# Is the pure sciences almost dead?

I don't know how it is like in the US, but it seems that here in Singapore, it is the case, AFAIK. Particle accelerators recieve limited funding even in places like the states, and of course, here in Singapore we have yet to think about building one, let alone get around to doing it.

How can the pure sciences remain economically viable? Given, even though pursuing "truths" for the sake of knowledge would eventually see a few enterprising people put these new "truths" for technological progress. But the fact is that the pure sciences hardly yield profits, and its not self-sustaining, like particle accelerators, it needs to be fed with money but probably won't cough the money back up.

How can the pure sciences (pure physics in particular) remain economically viable and contribute to it?

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## Answers and Replies

ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
misogynisticfeminist said:
I don't know how it is like in the US, but it seems that here in Singapore, it is the case, AFAIK. Particle accelerators recieve limited funding even in places like the states, and of course, here in Singapore we have yet to think about building one, let alone get around to doing it.

You have a synchrotron center, haven't you? Guess what? ALL synchrotrons require an accelerator to inject the storage ring with those electrons that go round and round and round.... So you already have a particle accelerator. You just don't know it.

Zz.

P.S. "pure science" is not, nor almost, dead.

Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
Nevertheless, the funding problem is real, worldwide. And where new construction and updating of accelerators at the highest energies has taken place, it's been obvious we humans are pushing technology to its limits. See the troubled histories of the latest Tevatron upgrade and the construction of LHC at CERN.

Pure physics is not dead, but it is in a crisis.

ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
Nevertheless, the funding problem is real, worldwide. And where new construction and updating of accelerators at the highest energies has taken place, it's been obvious we humans are pushing technology to its limits. See the troubled histories of the latest Tevatron upgrade and the construction of LHC at CERN.

Pure physics is not dead, but it is in a crisis.

However, you are equating BIG science with "pure science". Big science does not have a sole monopoly of "pure science". The study of BE condensates, electron fractionalization, quantum entanglement, etc., are as "pure" and fundamental as anything that is gained from particle physics.

I'm not going to deny that in the wake of emphasis on more "security and practical" aspect of science that fundings in these areas suffer. But "dead", or near death? I don't think so.

Zz.

Good point Zapper. Yet I must ask - how much more pure science would be getting done if it was getting even half the funding that "practical" science (meant to increase profit as well as knowledge) is recieving? At the university I graduated from the astronomy dept was recently very proud to have garnered a $200,000 grant. In the same period of time, the laser lab and diamond growth labs brought in somehwere around$5 million in grants. Both those labs grants are for application specific research designed to improve technology in the marketplace. Also note I'm not including the funding going to the LED lab because I'm unaware of how much it is.

It seems to me that application oriented science is increasingly becoming a mainstay of university life. One could make an argument that "big money" sciences like these are good for pure science because they help support advanced facilities. My experience is somewhat the contrary; as universities get dollar signs in their eyes pure research is increasingle being marginalized.

So as far as my very limited sample (of one) suggests, pure science is recieving 5% the funding that application oriented science does in the university atmosphere. I beleive these results are not terribly unusual, and when private funding is taken into account I think it is fair to say that pure science is getting a truly tiny fraction of total research spending.

This trend has been getting worse over the last 5 decades. Is this not something to be concerned about? When you say that pure science isn't dying, what measure are you using? It seems to me that long before it is proclaimed deceased it will have lost its usefulness due to too little work being done by too few.

Pardon my spelling and grammar; smashed my finger and typing with one hand.

ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
Locrian said:
Good point Zapper. Yet I must ask - how much more pure science would be getting done if it was getting even half the funding that "practical" science (meant to increase profit as well as knowledge) is recieving? At the university I graduated from the astronomy dept was recently very proud to have garnered a $200,000 grant. In the same period of time, the laser lab and diamond growth labs brought in somehwere around$5 million in grants. Both those labs grants are for application specific research designed to improve technology in the marketplace. Also note I'm not including the funding going to the LED lab because I'm unaware of how much it is.

It seems to me that application oriented science is increasingly becoming a mainstay of university life. One could make an argument that "big money" sciences like these are good for pure science because they help support advanced facilities. My experience is somewhat the contrary; as universities get dollar signs in their eyes pure research is increasingle being marginalized.

So as far as my very limited sample (of one) suggests, pure science is recieving 5% the funding that application oriented science does in the university atmosphere. I beleive these results are not terribly unusual, and when private funding is taken into account I think it is fair to say that pure science is getting a truly tiny fraction of total research spending.

This trend has been getting worse over the last 5 decades. Is this not something to be concerned about? When you say that pure science isn't dying, what measure are you using? It seems to me that long before it is proclaimed deceased it will have lost its usefulness due to too little work being done by too few.

Pardon my spelling and grammar; smashed my finger and typing with one hand.

The issue here then is trying to clearly define what is "pure science" versus "application-oriented science". I claim that as physicists, we are a bit smarter than the "funding" people in that there is plenty of overlap between the two. Case in point - the recent push for "nanoscience and nanotechnology". On the surface, this is purely application-driven. Yet, if you look at a number of grants being awarded under such initiatives, they range from the study of electron-fractionalization in 1D conductor, to the study of strongly-correlated electron system in 2D planes, to even the study of electron entanglement in a carbon nanotube! I think WE, of all people, should not have a narrow vision into thinking that what has real applications must not have "basic, pure" physics.

Zz.

Actually, what I meant is that pure physics (or the pure sciences) would indeed spell certain technological progress. Like how QM gave rise to the laser. But it seems that ok, we "pure" physicsists found out about this, we hand it over to someone else to make something useful outta it. Accelerators too are almost the first to suffer if the government has a hint of a fiscal crisis and I don't think governments are even remotely interested in the findings of a higgs boson.

Actually, i find that people on the ground, common everyday people, find pure physics as a plaything for just a select few. True, there are some very entusiastic people who are really bringing it forward, but the general public's and the government's perception of it is still very much this way imo. Esp. here in Singapore, I think if I took a doctorate in particle physics, I'll be unemployed for my entire life here !

The reason why I put that it is "almost" dead because, for one, i don't know how the situation is like elsewhere. But here where I am, many people see the pure sciences as simply not worth pursuing if they want a comfortable job and a fat paycheck. Like where I am now, someone who has a doctorate in particle physics can hardly get a job here but someone who has a degree with average grades for chemical engineering can have a much better income.

I worry about how the young view the pure sciences, and where mainstream science education in schools are taking them. Because not only are they potential scientists but also potential lawmakers, and a few lurking among them is gonna be president.

ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
misogynisticfeminist said:
Actually, what I meant is that pure physics (or the pure sciences) would indeed spell certain technological progress. Like how QM gave rise to the laser. But it seems that ok, we "pure" physicsists found out about this, we hand it over to someone else to make something useful outta it. Accelerators too are almost the first to suffer if the government has a hint of a fiscal crisis and I don't think governments are even remotely interested in the findings of a higgs boson.

Actually, i find that people on the ground, common everyday people, find pure physics as a plaything for just a select few. True, there are some very entusiastic people who are really bringing it forward, but the general public's and the government's perception of it is still very much this way imo. Esp. here in Singapore, I think if I took a doctorate in particle physics, I'll be unemployed for my entire life here !

The reason why I put that it is "almost" dead because, for one, i don't know how the situation is like elsewhere. But here where I am, many people see the pure sciences as simply not worth pursuing if they want a comfortable job and a fat paycheck. Like where I am now, someone who has a doctorate in particle physics can hardly get a job here but someone who has a degree with average grades for chemical engineering can have a much better income.

I worry about how the young view the pure sciences, and where mainstream science education in schools are taking them. Because not only are they potential scientists but also potential lawmakers, and a few lurking among them is gonna be president.

Well, first of all, I doubt that you can specialize in particle physics in S'pore. I don't think even NUS would offer such a field of study, does it?

Secondly, for most developing countries (even though I don't consider S'pore as a "developing" country anymore), they don't have the luxury to indulge in "pure" or "basic" science research without any clear short-term application. This isn't just restricted to particle physics. It includes astronomy, astrophysics, etc. So it's not as if that part of the world ALREADY had an active basic science research to begin with! You can't kill something that wasn't alive in the first place! So in your situation, it isn't "dead", because it didn't exist very much anyway.

Again, as I have mentioned, basic science is still being funded, even when a lot of it is disguised under "Basic Energy Sciences" of the US DOE, for example. Even though such funding includes "application" areas such as condensed matter physics, A LOT of these research involves PURE, basic physics.

On a side note, if you are majoring in theoretical high energy physics, for example, you would ALREADY have a restricted employability no matter where you are in the world. Considering the limited areas and employers that would want your expertise, and the number of graduates each year with your background, you would EXPECT to encounter more problems in finding employment in your area of study, especially when there isn't much need for it in your part of the world. This isn't an accurate reflection, however, on the "aliveness" or "deadness" of "pure physics".

Zz.

ZapperZ said:
The issue here then is trying to clearly define what is "pure science" versus "application-oriented science". I claim that as physicists, we are a bit smarter than the "funding" people in that there is plenty of overlap between the two. Case in point - the recent push for "nanoscience and nanotechnology". On the surface, this is purely application-driven. Yet, if you look at a number of grants being awarded under such initiatives, they range from the study of electron-fractionalization in 1D conductor, to the study of strongly-correlated electron system in 2D planes, to even the study of electron entanglement in a carbon nanotube! I think WE, of all people, should not have a narrow vision into thinking that what has real applications must not have "basic, pure" physics.Zz.

I agree. Enlightened private funding (e.g. the old Bell Labs) can support pure research and come up with innovative technologies (eg. laser, transistor). But a peer reviewed publicly supported funding mechanism for research is essential for an innovative technology sector.

Great discoveries often come out of left field. You can't plan to develop something really innovative. It just something that happens occasionally when you have a whole lot of good science going on.

Hmm, you guys have got a point there. Honestly, I do not have the big picture on the whole funding situation, and somehow with the whole issue about particle accelerators having little funding, i surmised that it applied for the rest of the pure sciences

Hmmmmm, imo, I find that pure physics is driven almost entirely by idealism. Its like, there is no practical, monetary benefit to get a degree in particle physics, I think I would rather do law if wanna get rich. Do you think that's the case, right now? Because, if it is, can it survive entirely on idealism, especially if the current generation is on its way out? How do you think is the perception of young people regarding the pure sciences?

Btw, to zapperz: I am not taking any degree or post-graduate in high-energy physics. I just happened to be a 16-year old, taking my O levels this year (the american equivalent of a high-school leaving exam?). What my perception is on the whole situation on science is almost entirely derived from the books I read, and all, and not really from first-hand experience, so the understanding of certain things might be flawed here.....: )

ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
misogynisticfeminist said:
Hmmmmm, imo, I find that pure physics is driven almost entirely by idealism. Its like, there is no practical, monetary benefit to get a degree in particle physics, I think I would rather do law if wanna get rich. Do you think that's the case, right now? Because, if it is, can it survive entirely on idealism, especially if the current generation is on its way out? How do you think is the perception of young people regarding the pure sciences?

This is one of my pet peeves. Is there like NOTHING in between "particle physics" and "law degree"???!!!!!

What exactly is this fascination with particle physics that one live by the credence "it's either particle physics or bust!"? What about getting a physics degree but in a DIFFERENT AREA? Is that a novel concept of what? While phd's in particle physics can't find jobs in their field, those who are majoring in medical physics are being snatched into high-paying jobs even BEFORE they graduate! Or what about condensed matter experimentalists who are being recruited by high-tech companies to fabricate exotic materials? Why is it that if you can't do particle physics, that you have to go to the extreme of leaving physics entirely JUST to make a good living? Hello?

"Young people" who only have the perception that physics is ONLY particle physics should be smacked around and given a dose of reality, not to mention, better books and articles to read.

[As Humanino has mentioned a few times, I'm in one of my "terrific" moods this morning].

Zz.

As for your terrific mood, zapperz, I can very much see that. : )

While things such as condensed matter physics or medical physics, it does have remote (or not so remote) applications. Like how research in these areas could prove beneficial and maybe they can come up with stuff.

I'm thinking, things like cosmology, particle physics et cetra. Its like, even if we did know what really is the stuff making up most of our universe, or find the LSP, there is little connection to anything useful which can be made out of these findings. Maybe in the distant future.

I realize that physics is not all particle physics, I am just using it as somewhat, like an example. While some aspects of the pure sciences recieve quite alot of funding because they have hints of something useful to be made out of it, what about those which don't?

What about them? You are mixing two very different (though related) discussions; the question of funding in pure science, and the question of you job potential.

While I still don't share Zz's optimism (pardon me if that's too strong a word) over pure science, he has a point about your lawyer issue. The fact that funding is low in some areas does not mean there are no jobs in physics out there. You might not get Lawyer rich in any of them, but lots of them actually pay quite well.

If you only wish to do particle physics, you have a bumpy but doable road ahead of you. If your goal is to be a physicist, you have vast, vast opportunities at your disposal. You do need to start early... but you are doing that already :)