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.