Tuesday, October 5, 2010

In praise of application-free discovery

Science Watch: What technological applications do you foresee for graphene, and are we going to need new technologies to create it to make these applications viable?

... I have to say, though, that I’m always very skeptical about applications. When someone asks about applications in my talks, I usually tell a story about how I was on a boat one day watching dolphins, and they were jumping out of the water, allowing people to nearly touch them. Everyone was mesmerized by these magnificent creatures. It was an extraordinary romantic moment—well, until a little boy shouted out, "Mom, can we eat them?" It's a similar matter here—as in, okay, we just found this extraordinary material, so we're enjoying this romantic moment, and now people are asking if we can eat it or not. Probably we can, but you have to step back and enjoy the moment first.
--2010 physics Nobel laureate Andre Geim, in a 2008 ScienceWatch interview, on preserving the romance of discovery

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