The many groundbreaking scientific advances of the 20th and 21st century have completely changed the way that the modern world lives and thrives. Where would we be if we had never discovered penicillin or if we had never put satellites into orbit? How would our lives be different if nobody had ever created the personal computer? Leaps and bounds in science are exciting to witness and to take part in!
While the larger social benefits (or consequences) of scientific investments may be immeasurable, these advancements are certainly financial investments in experiments. Scientists, researchers, governments, and companies put billions–if not trillions–of dollars into science experiments every year in hopes that they long term payoff will be worth the pricetag.
So what’s the cost of some of the greatest scientific experiments of our time? Check out these ten exciting but costly experiments to find out!
Sometimes on clear nights you can look up into the sky and see the International Space Station zipping through the sky. It’s further away than any airplane and moving faster than any of the stars behind it, and it’s one of the most costly investments in the history of science.
The construction of the ISS began in 1998 and it has been continuously occupied by researchers since 2000. The total cost of construction of the ISS is around $150 billion.
So what goes on up there? Astronauts in the space station research how to live in space, and how future missions to Mars and the moon could be achieved most effectively. Essentially, research about space and the human body’s reaction to space is done in a way that it could not be on Earth.
Did you know?
The research coming out of the International Space Station is not just beneficial for astronauts, but to humans on earth too. For example, this year astronauts discovered a way to combat bone loss on earth through their research on how to rebuild bones themselves once they return to Earth.
Speaking of missions to space, cell phones today have more processing power than the computers on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon! While it’s amazing to think about how much computers have changed and influenced space travel, it’s even more amazing to think about how much potential there is in the future as computers only keep getting faster, a lot faster.
NASA is currently working with Google to create the world’s first quantum computer. This computer’s processor will be about 3,600 times faster than the computers of today, which means some huge scientific advances will be possible in the near future. According to Brad Pietras of Lockheed, quantum computing will be most beneficial initially in the fields of drug discovery, cybersecurity, business, finance, investment, health care, logistics, and planning.
The quantum computer is one science experiment that will surely influence the science experiments of the future. At what cost? Once it’s done, the estimated cost for the first quantum computers is $15 million.
To shed some light on how the development of computers has changed the way that scientists are able to study outer space, you don’t need to look any further than the famous Curiosity.
Curiosity is a robotic Mars explorer that landed on Mars in August of 2012 as a part of NASA’s larger Mars Exploration program. The goals of this rover’s mission are to study geology and climate of the planet and to investigate whether the planet has ever had an environment where life could have occurred. Curiosity is also looking at the habitability of Mars, in preparation for a future human mission to our neighboring planet.
The cost of Curiosity’s mission was $2.5 billion, $8 for every American.
Trivia: What are some things that Curiosity has discovered so far? (Highlight the text below to see the answer)
Curiosity has discovered the location of an ancient stream on Mars, the building blocks of primitive life, and increasing evidence that Mars was once suited for forms of life!
Deep sea exploration is a lot closer to home than exploration of space, but it’s also super exciting given how little humans know about the oceans that make up most of our planet. Scientific research in the sea is important for learning more about our own home and changes on our planet, but deep sea exploration is also expensive and extremely difficult.
The Ocean Observatories Initiative, which is part of the US’s National Science foundation is currently in the process of constructing its first major cabled observatory– for a whopping $76.6 million. The observatory will be complete next year in the Pacific Ocean off of the coast of Oregon.
The observatory will be made up of cabled sensors that will measure physical and chemical changes in the ocean as well as geology, atmosphere, and biology.
Trivia: what percent of Earth’s living things live in the ocean? (Highlight the text below to see the answer)
Scientists estimate that 80% of Earth’s life lives in the ocean!
Science experiments in the body when it comes to diagnosing and treating illnesses are especially risky, and it seems that in the near future doctors will be putting the job into the hands of technology– expensive technology– with Watson. Watson is a computer system capable of artificial intelligence. It can answer questions based on questions posed in “natural language”. In 2011, for example, Watson won Jeopardy and $1 million.
Watson is being developed by IBM, currently in a way that will make it useful in medical settings. The goal is for Watson to be more effective than humans at minimizing margins of error in misdiagnoses and mistreatments. Though IBM has been pretty secretive about how much money they have been putting into developing Watson, CNN Money estimates it at around $900 million-$1.8 billion.
Though a lot of money has been put into Watson, it is clear that the computer will have huge financial payoffs, both for hospitals and patients and IBM itself. The computer will be sold for only around $3 million to hospitals, and is likely to revolutionize medicine as we know it.
One thing that Watson will hopefully be able to do is catch cancer in its early stages, therefore making the disease more treatable. Doctors and scientists have been working around the clock for decades to find cures for all types of cancer, and this research is some of the most funded in the medical industry.
So how much money goes into cancer research every year? According to the National Cancer Institute $4.9 billion a year. Considering that more than 7.6 million people die every year from cancer, it seems like a small price to pay in order to find a cure.
Clean air technologies are a huge industry in the field of science, especially with the growing concern (and popular culture attention) in regards to global warming. Solyndra has been a particularly interesting and hugely expensive startup that deals with making more efficient solar panels– worth $1.6 billion of research.
What’s so special about these panels? Unlike most solar panels, Solyndra’s product is round, supposedly doing a more efficient job of capturing and using sunlight. Solyndra borrowed money from the government in 2009, making it a hugely popular and exciting venture at the time, supported by the Department of Energy. Yet, it seems like more recently the experiment has not been paying off, the product is just not worth it in comparison to its competitors. Solyndra’s sales are down and the company just can’t seem to keep up with its competitors who are selling products that are far cheaper to construct.
In the world of insanely expensive science experiments, it’s not uncommon for the budget to just not work out. Case in point: the Superconducting Super Collider was supposed to be the most expensive science experiment of its time, but failed miserably when the government shut it down because it was going over budget– after already putting $2 billion into it.
The goal of the Superconducting Super Collider, which was being constructed in Texas, was to find the Higgs Boson, and probably would have successfully done so by the early 2000s. Tough many of the valuable remnants of this failed experiment were sold to the highest bidder, the to this day there are tunnels in Texas where the Superconducting Super Collider would have been housed had the project been completed.
Trivia: Under which presidency was the construction of this monumental experiment called off? (Highlight the text below to see the answer)
President Bill Clinton.
Not to let the dream of discovering the Higgs Boson particle die, the Large Hadron Collider was completed in 2008. Complete with a 27-kilometre ring of superconducting magnets, it is the most powerful particle accelerator in the world.
The completion of this project cost $10 billion to construct. It paid off in the end though when the Higgs Boson particle was finally discovered this year.
The reason why this particle was so sought after by scientists, researchers, and governments is because it can help explain the Big Bang and how the universe was created. It is the same particle that is misleadingly referred to by some as the “God Particle”.
The International Fusion Experiment is currently the most expensive science experiment on the planet. The project was originally funded in 2006 with the agreement cost of $12.8 billion.
As an international project, it’s being funded by the European Union, the US, China, India, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. The European Union is paying 45% of the cost, and the United States, for example, is contributing about $2.4 billion.
Upon its completion around 2020, it will be the largest magnetic confinement plasma physics experiment in use. It is being designed to produce 500 megawatts of output for 50 megawatts of input, making the project extremely useful for efficient energy and conservation.
As we progress further into the 21st century it’s becoming increasingly obvious that high budget science experiments are on our horizons. The future of science is bright when there’s so much to be invested!
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