“Dr. Panch,” as he’s known, is the new Director of the National Science Foundation. He supervises over $8 billion of federal investment in research. To make that investment count, among his goals is inspiring the “spirit of science” in the young and under-represented—and encouraging the curiosity that can lead to the unexpected. Or, as he says. “looking for coal and finding a diamond.”
Shirley Tilghman finds inspiration in the report delivered to President Roosevelt 75 years ago. It was called Science: The Endless Frontier, and it spurred the curiosity driven research that fueled America’s leadership in science and technology. We need to follow that advice again, she argues. Tilghman, the first woman president of Princeton University from 2001 to 2013, tells Alan that the importance of basic research is something, “we forget at our peril.”
Vaccines that could save us from Covid19 are being developed with unprecedented speed. Harvey Fineberg argues this would have been impossible without decades of basic research. Research that, at the time, seemed to have little or no practical purpose. Fineberg, president of the Moore Foundation, tells Alan: “Our ability to live healthy, prosperous, and satisfying lives has been served and advanced by basic science. The chains of linkage of causation are obvious to anyone who just takes a look.”
Einstein spent his last years at the famed Institute for Advanced Study. Robbert Dijkgraaf, who heads the Institute now, marvels at how work like Einstein’s allowed us to see so deeply into nature. That work came from the same human brain that once evolved to hunt and gather, and now takes us into worlds we never imagined. All driven by curiosity.