2022 was the centenary of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, of which South Africa is one of the 13 founding members and which now has 60 member countries. It was also the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development.
These celebrations came at a critical time, as the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has highlighted that the basic sciences are being neglected worldwide.
This has led to a state of serious vulnerability in disciplines such as physics, mathematics and statistics, all of which are key to innovation, development and the future world of work.
Also known as the fundamental sciences, the basic sciences include physics, biological sciences, chemistry, mathematics, statistics, computer science and geological sciences.
Why funding for basic sciences is low
The reason for the basic sciences not receiving anything near sufficient support in terms of funding, is because it is difficult to convince governments and funding agencies to properly resource fields that take time to yield results, but when they do, the results are life-changing.
Only now are gravitational waves being detected, as Einstein predicted in 1916.
Inventions like GPS would not work without Einstein’s theories of relativity.
Basic scientists and advancements
Over the past 150 years, basic scientists have achieved fundamental advances, such as quantum mechanics, genomics, antibiotics, plate tectonics, nuclear fission and fusion, the X-ray, the theory of evolution, and the internet/world wide web — a by-product of particle physics research at CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research).