Sir Venki Ramakrishnan in BBC News:
If we could miraculously transport even the smartest people from around 1900 to today's world, they would be simply astonished at how we now understand things that had puzzled humans for centuries. Just over a hundred years ago, people had no idea how we inherit and pass on traits or how a single cell could grow into an organism. They didn't know that atoms themselves had structure – the word itself means indivisible. They didn't know that matter has very strange properties that defy common sense. Or why there is gravity. And they had no idea how things began, whether it was life on earth or the universe itself. These days because of fundamental discoveries we can answer or at least begin to answer those mysteries. That has transformed the way we see the world and often our everyday lives. Much of what we take for granted today is a result of an interplay of fundamental science and technology, with each driving the other forward.
Almost every modern invention has one or often many fundamental discoveries that make it possible. Sometimes, these fundamental discoveries were hundreds of years old. Neither jet engines nor rockets would be possible without a knowledge of Newton's laws of motion. There are big moments in science, like the discovery of the structure of DNA that shift our perspectives. But even that discovery was a milestone that built on work by Darwin and Mendel and presaged today's biotechnology where the entire DNA of a human being – the human genome – has been sequenced.