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 fundamental theoretical or experimental quest for new knowledge and the exploration of the unknown. It is driven by curiosity and the desire to expand our knowledge and stimulates new ways of thinking. Hence, basic research is performed without thinking about a practical end goal, a specific application or a solution to a problem.

Since basic research doesn’t work towards a practical application and doesn’t have an immediate payoff it is often misunderstood and sometimes seen as an unnecessary luxury that can be replaced by applied research. However, the difference between basic research and applied research is not so clear. Most scientific research involves both aspects: generating new knowledge and leading it toward 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 the new knowledge founded on basic research, 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.”