Tiny Bubbles and the Importance of Pursuing Useless Knowledge

Dick Ahlstrom of the Irish Times writes:

A remarkable discovery was made in a laboratory at Trinity College Dublin about a year ago, one that may change all our lives in the future. Or maybe not. It was the unexpected detection of a new kind of bubble, one with unusual properties that might tell us something important about the expansion of the universe.

... Great you might say, more useless knowledge to pile up on all the rest of the useless knowledge out there. Good thing we know about those bubbles. But then again maybe it is. ... The bubbles may help us understand what is going on with different quantum effects. That’s a very big deal in physics.

It may still seem like useless knowledge to many of us but then when scientists discovered how to produce electricity no one had an idea of how to use it. The ability to produce radio waves was a similar case. All the science that was there to explain what was going on was useless knowledge until radio, radar and other technologies were introduced. ... These sentiments are echoed in a timeless essay penned in 1939 by Abraham Flexner, founding Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, entitled The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge. This has just been reprinted by Princeton University Press with a companion essay by Robbert Dijkgraaf, current Director.

Read more at the Irish Times.