MadSci Network: Science History

Re: What is the link between science and technology

Date: Thu Jun 22 12:13:18 2000
Posted By: Dan Berger, Faculty Chemistry/Science, Bluffton College
Area of science: Science History
ID: 955062017.Sh

For the official definitions, go to a dictionary. The following are my informed impressions, so to speak.

There is no formal link between science and technology. Notice the root of technology: "technique." Science is the investigation of nature; technology is how we get things done. They need not coexist.

For example, the ancient Greeks had a science well in advance of their technology because their aristocratic society kept thinkers and artisans in separate--and mutually exclusive--spheres. On the other hand, the ancient Egyptians had relatively advanced technology but no science to speak of; their radically conservative society would not admit of new knowledge, but as an eminently practical people they embraced better techniques when they found them.

This is not to say that science and technology cannot feed each other. Technology informed by science can invent new techniques faster because it is no longer forced to advance by accident; science informed by technology can apply new techniques to the exploration of nature as soon as they are invented.

Several areas of experimental science are entirely technology-driven: not only in particle physics and astronomy but also in oceanography and geophysics, new knowledge is strongly dependent on the invention of new ways to interrogate the world. New technologies in these fields often means that theorists have to go back to their desks and work harder.

Much of modern technology is science-driven: fundamental scientific breakthroughs often suggest new techniques for getting things done. Examples include lasers, magnetic resonance, and genetic engineering: all are outgrowths of curiosity-driven scientific research.

To wrap up, science and technology work best when they feed each other. Nevertheless, there is no necessity for them to be linked, and there are examples in history of the independence of both.

Dan Berger
Bluffton College

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