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What is the difference between pure and applied science?

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Pure science, also called basic or fundamental science, has the goal of expanding knowledge in a particular field, without consideration for the practical or commercial uses of the knowledge. By contrast, applied science aims to use scientific knowledge for practical applications, such as curing diseases and developing sources of clean energy.

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Most scientific knowledge taught in classrooms today is the result of the efforts of pure science. Pure science seeks to develop and test theories about the biological and physical laws that govern the world we live in. Instead of being driven by the impulse to solve a specific problem, pure science is driven by curiosity and a desire to discover more about the natural world. The new theories, knowledge, and ideas generated by pure science have the potential to alter the ways that we understand the world around us, and our relationship to it.

Basic research is conducted today in every scientific field. Currently, scientists are conducting medical research aimed at better understanding how the body’s cells react to diseases such as cancers, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. Scientists are also conducting pure science in order to better understand the structure of the human genome. Pure scientific research in these fields can uncover knowledge that could have eventual significant practical applications.

Applied science uses knowledge gained through pure science in order to solve concrete problems. When conducting applied science, researchers begin with a specific problem that they would like to solve. Examples of applied sciences include medical sciences such as medical microbiology and genetic epidemiology, and formal sciences such as probability theory and statistics. Other examples include fluid mechanics, dynamics, kinematics, earth sciences, engineering physics, and statistics.

While some scientists place more value on either applied science or pure science, in reality these two types of science are immensely valuable to each other. Researchers conducting applied science are constantly relying on knowledge gained in their field by pure science research in order to solve real world problems.

The Human Genome Project is one example of the beneficial relationship between pure science and applied science. In the project, researchers mapped the human chromosome in order to understand precisely where each gene is located. In order to accomplish this, researchers relied on decades of pure research that had been conducted on the human genome. This foundation of pure science research has enabled scientists to conduct applied research to find treatments and cures for diseases by targeting specific genes.

Pure research and applied research are funded by both the public and private sectors. The two chief sources of funding for scientific research are corporations and the government. Corporations generally distribute research funds through Research and Development departments, while the majority of government funding for research comes from specially appointed research councils and universities. Nonprofits and charitable giving organizations also fund a small fraction of scientific research. In most fields, basic research is funded primarily by governmental sources, and applied research is chiefly funded by private corporations.

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