Workers of the World, Untie!
(Yes, the misspelling is deliberate. Sheesh.)
I was thinking about a something someone recently opined about the theory of relativity, and I began to wonder- when will there be 'proletarian' discoveries in pure physics again, if ever?
Think about radio, TV, internet, power generation- all these things that are at the center of our culture. The bulk of enabling technology flows from Maxwell's equations. Beautiful and deep, they are simultaneously immanently practical, and have made a huge impact in the lives of most people on earth.
Chemistry is proletarian to the point of being ignored- it is so useful and productive that it falls into the background. I'm never at a loss to explain to someone who is skeptical of science all the good modern chemistry can do for them. The guy/gal on the street hates chemicals, but they love new fragrances, paints, dyes, drugs, fuels, fabrics, etc.
As much as it pains me to admit it, biology is clearly on the earliest edge of a exponential explosion of relevance to the welfare of humankind. Chemistry will be focal to this, no doubt. Some biophysics might be central, but I am pretty ignorant of where this is relevant to the current biotechnological program.
Solid state physics certainly changed the world, but that has been handed off to engineers and materials chemists for a long time. High Tc superconductors? Hmm.
What has fundamental physics done for me lately? MRI, maybe? Maxwell and Schrodinger plus engineering. I'm not saying that physics cannot, or will not, be the cornucopia of future technological blessings for us all. I'm just wondering whether anything at the forefront of physics is likely to do much anytime soon. I'd be happy for someone to rebuke me and point out all that is just around the corner, but I'm not seeing it. I ask as an unrepentant physicsphile. I don't really believe in nanotechnology yet, and most of what I see will be chemistry. I wonder...