Defending basic science

A response to "Science in the Seams" (September 2007)

Vol. 10 No. 3
December 2007/January 2008

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Prediction as the Cure
Gazing into the human body's crystal ball

The "engineers" in bioengineering

“I find it interesting that it’s incredibly difficult to define health without talking about a default position—you know you have health because you’re not sick.”

“There’s significant new ethical ground to be broken here. . . . We’re collecting a large amount of personal information. How do you protect it, who stores it, how do you store it, who has access to it?”

Defending basic science

Looking South Exploring Southern Spaces
The new terrain of Emory's multi-media scholarly journal

The Near Past
Tone and tension in writing about the modern South

Stories from the Frontlines
Or, How to survive co-authoring a book (with your spouse


Dear Editor,

I enjoyed reading “Science in the Seams” very much and found much of it quite exciting.

One gets the impression, especially from Professor of Biomolecular Chemistry David Lynn’s comments, that what is typically referred to as “basic science” is passé. Yet consider the basic science that gave us “quantum dots” and “nanoscience.” These scientific breakthroughs have made huge and quite unexpected impacts in medicine, especially here at Emory. Dobbs Professor of Chemistry Lanny Liebeskind marvels at the capabilities of modern computers and mentions their fantastic speed and storage. The science that led to these great leaps in computational power are the “passé” ones of the twentieth century. Nanoscience, quantum computing, coherent control may take us to the next great breakthrough in computer power.

The prestigious journal Science featured on the cover of the 10 August 2007 issue the title “Attosecond Spectroscopy.” This is another emerging and very exciting field in basic science. The issue contains articles and commentary on the fantastic potential of this new tool to look at biological processes in incredible detail. Undoubtedly new discoveries of how complex systems work will result from this new tool from basic science.

My point is the complex sciences, of which medicine and biology are examples, have always been advanced by the basic sciences. There is no reason to think this will not continue. And I’m confident that all the faculty quoted in “Science in the Seams” would agree with this and would support continued and perhaps even growing support of both the basic and complex sciences at Emory.

— Joel M. Bowman, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Chemistry