Seems like a very odd question, asking whether a particular programming-language construct is important to scientific research or not.
I know a lot of stuff I do is still written in fairly old fortran, and doesn't use pointers much.
But in general it just depends on which language you use.
I'd say that in my experience though, most of the work towards optimizing in scientific computing, both with respect to memory and speed, tends to be oriented towards optimizing at the mathematical/algorithmic level rather than at the programming-language/hardware level. That's where the big gains are to be had. Low-level optimization can often be a waste of time, given the rate at which hardware and compilers change.