[ASC-media] Media release: Fundamental Research Rules

Australasian Science science at control.com.au
Wed Nov 8 14:33:24 CET 2006

For immediate release

Fundamental Research Rules

With the Productivity Commission drawing attention to the ³core role² of
universities being ³the provision of teaching and the generation of
high-quality, openly disseminated basic research², a senior scientist has
articulated the case for greater funding priority for basic science over
commercial imperatives and so-called ³relevant science².
Emeritus Professor Barry Ninham of the Australian National University¹s
Research School of Physical Sciences writes in the November/December issue
of Australasian Science, published today: ³Most funding presumes that all
basic science is known and that we just need to do Œrelevant¹ things in
biotechnology, nanotechnology, cancer cures and mineral processing. This is
an inefficient misdirection of effort, leaving scientists as Dean Swift¹s A
Confederacy of Dunces! The case for supporting unfettered basic research is
not just a good one. It is fundamental!²
Ninham writes from first-hand experience as an unusually broad-based
scientist who has published nearly 400 papers straddling mathematics,
physics, chemistry and biology. He points out: ³Some wonderful science goes
on. Most of it is applied and is independent of theories of basic science.
We discover these things usually by experience or accident. Examples are
immunisation and immunology.
³Concepts of physical chemistry (which I work in) underpin the biological
sciences and chemical engineering that are so important to Australian
industryŠ But bridges have not been built. ŒRelevant¹ and basic science sit
miserably disjoint.²
Without basic research over the long-term, long-held theories would not be
overturned. ³Concepts of physical chemistry (which I work in) underpin the
biological sciences and chemical engineering that are so important to
Australian industry², Ninham writes.
³A paradigm shift emerged out of 35 years of basic research measuring the
forces between molecules in substances such as colloids. My colleagues and I
discovered that the classical theories of solutions (electrolytes, colloids,
nanoparticles) were seriously flawed - indeed wrong - because the entire
scientific world had forgotten the effects of dissolved atmospheric gases.²
Basic research has positive outcomes that predict potential applications.
Ninham says: ³Now, our theories apply successfully to cell theory in
biology, while colloid and surface chemistry underlies all of soil science,
nuclear waste management, minerals extraction and oil recoveryŠ They would
not have emerged without 35 years of hard slog that questioned the
Summaries and quotations of selected passages for reporting or review are
permissible provided AUSTRALASIAN SCIENCE MAGAZINE is credited as the source
of this story.
Professor Ninham can be reached on 9 November via (0411) 186 1991 or (0417)
435 761 and, later, on (02) 6251 2032 or via (02) 6125. A photo of Professor
Ninham is available.

For permission to reproduce this article (partially or completely) call the
Editor, Guy Nolch, on (03) 9500 0015 or Senior Correspondent, Peter Pockley,
on (02) 9660 6363. 

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