Clark Cunningham is a senior biochemistry and biology major from Chapel Hill.
When Thomas Brock and his undergraduate assistant Hudson Freeze traveled to Yellowstone in the ‘60s, they were searching for bacteria capable of living in hot springs .
They had no idea that what they would find would revolutionize the life sciences. Their discovery would have practical applications from HIV testing to the exoneration of death row inmates.
In science, major advances can arise from unlikely sources, and the importance of a research endeavor is not always immediately apparent.
This is especially so with basic research, or the pursuit of knowledge without a direct application in mind. This is in contrast to applied research, which is concerned with achieving practical ends.
As a result of its emphasis on discovery rather than utility, basic research is often unappreciated and belittled as the musings of eccentric professors. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Basic research serves as the foundation for future inquiries and can lead to applications that change the world.