in the dim and distant, studying the Finite Element Method introduced me to the Dirac Delta Function. Re-watching an episode of Atom it suddenly hit me that the Paul Dirac whom the presenter, Professor Al-Khalili was describing as the originator of a theory (1928) whose equations predicted the existence of anti-matter was the very same person who derived that delta function, and enabled me, and many others like me, to change the way we designed and developed products in the last quarter of the 20th century. As Churchill and Marshall McLuhan put it
"We shaped the tools and then the tools shaped us."
Dirac shared the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics with Erwin Schrödinger for "for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory". Professor Al-Khalili went on to say that eventually anti-matter was detected in a cloud chamber by Carl Anderson in 1935. Ultimately the positron that Carl Anderson detected found use in PET scanners incorporated into MRI scanners for hospital use.
The History of the PET device is reproduced here from the wikipedia entry
The concept of emission and transmission tomography was introduced by David Kuhl and Roy Edwards in the late 1950s. Their work later led to the design and construction of several tomographic instruments at the University of Pennsylvania. Tomographic imaging techniques were further developed by Michel Ter-Pogossian, Michael E. Phelps and others at the Washington University School of Medicine  
In the 1970s, Tatsuo Ido at the Brookhaven National Laboratory was the first to describe the synthesis of 18F-FDG, the most commonly used PET scanning isotope carrier. The compound was first administered to two normal human volunteers by Abass Alavi in August 1976 at the University of Pennsylvania. Brain images obtained with an ordinary (non-PET) nuclear scanner demonstrated the concentration of FDG in that organ. Later, the substance was used in dedicated positron tomographic scanners, to yield the modern procedure.
The first primarily used commercial PET scanner was introduced in 1975. In the 70s and 80s, PET was mainly used for research. During the early 90s, PET expanded into hospitals, diagnostic clinics, mobile systems and physician practices as more and more of the medical community began to realize the utility of PET.
From theory to useful practice has taken around 60 years.
Special Relativity was theoretically predicted by Albert Einstein in 1905 (Nobel laureate in 1921) and is the basis of Giant Magnetoresistance discovered around 1988, which enabled the design of such products as the iPod. France's Albert Fert and Germany's Peter Gruenberg won the 2007 Nobel Prize "for the discovery of giant magnetoresistance".
So why am I writing this... for two reasons
"ONCE upon a time, economists thought economic growth came from the holy trinity of capital, resources and labour. Then in the 1950s, the American economist Robert Solow proved that this accounted for only around 10 per cent. The remaining 90 per cent he put down to "technical change" - technological progress and growth in knowledge. Science and technology, in other words. In 1987, he won the Nobel prize in economics for his discovery.
Today we seem to have forgotten Solow's insight. The key to scientific and technological productivity is to give creativity full rein...... etc."
Later in the article, he goes on to write of his leadership of "Venture Research, a BP-sponsored enterprise which I founded in 1980 and ran for ten years, encouraged researchers with radical ideas to apply for funding. We created an interactive environment in which scientists could select from themselves. Almost all researchers chosen in this way had previously been rejected by the peer-review process. Many of them went on to be very successful. BP subsequently withdrew its sponsorship of Venture Research which became an early casualty of the obsession with short-termism."
2. The news that a nearby iconic landmark may be under threat.
Picture uploaded by jamie.lovelock. Used with thanks under CC.
Jodrell Bank is a highly visible artefact representing the UK's commitment to advanced research..
as Manchester University puts it here
"Any long-term threat to Jodrell Bank, with its high public profile, would undermine confidence in Britain's determination to remain at the forefront of science and technology. The Lovell Telescope is undergoing a major enhancement and plans are well-advanced to upgrade MERLIN in order to provide British astronomers with a unique instrument ready to work with the Hubble Space Telescope and the next generation of telescopes in other parts of the spectrum. Jodrell Bank scientists and engineers can give MERLIN a dramatic boost in performance by making innovative use of optical-fibre technology. As Jodrell Bank's Director Professor Andrew Lyne says: ``this is just the sort of IT-related development in which Britain should be investing, and was identified as such in PPARC's carefully thought-out Long Term Technology Plan.''
The Director of MERLIN, Dr. Philip Diamond adds: "the sums involved are not large -- 6 million pounds would transform Britain's home-based radio astronomy facility. This is a drop in the ocean compared with the 20 billion pounds the government is receiving for commercial exploitation of the radio spectrum for the next generation of mobile phones."
Any threat to Jodrell Bank would follow the decision to close down the major scientific facility at Daresbury only 20 miles away. If the plan outlined in the Sunday Times was to be carried through it would be another body-blow to science in the North West. On the other hand the MERLIN optical-fibre development would involve close collaboration with the IT industry in the North West and hence mean new jobs in the area."
As the two example at the beginning of this entry illustrate it takes a long time for the fruits of scientific endeavour to filter through to societal benefits... but they are worth it... ask cancer patients and iPod users (who may be the same people). Unfortunately the politicians that set budgets for scientific research have 5-year horizons..... and commercial research funding may not be much better... a crisis will facilitate bottom-line cuts to maintain profitability as top-line initiatives are slower to filter through to profitability under conventional thinking.
I wrote about the three horizon approach that facilitates/stimulates dialogue about short and long term innovative behaviours here; this is hard enough to put into practice.... To throw a light on the overall journey from a glimmer to the glare of success.........Do we need more horizons beyond these to cover basic research and technology knowledge acquisition?
Picture uploaded by Montrasio International. Used with thanks under CC.
Remember what Steve Jobs said:
Or sit in silence and hear a song that's never been written?
Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
We see genius.
they can change the world, are the ones who do.
All we need to do is find space for them! They will do the rest! Is that space in the Secret Garden of Frances Hodgson Burnett: