Yesterday, Members of Congress, representatives of the academic, scientific, and business communities, and other luminaries gathered to honor seven federally-funded researchers whose work has transformed technology, medicine, and countless lives. The researchers are the first-ever recipients of the Golden Goose Award, which highlights the unpredictable nature of basic scientific research and the fact that some of the most important scientific discoveries come from federally funded research that may once have been viewed as unusual, odd, or obscure.
This project is coordinated by some leading advocates for science and research in the country: the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Association of American Universities (AAU), Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the Science Coalition, The Task Force on American Innovation, and United for Medical Research, with support from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the American Chemical Society, and the American Mathematical Society.
One of the winning projects – the study of glowing jellyfish – led to innovative advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment as well as new breakthroughs in AIDS research. Another – the study of tropical coral – sped the development of game-changing ceramics for bone grafts and prosthetic eyes. When I think of jellyfish, I don’t think of cancer research. But that is precisely the wonder of research: it changes the way we think, and the way we live.
Government funded research is all around us. Even when we don’t see it, or don’t think of it in that way, researchers across the country are looking for ways to find it.
The final winner of the Golden Goose Award was Charles Townes, the inventor of laser technology. Laser is the foundation of countless technologies we use each day: the Internet, digital media, computer hard drives, satellite broadcasting, laser eye surgery, and laser cancer treatment. Dr. Townes was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Navy, but many of his peers and supervisors were skeptical of his work.
“Many people didn’t think it would work,” Dr. Townes explained. “In fact the head of the Department and the previous head of the Department, both of whom got Nobel Prizes so they weren’t stupid, came to my lab and said, ‘Look, that’s not going to work, we know it’s not going to work, and you know it’s not going to work, so stop, you are wasting the Department’s money.’ And about 4 months later, we had it working.”
“With the support of general science you can learn a lot of things, and every once in a while something has terrific applications and it helps our industry a great deal and it helps the economy a great deal,” Dr. Townes later went on to say.
Dr. Townes is 97 years old, and is hoping to continue doing research until he turns 100. “Life is such fun I’d like to keep going! I want to learn new things and discover new things.”
It is this quest for discovery that our researchers embark on each day. The journey may not always fall into our idea of what science should look like or sound like on paper, but their paths lead to some of the most vital foundations of our economy, our livelihood, and our hope for the future.
We congratulate the Golden Goose Award recipients, and look forward to their future life changing discoveries.
Bess Evans is a Policy Analyst at OSTP