A young father of two lies in a hospital bed seriously ill. The physician admits he has no treatment. The pancreas is secreting substances that are digesting itself and destroying surrounding tissue. Some patients recover on their own; others simply expire. Only time will tell which fate awaits the young father.
Observers one step removed from the horror facing this young family might ask why is it that the physician has no treatment? If we really understood the cause of the young father's disease, shouldn't we be able to find some remedy to assist the body's own defenses and cause the pancreas to heal? The root problem is ignorance - not of just one physician, but of the medical profession as a whole.
The physician is waiting for others to discover the remedy. He is waiting because no predecessor mastered the natural laws which govern the pancreas. Discovering natural laws is what scientists do. Because almost every advance in the medical sciences has been made possible by a previous advance in the physical sciences, the pace of further progress in both physical science and medical science is a matter of life and death, pure and simple.
We see every day the results of scientific advances that have so improved people's lives. The next time you hear about a new life-saving device or therapy, ask yourself how many young fathers and mothers and children suffered or died because the discovery did not come sooner.
The story about the young father is true. I am withholding his name for privacy reasons. As it happened, fate was kind to him. He fortuitously escaped the horrible consequences of ignorance, and he is now back working at DOE.
More examples of the horrible consequences of ignorance abound. A practice that continues to this day is known as exploratory surgery. It is done in ignorance, when the physician lacks any other way to learn the nature of a patient's problem. It amounts to nothing more than cutting the patient open to see what's inside.
U.S. Army Maj. Elizabeth Franco, surgeon, performs a diagnostic peritoneal lavage to determine if the patient needs exploratory surgery. U.S. Army photo by Maj. Brad West. Source: "Defend America: U.S. Department of Defense news about the war on Terrorism," May 12, 2005.
Exploratory surgery is still practiced, but much less commonly than before. This is a very happy development. The decline in exploratory surgery is attributable to the decline in ignorance, pure and simple, thanks in large measure to imaging technology like CT (computer-aided tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans. CT and MRI scans came from advances in physical science. For creating the mathematical algorithm necessary for creating the images, DOE-supported physicist Alan Cormack won the Nobel Prize in medicine, not in physics, in 1979. http://www.osti.gov/accomplishments/cat.html 
Because neither CT nor MRI allows the physician to view all internal organs and processes within the body, exploratory surgery still remains with us. At the most fundamental level, what separates barbarism from medicine is little more than physics and chemistry. Physics and chemistry are what we do in DOE.
The 20th century was the Century of Physics, producing nuclear power, space travel, computers, and numerous other advances. That century has ended, and life sciences now are offering immense opportunities. As progress in the life sciences is dependent upon prior advances in the physical sciences, tomorrow's advances in the life sciences await further advances in the physical sciences.
Of course, the benefits of advances in the physical sciences are not limited to medical applications. They are evident in so much of modern technology, from cleaner power plants to the Internet. These and many other great benefits stemming from DOE research are recounted at http://www.scienceaccelerator.gov/accomplishments 
All scientists know that science progresses only if knowledge is shared. The OSTI Corollary holds that accelerating the sharing of knowledge accelerates the progress of science. We accelerate science by making research results available to everyone faster, cheaper, more complete, and easier than ever before. See, for example, http://www.scienceaccelerator.gov/ . Because accelerating science offers such promise for enormous benefits for humanity, the OSTI Corollary might well be called the Noble Corollary. This concept is behind everything we do, and we are delivering. Yet, we have only just begun. My colleagues and I are dedicated to further accelerating science.
Walt Warnick, Director