(WHTM) — Last week, the Golden Goose Awards announced their three winners for 2022. The awards honor federally funded scientific research on seemingly obscure and not particularly useful topics which leads to major breakthroughs that can significantly impact society.
This year’s winners are:
The Foldscope: Concerned about access to scientific equipment in some parts of the world, the researchers developed a functioning microscope made out of paper with a single lens that can resolve bacteria, and it costs less than $2 to make. Millions have been distributed worldwide and are used for everything from discovering new microbes to diagnosing diseases to teaching children around the world about science.
AWARDEES: Manu Prakash and Jim Cybulski
(FEDERAL FUNDING AGENCIES: National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health)
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Pain relief from cone snail venom: While researching the properties of snail cone venom, the researchers discovered that one of the amino acids involved can act as a potent, non-narcotic, non-addicting pain reliever. Ziconotide, commercially known as Prialt, had changed the lives of people with painful chronic conditions. They also discovered that some parts of cone shell toxins can be used for neurological research.
AWARDEES: Craig T. Clark, Lourdes J. Cruz, J. Michael McIntosh, and Baldomero Marquez Olivera
FEDERAL FUNDING AGENCIES: Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health
Lab mistake led to better eye surgery: About 30 years ago, Detao Du, a graduate assistant at the University of Michigan, accidentally caught a flash of laser light while aligning the device. While there was no visible eye damage, he went to a doctor to be checked out. The exam revealed very precise circular laser burns on his retina. This discovery led to the development of bladeless LASIK surgery, reshaping the cornea using a laser instead of a scalpel.
AWARDEES: Tibor Juhasz, Ron Kurtz, Detao Du, Gérard Mourou, and Donna Strickland
FEDERAL FUNDING AGENCIES: Department of Energy, National Science Foundation
The Golden Goose Award came into being as a reaction to another award — the Golden Fleece Award. Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wisconsin) created the award and issued one per month from 1975 until 1988. The awards targeted wasteful government spending. There was no lack of targets, then as now, and even though Proxmire died in 2005, other politicians and groups still pass out Golden Fleece awards.
The problem comes when G.F.A.s target basic research. When you do basic research, you never really know what’s going to happen. As stated on the Golden Goose Award website, “Science that sounded odd or obscure was easily singled out, but the awards reflected fundamental misunderstanding of how science works, and how such research can turn out to be extremely important regardless of whether it makes sense to non-scientists.”
(In fact, one Golden Fleece Award triggered legal action. In 1976, behavioral scientist Ronald Hutchinson sued Proxmire for $8 million in damages. Proxmire claimed he was protected by the Speech or Debate Clause of the United States Constitution, but the Supreme Court ruled defamatory statements made outside of formal congressional proceedings weren’t covered. The case was settled out of court.)
In response to what he saw as the negative effects of the Golden Fleece Awards, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tennesee) proposed the Golden Goose Award. The idea got support from both sides of the aisle, numerous scientific organizations signed on, and in 2012, the first Golden Goose Awards were presented.
Since then, the Golden Goose Awards have celebrated those unpredictable moments when science meets serendipity, and a small observation, an accident, or an idea approached from a new direction (with some federal funding) can lead to new and amazing breakthroughs.