Riccardo Giacconi

Basic and Applied Research


Abstract

We are living in a new world economy which depends more and more on science and technology.

The dependence of a nation’s well being on its investment in basic and applied research is well documented. There have been numerous calls all over the world for increases in the funding of research, most notably in the “European Research Area”. In March 2000 the European Heads of State and of Governments agreed in Lisbon that the European Union should become by 2010 “The most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy in the world”. The purpose seems quite clear, but the realization appears still quite distant. I am of the opinion that many of the difficulties experienced in European countries point to a more complex reality beyond financing with which social and political views must become reconciled to effect real progress.

In particular the role of basic research as an engine of progress and its effect and interaction with applied research are often misunderstood and the role of free research universities in the US and other nations is underestimated. The search for excellence and its rewards are not well aligned to the European ideal of general education for as many students as possible, while refraining from rewarding exceptional talent. I will use examples from my personal experience to discuss some of these issues, and the lessons learned.


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