Defending America with pure science

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You've probably used your GPS in the past few days as you tried to find the location for a new restaurant.  It's an app on our phone that we've come to depend on.

"GPS would not work if Einstein had not made the leap to understanding gravity. It depends on accounting for Einstein's theory of gravity. It took 100 years to go from pencil and paper to us walking around with GPS systems on our phones, and there's no way Einstein could have predicted that,"said UAH Research Scientist Tyson Littenberg.

Albert Einstein did predict numerous things about gravity, and among them he said gravitational waves existed and moved through the universe.  It took a team of a thousand scientists, including Littenberg,  working around the world to prove Einstein right. The announcement of the proof came earlier this February.

"It advances our knowledge, and personally, I think that makes humanity better. The more we know, the better off that we are," said Littenberg.

That quest for knowledge is one of the driving forces behind world cooperation on the International Space Station. As more than one astronaut has said from orbit, we live on a fragile planet. For this one "Einsteinian" moment, the planet feels just a little safer.

"Personally, and for the students I work with... really, it makes you realize that it's a big connected network. It's not this country versus that country, and this couldn't happen without global cooperation," said Littenberg.

A world of scientists working together is a good thing, but that might not seem enough of a concrete benefit to some.  Something that is solid is America's leadership.

"I think this extends a tradition of American science being a leader in the world. This discovery happened on U.S. soil. It was a thousand people the world over, but a good number of them are at universities in the United States, and we're the true leaders in this field," said Littenberg.

Make no mistake, this was a project of "pure" science. Littenberg says on one hand, it was about satisfying our innate human curiosity. There is, however, something else the world, and the U.S. will receive for our effort tens of millions of dollars. "I think having bright minds being pushed to extend our knowledge and then to turn around and teach the next generation is a necessary investment that we make," said Littenberg.

No, there won't be gadgets coming out of the gravitational waves discovery anytime soon. Someday though, maybe generations down the road, the benefits will come. "Maybe not right away but pure research always tends to help advance society one way or another," said Littenberg.