Basic Research, Game Changing Benefits

Last week, in Washington, DC, distinguished guests—including Members of Congress, scientists, and business-community leaders—gathered at the second annual Golden Goose Awards to honor six federally-funded researchers whose work has positively transformed technology, medicine, and countless lives. 

The Golden Goose Award highlights basic scientific research supported by the Federal Government that might have seemed obscure at first, but ultimately benefited society in a significant way—by improving health or national security, leading to a breakthrough innovation, or helping to grow the economy. Awardees are selected by a committee of experts from leading scientific and research organizations across the country—and their incredible accomplishments show just how far Federal funding can go when good scientists put it to good use.

This year, three of the winners—mathematicians David Gale and Lloyd Shapley and economist Alvin Roth—were honored for research that led to game-changing breakthroughs in now-widely-used “matching” systems. Backed by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and National Science Foundation, these researchers developed the Gale-Shapley Deferred Choice Algorithm, which initially helped streamline the matching process for men and women to maximize marriage stability, but ultimately led to various practical market applications—including the pairing of new doctors with hospitals nationwide through the National Resident Matching Program. In addition, with funding from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Roth developed a kidney exchange system that today is used across the country to match thousands of kidney recipients with prospective kidney donors. Dr. Shapley and Dr. Roth both received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2012 for their extraordinary work.  

With funding from the National Science Foundation, fellow Golden Goose honorees Dr. Thomas Brock and Dr. Hudson Freeze’s made discoveries that led to the field of biotechnology. Through their study and replication of DNA, they paved the way for a “genomics revolution”—including incredible developments in medical diagnostics, such as genetic tests. Biotechnologies that would not have been possible without their research have enabled targeted therapies, helping to ensure that patients are getting the right treatments that work for them specifically. 

And finally, Dr. John Eng was honored at last week’s ceremony for his innovative work with the venom of Gila Monsters, which has led to a new treatment that helps deter potential complications of diabetes, such as kidney failure and blindness. He received funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Congratulations to all of these extraordinary researchers and to all past Golden Goose Award recipients—who have demonstrated the true power and potential of fundamental research.

At time when sequestration is forcing science-funding agencies to cut millions of dollars from their research budgets, shining a light on the countless benefits of fundamental research to people and communities, in America and around the world, could not be more important.

Bess Evans is a Public Engagement Advisor at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy and Robert Park is a Student Volunteer in the White House Office of Public Engagement

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