Continuing our special feature series on curiosity-driven
science and blue sky research… today, we take a look at how countries around
the world are investing in basic science which is purely aimed at acquiring new knowledge
through research, which then provides the basis for applied science which develops new
technologies. When it comes to the impact, the U.S., Britain
and Japan top the list, with the most number of citations as well as Nobel Prizes every
year. How did those three countries arrive where
they are? Part three of our four part series with Oh
Sooyoung. To make something grow, you need the right
environment. For Britain, Japan and the United States,
three leading countries in Basic Science, strong institutions and universities provided
the funding and the infrastructure to produce groundbreaking research. Dr. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan won the Nobel
Prize in Chemistry in 2009 for his research on the structure and function of the ribosome. He benefited from supportive research environments
in the U.S. and the UK. “Both countries have been open to international
talent. Theyre very open societies that try to attract
the best from the world — The second aspect is diversity of funding in the UK. So we have many different kinds of research
enterprises. , We have Governments labs, research institutes,
university departments and private.” Dr. Ramakrishnan says this helps attract a
pool of talent from all over the world which feeds a virtuous cycle of producing world-class
research. Another core element is giving scientists
more control over their fields of research, rather than governments taking a top-down
approach. The Haldane principle in the UK allows scientists
themselves to specify research policies and the direction of government funding… through
separate councils and institutions. “We also have another stream which comes directly
from the government and is given out very broadly, it’s kind of core funding which underlines
the research infrastructure. It gives universities a bit more flexibility. You can then carry out research which is maybe
not something for a specific grant but more blue skies research or a personal idea.” Another important factor is long-termism. In all three countries, those eureka moments
took decades of research and investment. The UK has a long history of world-changing
ideas and discoveries, such as Isaac Newton’s Law of Gravity and Michael Faraday’s Law of
Induction. The U.S. and Japan have been investing at
least two percent of their GDP in research and development since the 1970s, decades ahead
of emerging economies like Korea which surpassed the two percent mark in the 1990s. “Japan made a lot of long-term investments
in basic science during the 60s and 70s during its rapid economic development. Working with Japanese scientists and mathemeticians,
I noticed their strong dedication to researching over a lifetime. So they’re reaping the results of that right
now through Nobel Prizes.” Professor Adam Riess won the Nobel Prize in
Physics in five years ago when he discovered that the expansion of the universe was accelerating. He says research should be driven by the thirst
for knowledge, not for short-term, commercial ends. “I think putting the requirement on our curiosity
to producing something moneymaking really limits our investigations in ways that dont
allow us to reach as deep. For instance, in 1917, when Albert Einstein
was working on general relativity, a new theory of gravity, there was no way he could have
imagined this would lead to GPS and our ability to find our place anywhere on the planet.” Groundbreaking discoveries and innovations
require going back to basics. For Adam Riess, and many eminent scientists
throughout history, that begins with nurturing the simple instinct of curiosity. Oh Soo-young, Arirang News.