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Why We Research

16 May, 2008 (23:08) | Engineering, Research

Research into bridge loading applies existing science and techniques to solve what is quite obviously a practical problem. Even so, I’m often asked what good is the research, and “sure isn’t that all known about already?”. Those involved in pure blue-skies research must have it much worse than I do. In reading Petr Beckman‘s A History of Pi, I was delighted to find the following retort to the question of why we research:

… Huygens’ […] many discoveries included a principle of wave motion, which to this day is called Huygens’ principle. He could not have known that the antennas of the radio stations tracking man’s first flight to the moon would be calculated on the basis of that principle; any more than Apollonius of Perga, in the 3rd century B.C., could have known that the family of circles he discovered would one day be the equipotentials of two parallel, cylindrical, electrical conductors. These are but two of hundreds of examples that one might quote in answer to the question what good comes from exploring the moon or studying non-Euclidean geometry. The question is often asked by people who count cents instead of dollars and dollars instead of satisfaction. Of late, this question is also being asked by the intellectual cripples who drivel about “too much technology”, because technology has wounded them with the ultimate insult: they can’t understand it anymore. Some Victorian lady asked Michael Faraday this question about his discovery of electromagnetic induction, and he answered: “Madam, what is the use of a newborn baby?”.

Circles of Apollonius



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