Research hobbyist

October 26, 2007

Dave Delphy, new chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, cites Michael Faraday in connection with the value of fundamental research ("Applying the great lesson of Faraday", October 12). It is worth looking at Faraday's case a little more deeply.

Faraday did not receive public funding. He was able to keep the Royal Institution going financially by his public lectures on science, the famous Friday evening discourses. These elevated him to pop-star status. In addition he earned money by conducting commercial research for clients. He worked on the hardness of steel for Sheffield steelmakers; the cutting edge of knives was critical to their dominance of the world knife trade. He worked on optical glass for the Navy; the achromatic doublet increased the resolving power of telescopes, which were important in both navigation and warfare. Faraday did his fundamental work in his spare time.

I expect we will see some changes in the way EPSRC works.

Richard Reeves, Bedford.

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