data analysis.) To things like oxide bonding techniques for jointing silicon carbide (Used in the optics of LIGO but also useful from things like high quality abrasives to high temperature windows.) Oftentimes it’s not the experiment but building the equipment that creates benefits.

      At the very least it’s more beneficial than Pokemon Go.

  9. Jonathan Hayes

    Fundamental research is essential. There’s a quote I like: “Computers are useless. They only give answers.” The truth there is it isn’t the answers that are important – it’s the questions. The practical applications may come much later – but without asking the questions, they will never come. Also you find out when you are wrong. Maybe you asked the wrong question, maybe you hypothesized incorrectly. Detection of gravitational waves will prove to be very important but when and how is beyond my knowledge. The story is when Ben Franklin was watching an early balloon ascension, someone asked “what good is it?” Franklin replied “what good is a new-born baby?”

    • “More than a scientific question, the universe is a joyful mystery that speaks of God’s boundless love for us.” https://mobile.twitter.com/pontifex/status/744122565195501569

      Either you believe or not, there are concrete moments when everyday life demands your answer to a real question and – if you think you can always find help from a theory, you’ll risk to be deluded. There are a lot of simple, practical, vital questions that science is not even able to ask, forget about any sort of answers. Anyway we’re not in the position to put off and postpone the fundamental instances… For example – and in this case scientific evidence is urging us and it has also a lot to do with oil, gas and sustainable economy – if we really want a greener future.

    • Stephen Tuck

      Everyday semiconductor electronics like Inductors, Diodes, and Resistors interface with Subspace where wave-phenomenon is important. Such waves allow for LC Circuit Resonance. Cold Electricity is also related. While these are polarized fields (rather than a Quadrapole Moment), they are liken to Gravitational Waves since magnetic fields are a polarized reorientation of the Aether. Look at the equations for Coulomb’s Constant and then look at the right-hand side of Einstein’s Field Equation. If you are good at Multivariate Calculus then you can double it to 8PI Radians and you will have the Multivariate form of the right-hand side of his field equation (once you isolate the Magnetic Constant). That will give you half of the General Form of the Unified Field Equation. You just have to figure-out what to substitute the Riemann Geometry with the get the other half. You know, I have derived the Circuit Laws from the UFE. I know of no-one who has actually found such derivation. It is kinda like the Schrödinger Equation. I have never seen anyone else actually figure-out where it comes from. Feynman said it cannot be derived from anything known and came from the mind of Schrödinger. It was one of the most interesting challenges that I had because it is at the heart of the Quantum Form of the Unified Field Equation. It takes a lot of work for anyone to reach that level of knowledge of the universe!

  10. Vincent Sauve

    Matt, some several months ago I was reading a physics web page about the gravitational effect of the moon on the Earth. As I recall it said that the moon causes the earth surface to move up in response to the moon being overhead 30 centimeters. Since gravitational waves are the result of matter in motion and the moon is matter in motion around the Earth, I consider this to be a gravitational wave, albeit a very slow wave, of virtually no interest to astronomical research. I’m pretty sure the gravitational wave detectors are not at all tuned to this particular effect as I doubt that they care. Yet the claim I have been hearing of the new discovery of the detection of gravitational waves leaves me a bit underwhelmed as apparently gravitational waves have been affecting us all along.

    • Again, you’re confusing the effect of newtonian gravity with the very specific effect of relativity.
      And at this point this is also the blog host’s fault. One cannot keep the comments in this unmanaged status, particularly when people insist in repeating wrong assertions about physics, like here

    • You may consider it a gravitational wave, however science considers it ‘tidal forces’, something known about and indeed detected for far long. Remember, something can cause more than one effect; the sun provides light and also auroras, this does not mean that you can tan yourself under the northern lights.

  11. tWouldn’t it be wonderful if some (more) spinoff from fundamental sciece would be the improvement of education with regard to quality aspects like learning how to look at things from different perspectives, independent/critical thinking?

    • We don’t need fundamental science for that. Sadly what we DO need is critical thinking… which we don’t have enough of because of current educational models.

  12. Vincent Sauve

    Now I feel I have to reply. In my post I was not referring to tides. Our moon distorts the shape of the Earth by some 30 centimeters as it passes overhead. This is not about some confusion about the difference between Newton’s ideas and Einstein’s. This is a slow motion gravitational wave plain and simple.

    • Vincent, I remember this exact discussion with you and months ago I asked a question on PhysicsForums exactly to have confirmation about what I’m saying from other experts of GR. I’m sure I posted also this link in our previous chat. I don’t think there is much to add now, anyway the point is: GR theory differs from Newtonian and scientists want to prove it with experiments, so when you say “slow” you’re completely wrong, there is no measurable difference between the two theories in the classical examples you’re mentioning. Please refer to physics phorums for a deeper/mathematical discussion.

      • Vincent Sauve

        Giuliohome: It has not been my desire here to discern the difference between Newton’s ideas and Einstein’s. I only wish to point out that gravitational waves have always been producing an effect on our planet and that it is a very large effect (distorting the shape of Earth by some 30 centimeters as the moon passes over). That they have *tuned* LIGO to find evidence for very distant black hole mergers is certainly exciting news, but the claims that this is the first time that gravitational waves have been detected is ignorance or public-relations grandstanding to better justify the huge funding amounts. Please quit distorting my point.

        • Vincent,
          please stop using the term gravitational waves to mean what it’s not technically a gravitational wave. They are not defined as a generic “wave” and most importantly the experiment was not intended to find some forms of waves but just those exact gravitational waves mathematically predicted by GR and not by its classical slow motion approximation. What you call gravitational waves does not strictly require GR, is not technically speaking a gravitational wave and last but not least would not have proved that Einstein was right.

          • Vincent Sauve

            To “technically” define a gravitational wave as only something that tests Einstein’s general relativity is silly to me.

            Einstein went much further than Newton in understanding the spacetime physics of matter in motion, in realizing that light speed is not infinite (although, I haven’t seen proof yet that Newton believed that light moved at infinite speed, just a bunch of assertions) and in understanding the relativity of time. Despite Einstein standing on the shoulders of the work of later generations of thinkers than Newton, I consider it trivial to derive that massive moving objects will cause gravitational waves (spacetime ripples). By trivial I mean that even at the level of a Newtonian understanding of gravity one should with enough thought have figured out that gravitational waves will happen.

          • 🙂 I understand your point of view… Well, really there are some mathematical and physical details I’d care to underline… but it’s enough for this post 🙂 See you, bye

        • I’m pointing out this because the critical thinking against the funding of unneeded research must be counter balanced by the need to “stress” test GR. The exciting news is that they’re still trying to fully prove GR and that they’re not already taking for granted that Einstein was right. At least this was the main scientific objective of the experiment and it’s important to acknowledge what they were trying to do in order to also understand the true technological complexity, like for example all the possible sources of noise: seismic, etc… and even quantum noise, etc…

  13. Great article and well overdue, if I may say. Here’s my take Prof., fundamental science research is being funded by “science and technology” money. So, where are and who controls the big pools, i.e NASA, DOE, to name two of the biggest. These are the people the researchers, like yourself, need to lobby. Nevermind going after the government officials who fund these big pools, there are not interested in “small fish” who have little political value. You must convince that the benefits of fundamental research outweigh those of human spaceflight, where the bulk of the money is spent. This applies to NASA, ESA and all the rest of the global space sharks.

    We seem to be trapped in the “big show” mindset since the 60’s and I blame the scientists for not fighting for every dollar like those big firecrackers enthusiasts. When you make comparisons do so against the human spaceflight investments.

    I had worked in human spaceflight programs for two decades, both shuttle and ISS, and I can tell you the ROI doesn’t justify the effort. Good day.

  14. presidentwpm

    I totally agree that there are spin-offs from scientific research. But, I have qualms with what scientists are telling us about fundamental particles. I mean, scientists swear blind that they don’t know how the primeval energy turned into matter and yet in 1932, Carl Anderson showed that energy splits into electron-positron pairs – a form of matter. Isn’t that what happened to the primeval energy? If that’s the case, then quarks cannot exist as they have fractional charges and electrons and positrons have unit charges. No wonder scientists can’t isolate quarks – they don’t exist.

    That means that composite particles are made of electrons and positrons. If that’s the case, then the bonding between nucleons is electromagnetic – there’s no such thing as the strong and weak forces. So, if the 3 of the 4 fundamental forces are manifestations of the electromagnetic force, then so is gravity the 4th one.

    I conclude that unification is the wrong path to pursue. There wasn’t one symmetric supper force that fractured into the 4 forces we know today. If unification is wrong, then unifying electricity with magnetism is equally wrong. Consider Ampere’s discovery: in 2 parallel current-carrying conductors, if the currents flow in the same direction, the conductors attract, if they flow in opposite directions, they repel. Now electrons are negatively charged so they’d repel no matter which direction the currents flow.

    The attraction is produced by the induced magnetic fields due to the motion of the electrons. However, the attractive magnetic force is stronger than the repulsive electric force because there’s a net attraction between the conductors. Conclusion: electric and magnetic forces should be treated/studied separately.

    Electronics are not a spin-off of Quantum Mechanics (QM) because QM is based on probability theory whereas electronics are exact and predictable because they’re due to the electric and magnetic force fields given off by the electrons in the circuits. Just because scientists haven’t figured out how nature does it doesn’t mean that the rubbish you tell us is true. I mean scientists like Brian Greene are telling us that “life is a game of chance”. What a load of crock.

    Meanwhile, pseudo-scientists like Lawrence Krauss tell us that nature hasn’t decided which radioactive atom would disintegrate next; yet he confirms that within one half-life exactly half of them would disintegrate infallibly. Who or what makes up nature’s mind. My answer is electric and magnetic forces. Again the scientists haven’t worked that out and they never will because they’re leaving it to chance I mean probability.

    What about Pauli’s Exclusion Principle? What polices that? What prevents a 3rd electron from occupying an orbital? Scientists simply tell us that no 2 electron can occupy an orbital with the same quantum state without telling us why not. How lame is that?

    If we use a version of Ampere’s discovery, we can say that when an electron rotates around the nucleus in one direction, it produces a magnetic field in one orientation and if another rotates in the same direction it would be repelled by the magnetic field of the other. But, if rotates in the opposite direction, the orientation of the magnetic field would be opposite and they would tolerate each other. If a third electron tries to occupy the orbital by flowing in one direction, it would be repelled by the existing electron rotating in the same direction; if it tries to rotate in the opposite direction, it would be repelled by the magnetic field of the other electron. No need for fancy quantum numbers or states.

    My conclusion is that there are only 2 forces of nature: the electric and magnetic forces. And don’t unify them. Nature meant them to be separate even if they’re joined at the hip.

    Thanks Kasim Muflahi Freelance Scientist

    On 7 July 2016 at 21:38, Of Particular Significance wrote:

    > Matt Strassler posted: “I find that some people just don’t believe > scientists when we point out that fundamental research has spin-off > benefits for modern society. The assumption often seems to be that it’s > just a bunch of egghead esoteric researchers trying to justify their ex” >

    • Energy can split into all sorts of particles — including a pair of photons, electron and positron pairs, numerous quarks…. your post doesn’t disprove quarks, nor any other particle.

      As for the electron shells, you propose 3 electrons can’t hold the same orbital due to electromagnetic reasons, but fail to explain why a single electron in an orbital is fine — or why an atom can have multiple orbitals with single electrons, and why 4 or other pairs in a single orbital won’t work either with your theory. In reality, orbitals are of all sorts of strange shapes, and when you get to p orbitals on the periodic table, you must fill several orbitals with electrons of the same spin before you can start pairing electrons in orbitals. It’s the unpaired orbitals that give the atoms their paramagnetism. Your theory gives no reason for why an atom would choose to fill several orbitals with single electrons of the same spin creating a magnetic field rather than filing paired orbitals with electrons of the opposite spin that would help neutralize the magnetic field. Essentially, why wouldn’t the magnetic attraction you put faith in pull in an opposing spin to cancel the field rather than allow another electron in another shell of the same spin which it should repel?

      Your logic is not self-consistent, and you lack evidence and explanations for how things in the real world work. The conclusions you reach are completely unfounded.

  15. Matt, what are your thoughts on the atomic nuclei “bulges” found in at least 2 elements so far? Various reports claim that the bulges point in a specific direction of space-time, hint at a possible new force/particle, and may lead to an understanding of the arrow of time…. but, I know how journalists can be a bit sensationalist and confused. 😉 Forgive the off-topic question. I didn’t see a place to post general questions for future posts and discussions.

  16. Funny thing you all forget , ligo ,is ground based laser interferometry on a larger scale . Optical interferometers has been around a long time before this,and were developed for the testing of precision optics.by referenceing a known wave front in optical interferometry .
    Lisa same science different spin is space based and the 1st leg of a larger space based leg of interferometry

  17. Peter Stiphout

    G’day Professor Strassler, It is my belief that scientific research and maths is the only way forward in humanities search for a better and more peaceful society , not just on this planet but eventually on other planets as well. Furthermore I would suggest that people such as yourself are not only greatly admired but also deeply beloved my the silent majority of people. Keep strong and healthy and continue working and advocating for all science and maths. Remember , tried hard done good, is the most you can ask of any person. Cheers. Pete. Stiphout.

  18. Awesome comment!

    This a good example of how basic scientific research is important per se, as well as it is capable of reconverting itself into applied science and engineering useful to solve “day-to-day” problems.

    Kind regards, GEN

  19. “The physical reality of time dilation and the Rest mass cannot coexist”.

    Means…the universe is not static with zero cosmological constant. The slight prevailing of Dark Energy – makes the FLIP in electromagnetism. So very small amount of mass energy turns to Space energy.

    The Equivalence principle is violated. The Gravitational waves makes this Violation – Explicit ?

    • The Mass we feel is Isomorphic – like the feeling of pushing a Ship parked in Port.

      Dark Energy is like the tendency of a tree to grow upwards. It is momentum energy try to occupy more volume. Momentum is shed as photons up to zero mass – then high frequency means more Space. ??


      • The Mass we feel is an inelastic Fluorescence from Diffeomorphism (give room for super partners from the waves moving the Ship). Diffeomorphism is less where more mass (thick rubber sheet) – and more where less mass (thin rubber sheet).

        If we switch off the fluorescence, the violation of Equivalence principle is explicit.
        Gravitational waves can prove this explicit violation ?

        • stop the spamming

        • Photon has no rest mass/rest energy. But has Relativistic mass (movement energy or momentum energy ?) – so reacting to gravity.

          • The photon has no rest mass, but it’s also never at rest… always moving at c (in a vacuum). You can interpret its momentum as being affected by gravity, or you can accept that gravity warps space-time such that everything is affected by the warp — photons moving in a straight line will curve near a gravitational field because the warp makes its local straight-line curved.

          • Clear explanation, Thanks Ramze,

            Warp fix the mass of Higgs ? (Like spontaneous symmetry breaking fix the zero mass of photon).

            Black holes with masses around ∼ 0.1 kg severely enhance the Higgs vacuum decay rate to the true vacuum.
            So the gravitational waves (warp) violate Equivalence principle – and enhance decay to true vacuum ?


  20. Keith McClary

    I don’t understand Bloomberg’s “11-pound sensors”. The wired geophones used for decades look like this:

    Shell is interested in the wireless and power-saving aspects, but this has no relation to the LIGO technology other than coming from the same company.

  21. its not click-baity enough for the mainstream media to bother writing about. has nothing to do with politics (this time), just money.