Comment | Published:

On the usefulness of useless knowledge

Nature Reviews Chemistry volume 1, Article number: 0001 (2017) | Download Citation


Basic research may or may not lead to new technologies. Our safest bet in this gamble is to give our brightest minds the funding and freedom to dream big.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    The usefulness of useless knowledge. Harpers 544–552 (1939).

  2. 2.

    Das Wesen des Lichts. Naturwissenschaften 7, 903–909 (in German) (1919).

  3. 3.

    Intellectual freedom in academic scientific research under threat. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 52, 5654–5655 (2013).

  4. 4.

    What's so special about science (and how much should we spend on it?). Science 342, 817–822 (2013).

  5. 5.

    in Incentives and Performance: Governance of Research Organizations (eds Welpe, I. M., Wollersheim, S., Ringelhan, S. & Osterloh, M.) 223–238 (Springer, 2015).

  6. 6.

    Science — the Endless Frontier. A Report to the President on a Program for Postwar Scientific Research (National Science Foundation, 1945).

Download references

Author information


  1. Institut für Chemie Technische, Universität Berlin, Berlin 10623, Germany.

    • Helmut Schwarz
  2. Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung, Bonn 53173, Germany.

    • Helmut Schwarz


  1. Search for Helmut Schwarz in:

Competing interests

The author declares no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Helmut Schwarz.

About this article

Publication history



Further reading

Newsletter Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing