I’m a Texan as well as a physicist so I hope it doesn’t sound boosterish if I say that no nation has contributed more to basic science than Britain. No other country has such an uncanny aptitude for it. I’m not sure what combination of poetry and pragmatism makes this possible, but I don’t need to go far to find evidence. A few streets from where I work in Mayfair lies the Royal Institution, which earned more Nobel prizes in science than all of Russia.
Or consider Newton, Darwin, Faraday, Maxwell, Rutherford, Hardy, Dirac, Fleming, Crick, Higgs, Hawking and Wiles. All are bywords for British originality. They have something else in common: none was concerned about the utility of their work.
I’m talking about basic science, also known as curiosity-driven research: the kind done without consideration of how useful it might be.