Willy Benz, Director of NCCR PlanetS, with a model of the space telescope CHEOPS. (Photo Alessandro Della Bella)
„Basic research is incredibly important” states Thomas Zurbuchen the new NASA Associate Administrator for the science Mission Directorate during his lecture at the University of Bern. Obviously, for us at PlanetS this was sweet music to our ears…
Curiosity driven research (another expression for basic research) strives at understanding the world that surrounds us, its constituents, and the laws governing its functioning and evolution without any other motivation than furthering knowledge. At first sight, this could appear as a rather limited ambition given the numerous problems the world is facing. However, just like the foundations are for a house, gaining knowledge is underpinning the long innovation chain that ultimately improves our everyday lives. What could be more important?
So, where is our curiosity driving us? As you can read in this edition of the Observer, planetary atmospheres are drawing a lot of attention especially those of temperate Earth-like planets. We search for and study them from the ground and from space and we develop the theoretical understanding of their physics and chemistry. Eventually, tell-tale signs of life might be discovered revealing that we are not alone… Along the way, this adventure will have sown the seeds for curiosity in the next generation of young researcher and the quest for understanding will continue.
Is this incredibly important? You will each have your own opinion, with some of you possibly preferring more tangible and practical results. In this case, think about the phenomenal instruments that had to be developed to get to a point where temperate Earth-like planets 40 lightyears away can be found and their spectrum soon measured… Curiosity as the driver for new technology.
And yes, Thomas Zurbuchen was right, basic research is incredibly important.
Director NCCR PlanetS
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