And the Three Billion Dollar Grant Goes to…

Chad Orzel offers the following dorky poll:

If $3 billion were yours to spend on scientific research, how would you spend the money? … For the sake of variety, let’s restrict it to your own particular subfield, so, for example, how would I spend three billion dollars on physics?

If I had three billion dollars to throw at a single area of physics, I would obviously throw it at geophysics – but that kind of smart-alecky answer isn’t going to cut it in the hypothetical world. No, the unspoken terms of the question demand that I spend $3,000,000,000 on a single project in geology. Moreover, the unstated corollary is that all other funding will dry up, with the exception of money to purchase the 3 books and 6 albums that each scientist can bring with them to their desert island field camp.

Chad picked high-temperature superconductivity, and DrugMonkey picked Alzheimer’s research. I pick…

I pick carbon sequestration. Will $3G be enough to develop methods to indefinitely extend our freewheelin’, fossil-fuel-burnin’ ways without climatic havoc? I don’t know, but I suspect that the attempt would be a good way to sneak lots of basic science into a single project of obvious social benefit. Look at the places people have proposed for hiding carbon:

  • Deep in the ocean – and WTF do we know about long-term deep ocean circulation, anyway?
  • “Deep” in the crust, in a variety of geologic formations (though this is “deep” in the sense that it is expensive to drill a hole, not in the sense that it makes it through a very large fraction of the crust), all of which will require careful, detailed characterization
  • Mine tailings, also known as “let’s learn more about the reaction kinetics of mafic minerals”

So what would you pick?


  1. Ron Schott wrote:

    A SHRIMP on every desk! And a rock hammer in every kid’s hand!

  2. Andrew wrote:

    I think I’d revive Digital Earth, the effort to compile the ultimate georeferenced interactive database. Something many of us could work with and everyone could play with.

  3. Ellery wrote:

    I am going to avoid the selfish answer (“Geoarchaeology!”) and instead suggest spending the money on water resources around the world: figuring out low-impact solutions for irrigation in arid regions, how to avoid the seemingly inevitable battles going to be fought over access to fresh water, how to feed everyone but prevent what happened to the Aral Sea from happening elsewhere (like the Great Lakes), how to live sustainably in arid regions and not end up with entire cities run dry, etc. Of course, geoarchaeology can inform us about some of the strategies previous societies have used to deal with these issues (and where they failed), but there’d be plenty of money to spread around to solve these problems.

  4. Lab Lemming wrote:

    Isn’t this basically equivalent to a 3 billion dollar gift to the coal and petroleum industries?

    Seems to me that they should be required to solve their own problems, pass the cost onto the consumer, and thus make alternative low-carbon energy sources like renewables and nuclear comparatively more economical.

  5. Maria Brumm wrote:

    Price of developing a safe and effective method of carbon sequestration from scratch: $3 billion

    Price of buying off enough politicians to ensure that your costs are always externalized: Much, much cheaper than that.

    I woke up on the cynical side of the bed this morning.

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