Monday, October 17, 2005

Macro and micro science pursuits necessary

Sometimes it seems that advances in macro scientific fields such as astronomy, cosmology, astrophysics and astrobiology are less possible and more costly and time-consuming than advances in micro fields such as semiconductors, nanotech, quantum mechanics and even biotech. About the same number of log scale ratchets occur going up to the macro scale as down to the micro scale but somehow macro scale projects seem more objectionable. Recent failures in the US shuttle program and in rocket launches have also drawn attention to the high cost per project, the risk and that the reward may not be commensurate.

In fact, challenges exist in the pursuit of both macro and micro science and even if there is not a positive ROI on each project, the overall contribution to science and human knowledge of both kinds of projects is important. The competition for funding does not suggest that all funded projects are broadly worthwhile but at least acts as some sort of gating factor, this is even more true in the current era of scarcer funding. Science is turning to philanthropy and other non-grant capital sources more regularly than before.

Next phase tools and methodology breakthroughs are needed at both ends of the spectrum; for example, accelerator technology, with the purpose of creating and detecting some of the smallest particles, is close to the limit for future effectiveness at the $5b current price tag for new accelerators. A new and better means of creating, colliding and observing particles is necessary, perhaps by machine simulation. At the macro end, anything that would compress the time, cost and in-mission reusability of all manner of space missions, particularly telescopes, would be helpful.