A guy I work with seriously wants to know what is the need for pure research in Physics and Mathematics?

His view is that if we want a new "widget" why then don't we just make it.

Me being an engineer and having studied physics have gone through several inventions / inovations with him to illustrate that one person at one time cannot in isolation come up with any widget without the accumulated knowledge of hundreds, maybe thousands of years of thought / invention / innovation. This still leaves him cold.

Out of frustration, I am asking this forum if any one knows of a "potted" reason that may get through to him....Or should I just thump the stupid twat!

Answer:
Tell him to go design and make a "widget" of an airplane. Tell him it has to go 100 miles at "x" mph and with a payload of "y" pounds. For him to figure it out he'll have to rely on the methodologies developed by others since kitty hawk. The swept wing benefits weren't known until the 1940's and the benefits of a high bypass-ratio engine until way after that. Now they're into composite fuselages..it goes on an on.
Good luck...give him a brain enema.
Thump him!

Quick example: Thermal expansion coefficients for different materials. I can just look them up in a tech manual instead of using trial and error. Seriously, you could electrocute yourself if a piece of metal expanded more than you expected it to. Say, right into a lead that's energized at 480 volts.

I'm sure you'll get many more examples.
Well, your friend might just be right as long as the next "widget" he's talking about is another pet rock or hula-hoop.

On the other hand, take a more useful invention. Let's say the MRI. If you are going to invest $1M per "widget" you better know what you're doing.

The first experiments with NMR (single dimension resonance precursor to MRI) were in 1946. This only led to the MRI over 30 years (and multiple intermediate technologies) later after much research.

I sometimes work with the National High Magnetic Field Labs in Tallahassee. They do pure research and nothing but research. Their sole function is to collect data on how magnetic fields affect material properties (including living organisms) so inventors can use that data to develop better medical test equipment, more efficient motors, generators and vehicles. The research is also key to unraveling DNA and quantum mysteries which will lead to self-aware machines in the near future.

While Thomas Edison said, "To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.", the research data coming out of NHMFL is well worth the multi-billion dollar cost considering the impact it will have on our future.
It's really simple. Science/math is pure knowledge. Engineering is power- the application of that knowledge. New knowledge (from science/math research) creates opportunities for new ideas... not just in physical products but also inventions like the internet, futures trading, life insurance...

Sounds to me like he is jerking your chain or profoundly foolish. Ignore him.

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