This spring, President Obama announced what could be this generation’s defining national science effort — an ambitious mission to map the human brain. In its size and scope, the project could claim a place in human culture on par with previous landmarks, like the moon landings and the Human Genome Project, experts say.
Big, national science efforts do more than just direct the science-funding spigot; they can also become a part of the culture. These kinds of national undertakings seep into the arts, pop culture — and the popular consciousness, said Cyrus Mody, a professor of science, technology and engineering at Rice University. “People start to think in the terms that define these projects.”
The brain-mapping initiative (officially BRAIN, for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Technlogies) headlines a series of White House “Grand Challenges,” defined as “ambitious goals on a national or global scale that capture the imagination.” The point, then, is not simply to tackle big questions, but also to shape the culture.