Basic research

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Basic research (also called pure research or fundamental research) is a systematic study directed toward greater knowledge or understanding of the fundamental aspects of phenomena without specific applications or products in mind. It includes all branches of science and engineering.1

Basic research has been described as arising out of curiosity.2 Basic research is contrasted with applied research, which is research focused on a particular problem or application. Basic research lays the foundation for advancements in knowledge that lead to applied gains later on, occasionally as a result of unexpected discoveries.2

The International Council for Science, in a December 2004 position statement, urged support for and adequate public investment in basic research, stating that basic science, innovation, and development are intertwined.3

In the United States, pure research is mainly carried out by universities and institutes financed by the government. 4


Pure research advances fundamental knowledge about the human world. It focuses on refuting or supporting theories that explain how this world operates, what makes things happen, why social relations are a certain way, and why society changes. Pure research is the source of most new scientific ideas and ways of thinking about the world. It can be exploratory, descriptive, or explanatory; however, explanatory research is the most common.5

Pure research generates new ideas, principles and theories, which may not be immediately utilized; though are the foundations of modern progress and development in different fields. Today's computers could not exist without the pure research in mathematics conducted over a century ago, for which there was no known practical application at that time. Pure research rarely helps practitioners directly with their everyday concerns. Nevertheless, it stimulates new ways of thinking about deviance that have the potential to revolutionize and dramatically improve how practitioners deal with a problem.6

A new idea or fundamental knowledge is not generated only by pure research, but pure research can build new knowledge. In any case, pure research is essential for nourishing the expansion of knowledge. Researchers at the center of the scientific community conduct most of what is pure research.7

Applications of basic research

Basic research has often been criticized as being useless or even wasteful. However, while basic research is not geared towards applications, many practical or commercial products have resulted from basic research.8 However, such applications may take decades to reach the market. Some famous examples include

Geckskin: a new reusable, glue-free adhesive pad that can hold up to 700 pounds adhering to a smooth surface and has myriad applications. It came from decades of basic research on the anatomy and function of gecko toepads.

Taq polymerase: an enzyme used to make DNA in vitro. Taq polymerase was discovered in a study on the distribution of photosynthetic organisms along a thermal gradient in Yellowstone National Park. The researchers originally studied how unusual microorganisms could thrive in inhospitable habitats.9

Exenatide: a new diabetes drug based on studies of Gila monster venom.

See also


  1. ^ 32 C.F.R. 272.3.
  2. ^ a b Curiosity Creates Cures: The Value and Impact of Basic Research, National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institutes of Health.
  3. ^ ICSU Position Statement: The value of basic scientific research (December 2004), International Council for Science.
  4. ^ Ganapati, Priya (2008-08-27). "Bell Labs Kills Fundamental Physics Research". Wired. Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-28. 
  5. ^ Research: Anyone Can Do It. By Fernando Guimaraes
  6. ^ Research: Anyone Can Do It. By Fernando Guimaraes
  7. ^ Research: Anyone Can Do It. By Fernando Guimaraes
  8. ^ BRENNAN, PATRICIA L. R.; DUNCAN J. IRSCHICK, NORMAN JOHNSON, AND R. CRAIG ALBERTSON (2014) Oddball Science: Why Studies of Unusual Evolutionary Phenomena Are Crucial. BioScience, doi:10.1093/biosci/bit039
  9. ^ Brock TD. 1997. The value of basic research: Discovery of Thermus aquaticus and other extreme thermophiles. Genetics 146: 1207–1210

Further reading

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