Basic Research

»Insight must precede application.« Max Planck

The Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science is one of Germany’s leading institutions when it comes to basic research. More than 80 Max Planck Institutes perform basic research in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities – in the service of the general public.

Our understanding of phenomena and the world around us is based on basic research, which is a theoretical or experimental quest for new knowledge and the exploration of the unknown. It is driven by curiosity and the desire to stimulate new ways of thinking. Therefore, basic research is performed without the limitation of a particular end goal, a specific application, or a solution to a problem.

Since basic or fundamental research is exploratory in nature, it may not always have an immediate payoff. This often leads to it being misunderstood as an unnecessary luxury that can be replaced by applied research. However, the synergy of basic and applied research is essential to our understanding of science and its complexities. And that is why most research institutes involves both aspects: generating new knowledge and leading it towards novel applications.

In basic research, the unexpected is expected. Unanticipated scientific breakthroughs can sometimes be more valuable than the outcomes of agenda-driven research. Basic research lays the foundation for advancements in knowledge that leads to practical applications. Without such new knowledge, innovation is hardly possible. The former president of the Max Planck Society, Prof. Peter Gruss, described basic research as “the first link in the value chain” which is the “indispensable prerequisite for innovation in research and industry.”