Funding science/engineering for public good

This great article from Cosmos (by Laurie Zoloth) gives a good summary of the days of the ‘gentleman scientist.’ Sir Humphry Davy came from poor upbringing but his clever and enterprising mind, and a ‘wealthy’ marriage helped him rise to prominence in the annals of science – both of chemistry and physics/engineering. He explored Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas), discovered an element or two, but his focus was on knowledge for the public good.

He was commissioned by a concerned community panel to help find a solution to coal mine explosions in the early 1800s. And he did (the Davy Lamp) but made the invention public property to ensure as many needed it could get it. I do hope that concept of funding good research for the public good (not primarily because it is ‘good economically (i.e. you can make a profit on the results)’ returns as a cornerstone of public research funding…