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Surprising Costs of These 5 Scientific Achievements

The Biggest
Surprising Costs of These 5 Scientific Achievements

The human species is always striving to make new and exciting discoveries. Wether it was our distant ancestors scraping stones together to create fire, or Albert Einstein contemplating the hidden nature of our universe in a small clerk’s office, there is no end to our imagination and perseverance when attaining greatness in a variety of fields, vocations and studies. No area can prove the spirit, will and determination of men and women everywhere more than the world of science. Without all of those empirical pioneers, some of them left on the outskirts of obscurity, your light bulb would never turn on, nor would the engine in your car start, and thousands of lives would be lost as medical advances remain next to nil. It’s because of science that a once hostile and dangerous world isn’t such a terrible place. But at what cost? Lives have been lost. Relationships shattered. Billions of dollars invested. When the Greek astronomer Ptolemy was studying the heavens in the 12th century, he needed little more than paper, basic materials for models, and mathematics. This was the case for many of the Greeks who didn’t have the luxury of today’s modern technology. Empirical evidence and their natural intelligence were their tools of choice, and of necessity. As centuries passed, the society and its economy evolved, and as technology became much more advanced, the financial costs associated with them did too. Historically, scientific work was supported by private enterprise, such as wealthy families and institutions. For example, Galileo’s progressive work in astrophysics was kept afloat by contributions from the wealthy elite, who for whatever reason, believed in the work in progress. Public institutions such as the government also financially supported science, as was the case with Charles Darwin. His groundbreaking research that eventually developed into the revolutionary theory of evolution was paid for by the British government. Today, the vast majority of work in the many fields of science is funded by academic grants, scholarships and various government departments. As the old axiom goes: it takes money to make money. Similarly, it costs money to accomplish things that have never been done before, from the discovery of a moon to the invention of the combustible engine. Without all of those people throughout the ages who pony up the dough, the world would be a very different place. The following list of scientific achievements run the gamut of relatively small to astronomically high, but without each one of them, there is no telling what our lives would be like today.

5. The Wright Brothers Kitty Hawk Plane – USD $19,241 

Wright Brothers Plane

One December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully flew the first engine-powered plane near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Lasting only 12 seconds at a distance of just 120 feet (37 meters), the plane flew “against twenty one mile wind…from Level with engine power alone average speed through air thirty one miles longest 57 seconds inform Press home Christmas,” according Orville in a telegram to his father. The total cost of the project was $1000 (in 1903). Adjusted for inflation, the price would be a mere $19,241 USD, a drop in the bucket compared to some of today’s scientific projects. The invention revolutionized not only how people transport themselves throughout the modern age, but was a precursor to countless achievements in aero science ever since. Without the ingenuity of this engineering marvel that at one time seemed impossible, the average person would never know what it feel likes to be over 35,000 feet above sea level.

4. The Z1 Computer – USD $500,000

Z1 Computer

Between 1935 and 1938, Konrad Zuse from Germany built the first program-controlled computer system. Although technically unreliable in its calculations due to the stress on its small machine parts, the Z1 was the basis for the first fully-functioning programmable computer that has changed the course of history in how people communicate, calculate and access information. In order to fund the entire project, Zuse turned to private finance, borrowing money from his family, students, and industrialists. Today, the whole project would have run a price tag of half a million dollars. With little to no money, and building the machine almost entirely in his bathroom, Zuse changed the world. He is nothing less than a leading example of what a person can do, even if relatively poor, and how one idea can change the course of history in less than a lifetime. To be sure, we must not forget those who invested their hard-earned money into a project that, for all they knew, could have flopped.

3. Cancer Research – USD $4.9 Billion

Cancer Research Lab

Although the terrible disease is still without a cure, billions of dollars are spent each year on its research, eradication and treatment. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), an American organization dedicated to the research into the “causes, prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer,” research into the most common types of cancer alone (lung, prostate, breast) reaches 1.8 billion dollars under a 4.9 billion dollar budget. One of the biggest not-for-profit causes, scientific research into cancer is among the most expensive in the world. The disease claims millions of lives each year, and, according to projections from researchers at the NCI, its annual medical expenditures will reach 158 billion by 2020. Each scientist, organization and government department working tirelessly into the causes and prevention of cancer will be remembered as history’s greatest medical heroes when the cure is some day finally discovered.

2. Apollo 11 Moon Landing – USD $24 Billion

Apollo 11

Arguably the greatest scientific achievement in the history of humankind, the Apollo 11 Mission that was responsible for landing the first men on the moon required not only thousands of hours of labour, ingenuity, and great feats of engineering, but also a very hefty price tag. Beyond the nationalistic competition between the US and USSR to be the first to reach the moon, it also radically altered how humans perceive the world and ourselves within it. In 1973, NASA reported to congress a total cost of 5.15 billion dollars, a staggering 24 billion dollars today. Despite continuing research into the dark abyss of the cosmos, the Apollo 11 moon landing, and all Apollo space flights, remain the defining achievements of not just the United States, but for all of humankind.

1. The CERN Large Hadron Collider – USD $35.6 Billion

CERN Large Hadron Collider

Despite popular fears that the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland, might be so powerful that it could cause a black hole and thus destroy the earth, it remains one of the biggest and most important technical machines in all of science, let alone the field of physics. It’s the world’s largest laboratory dedicated to the acceleration of subatomic particles to study their reactions when they collide with one another at velocities as fast as the speed of light. The total cost of this massive project has been 2.6 billion euros ($35.6 billion US) to date, paid for by CERN’s 20 member states, including most of Europe and the United States of America. One of the greatest discoveries of the LHC is of the Higgs Boson, confirming the theory of The Standard Model, enabling scientists to understand, more than any other time in history, how the universe formed via the iconic Big Bang. Perhaps owing a great debt to the scientists and countries still exploring the origins of our universe, we at least feel a little less as if we are, in the words of the great Carl Sagan, merely “a mote of dust floating in a sunbeam.”

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