Regular commenter Johan Larson writes with a suggested blog topic:
The Human Genome Project (yes, you have to pronounce those capitals) cost about $3 billion. If $3 billion were yours to spend on scientific research, how would you spend the money?
That’s a great question, and a great topic for a Dorky Poll. I’ll narrow my response a little, because if I had to choose from all areas of science, it’s a no-brainer to throw all the money at public health– eradication of malaria, cures for major diseases, etc. For the sake of variety, let’s restrict it to your own particular subfield, so, for example, how would I spend three billion dollars on physics?
Well, I wouldn’t spend it on particle accelerators.
I always think of this sort of question as having a “desert island” sort of component, where the money I’m doling out will be the only money being spent on the field in question. In that case, I think the important thing is to spend the money where it will do the most good, not just for science, but for society at large.
Particle accelerators are great, and all, but is discovering the Higgs Boson going to materially improve the lives of anyone other than the heads of the collaboration that makes the first discovery and gets the Nobel? Not really.
If I had three billion dollars to throw at a single area of physics, I’d probably go for high-temperature superconductivity. It’s a phenomenon that’s still not understood all that well, and the potential impact is huge. If somebody could find a way to make mass quantities of material that superconducts at or near room temperature, that would be one of the most revolutionary physics developments since the transistor.
That’s a project worth funding.
The runner-up would be quantum information technology, just because it’s so darn cool.
So, what would you spend three billion dollars on?