Ideas about what contributes to the progress of science have predominately come, since the 1960’s, from the perspectives of public policy and the philosophy of science. This type of thinking has been important to governments, because they drive national science policy and, ultimately, the budgets for research grants.
However, at a pragmatic level, the experience among practicing scientists is that new tools advance the progress of science and enable new discoveries.
Telescopes and measurement systems enabled the Copernican revolution. X-ray crystallography was pivotal to deciphering the molecular structure of DNA.
Among graduate students, the arrival of a new instrument into the lab can result in a burst of scientific publications as the new technology allows them to observe new details in their system of study.
Tools are not just confined to hardware. Newton developed calculus which allowed him to establish the foundations of classical mechanics and of gravity.
That “new tools are the sparks that ignite scientific discoveries” was perhaps first explained in 1999 as a seminal idea by Freeman Dyson, a physicist from the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, in his forward thinking book, The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet: Tools of Scientific Revolutions.
This idea elevated into the common dialogue ten years later, as exemplified by this 2010 story in The Scientist Magazine (Evolving the Scientific Method), and this 2011 story on NPR (Tools Of Discovery: Where Would Science Be Without Them?), and the publication of this 2010 handbook for scientists written by a practicing research physician (The Tools of Science: The Handbook for the Apprentice of Biomedical Research).
The reason for the above history is to show that the ideas about what contributes to the advance of science are still young and they are still evolving.
There are no advocates from the perspective of entrepreneurship. My purpose next is to show that there are entrepreneurial opportunities in providing tools for the advancement of science.
I also want to point out that these can ultimately contribute to economic development if government policy recognizes the entrepreneurial interconnection between basic science and applied science. Ignoring this will negatively impact long term economic and technological competitiveness.
In the next four posts, I will give three cases studies using companies and events in Canada:
- Fluorescent labeled peptides for biomedical research;
- Hyphenating cytometry with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (mass cytometry);
- Stem cells and culture media.
I will follow this up with a subsequent series about how the emerging technologies of AI, ML and automation are changing the practice of science and the career of scientists.