A special welcome to all scholars from WCATY visiting this web site. I am excited to work with WCATY again this year.
As your meeting with some of the IceCube scientists draws nearer, you might be wondering why some of us have chosen to spend a year (or more) at the South Pole, of all places. Why do we need a research station at the most isolated place on Earth? Is the research we do really that important and how does it help us in the future? Isn’t it all basic research with no practical application? Some members of congress and senators go as far as asking: “What does the taxpayer get out of this?” Well, I asked some of the local scientist and here is some food for thought:
The purpose of South Pole Telescope, the BICEP telescope, and IceCube is to provide important clues about the origin and the destiny of the universe we live in. The pursuit of scientific knowledge is critical to mankind. It fulfills many needs of the human race including the need for technological advancement necessary to support an ever increasing population with its increasingly complex society and infrastructure, the desire to search for our origin, and our inherent need to explore and understand the unknown. This innate curiosity is one of the key elements that has helped sustain the human race and has allowed us to intellectually advance over other species. – J. Dana Hrubes, Winterover, South Pole Telescope (SPT), Station Science Leader
Long-term atmospheric monitoring, of the kind performed by the NOAA/ESRL/GMD observatory at South Pole, will allow us to track human influences on the earth’s atmosphere, and thus on its climate, and allow us to better understand, to model, and, (we hope) to adjust those influences if necessary. – J. Booth, Winterover, NOAA
Other, more famous people, have answered these questions before:
We must not forget that when radium was discovered no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it. It must be done for itself, for the beauty of science, and then there is always the chance that a scientific discovery may become like the radium a benefit for humanity – Marie Curie
My scientific work is motivated by an irresistible longing to understand the secrets of nature and by no other feelings. My love for justice and the striving to contribute towards the improvement of human conditions are quite independent from my scientific interests. – Albert Einstein
It is my inner conviction that the development of science seeks in the main to satisfy the longing for pure knowledge. – Albert Einstein
Questions I have many, answers but a few – Dolly Parton
There you have it. My personal motivation is that I just want to know. I think it doesn’t get more exciting than studying the origin of the universe and I am happy to play a very small part in it.
Wouldn’t it be a poor world in which science would be judged and funded solely based on its immediate usefulness? Who gets to decide what is useful?
I’m looking forward to talking to you soon. Stay warm in Wisconsin!
2008-04-05 Update: A few pictures from the event:
[tags]Antarctica, BICEP, NOAA, South Pole, SPT, WCATY [/tags]