The Unappreciated Benefits of Pure Research
In this age of high-technology, globalization and ultra-capitalism, universities and researchers are under tremendous pressure to ensure that their programs have the potential for direct commercial application.
The sciences receive funding more readily than the arts. And researchers are encouraged to state the potential economic benefits and patentable applications of their fields of study. In contrast, however, basic research does not aim for immediate application or gratification, the quick or predictable payoff; rather it seeks only to gain the deepest possible knowledge and understanding.
It is to these latter goals that Professor Nicole Tomczak-Jaegermann has directed her research. From the time she was a student the University of Warsaw in Poland, this University of Alberta professor has dedicated her career to delving into the intangible. She is immersed in pure research-studying mathematical problems and structures for the challenge of comprehending them. As one of a handful of mathematicians in the world who understands the area she is exploring, Tomczak-Jaegermann shines brightly on the international stage.
With each of her efforts to prove theorems that have gone unsolved for decades, Tomczak-Jaegermann is not thinking about the bottom line. She is thinking about the puzzle she is piecing together. Yet for all that, she remains keenly aware that without advances in pure mathematics, many advantages of modern life that we take for granted as well as the economic structures based on these, would not exist at all.
It is curiosity alone-the passion to know-that drives the field of pure mathematics. Although work in pure mathematics has often led to major discoveries, when they began, the scientists who made those discoveries had no idea where their research was leading them. We may yet discover major real-world applications for Tomczak-Jaegermann's work. But she doesn't know what those applications will be-or even whether they will emerge in her lifetime.
Tomczak-Jaegermann works in an area of mathematics called Geometric Functional Analysis. It is the study of objects of various natures, determined by variables, the number of which increase to infinity. Does its abstract nature mean this research is unworthy of public support?
On the contrary. Pure science is exactly the type of research that the Canada Research Chairs Program should support. As pressure increases to make education more and more practically focused, we need public support to keep imaginations alive. Those with the most holistic view, the broadest perspective, will argue that we need researchers who have the freedom to explore all corners of our universe, known and unknown. This is the best route we have to discovering fields of study and realms of understanding that don't yet exist.