• Question: How much will your work actually benefit the public?

    Asked by ciara to Meeks, Pete, Stephen, Steve, Tom on 25 Jun 2010 in Categories: . This question was also asked by maeve, laraa, giuola.
    • Photo: Marieke Navin

      Marieke Navin answered on 21 Jun 2010:

      Hi Ciara,
      my work will not immediately benefit the public. I am researching particles called neutrinos which ultimately will hopefully tell us more about how the Universe was created (which has a pretty big impact on the public since they wouldn’t be here without the universe!). My research is what we call “blue sky” it’s researching how the universe was created, how it’s going to end, what is matter and mass etc, all things that are important in building up our knowledge…but not so important in the day to day life of people.

      however, particle physics research has lead to the development of imaging equipment that has found its way into hospitals as well as a lot of technology such as the internet and that behind ipods etc, which certainly impacts everyone’s lives.

      The important thing is that we don’t know where this sort of research will lead, which is why it’s vital we do it. Great question.

    • Photo: Stephen Curry

      Stephen Curry answered on 21 Jun 2010:

      Hi Ciara,

      My research work in general will hopefully benefit the public both directly and indirectly.

      Directly because part of our effort is to investigate how the foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) causes disease in animals. One of the projects we are running at the moment is to try to find drugs that will stop the virus from infecting animals. This could be very useful, both for helping to treat animals (cows, pigs, sheep) and also in preventing the spread of disease.

      Our work may be of indirect benefit because FMDV is related to some human virus (e.g. hepatitis A virus which causes liver disease) and the viruses have similar internal mechanisms. So things that we learn about FMDV may also help us to understand and treat Hepatitis A virus infections. However, it can take a very long time to go from basic science to a new drug.

      More generally I hope that by devoting some effort to talking and writing about science (and shooting videos) I might help to stimulate more interest in the subject among young people. Hopefully some of them might then be tempted to take it up as a career.

    • Photo: Tom Hartley

      Tom Hartley answered on 25 Jun 2010:

      Hi ciara, maeve, laraa and giuola,

      Sorry to have taken so long to answer this question. It is similar to a few other questions that people (hanna20 and isabella) have asked, and I wanted to put the answer together for all of them at once (so you might recognize some similar language 🙂 .

      I helped to show for the first time in humans that different parts of the brain are used when you a) find your way about and b) follow a very familiar route (as if on autopilot).

      I invented a new memory test which people with damage to the part of the brain that helps with a) above (its called the hippocampus) find very difficult.

      So how would this benefit the public?

      When people have Alzheimer’s Disease it often attacks the hippocampus in the early stages. The memory test might help identify these people early on, so that they can get better treatment.

      And one last thing:

      While working on my PhD I came up with a model (explanation) of how we learn new words (and why we sometimes get the sounds mixed up, so you might say “darn bore”, when you meant “barn door”). This has been quite influential, and it could be important, because problems with the mechanism could lead to dyslexia and other language and educational disorders. I hope that by contributing to the understanding of word learning my work will lead to useful interventions that can ease problems like these.