Basic research is scientific research without an end goal in mind. Also known as pure and fundamental research, it is done for the acquisition of knowledge with no commercial value in mind. A verbal exchange in the 1800s between scientist Michael Faraday and the English minister of finance is an example. When Gladstone asked Faraday about the practical value of his research on electricity, Faraday replied, “I am not sure yet, but one day Sir, you will put a tax on it.”

Beginnings of Basic Research

Sir Isaac Newton, a teacher and scientist laid the foundation for modern scientifSir Isaac Newton(105018)Credit: Public Domainic research had died in 1727. Scientific expansion continued in the 17 and 18 hundreds, where a large part of basic research was done by amateurs. They did it for the joy of discovery, and to spread knowledge.

The beginning of modern scientific research was a hobby. Michael Faraday is an example. He was a blacksmith’s son without formal education. He became apprenticed to a bookbinder, where he read every book on science he could find. With this knowledge, he went on to make discoveries of fundamental physical and chemical laws. One of these was the electrical fundamentals to make an electric motor.

Michael FaradayCredit: Public Domain

Johannes Kepler was a teacher in a Protestant school when he made and published his astronomical observations and calculations. He did research as a pastime.

It could be said that Albert Einstein was an amateur when he published his theory of relativity. The father of modern physics was worked as a technical assistant in a SwissAlbert Einstein and Robert OppenheimerCredit: U. S. Government Public Domain patent office at the time. He wasn’t employed as a professional physicist, but after his publication, he got offers to teach.

Science was called natural philosophy and seen as a method to generally improve the human condition. Francis Bacon wrote that science should be a collective enterprise. At this time, scientific academies and organizations formed and flourished. These groups published and spread the discoveries of their members. Their results contained basic research; research that had no goal in view. The foundations for the modern era were formed at this time.

These endeavors included all forms of science; archaeology, anthropology, astronomy, geology, medicine, physics and chemistry to name a few. Today, it’s still not uncommon for an amateur astronomer to make a discovery and work with a professional group to examine and document the object.

The Industrial Revolution

During the industrial revolution, manufacturers made use of the information provided by basic research to make engines and manufacturing processes. They also did applied research which is research done with a specific goal in mind. One of these research projects was to invent a perpetual motion machine. They didn’t find the perpetual motion machine, but did find the three laws of thermodynamics.

Modern Research

Modern basic research is most likely conducted by Universities. They include funds for groups to conduct different basic research in their budgets. The research for nuclear power was done by universities and government projects. Private companies stepped in to build nuclear power stations and other nuclear applications after the basic research and designs were completed.

Companies set up divisions such to conduct some basic research. Bell Laboratories, now Alcatel-Lucent, is one of these, In 1925,
Western Electric and part of the American Telegraph and Telephone, AT&T engineering department consolidated to form Bell Labs. Some of their research is basic and some of it is applied.

It’s not uncommon for large companies to have research departments. Much of their research is devoted to applied research, but some is basic research. On August 27, 2009, the Bloomsberg Business Week published an article by Adrain Slywotzky entitled: How Science Can Create Millions of New Jobs. Slywotsky covers how company research can invent products. After invention, the products require factories and people to produce them. All phases of production would require the addition of jobs directly attributed to basic research. The article encourages companies to increase their research departments.

Basic research is a vital process for advancing knowledge which can be used to make other advancements in medical and other sciences. Without basic research, progress slows down; it is a vital part of science.