A common question that researchers get from students and the general public is "what is your research good for?" To answer this question, it is best to establish the difference between basic (fundamental) and applied research.
Basic research is curiosity driven. It is motivated by a desire to expand knowledge and involves the acquisition of knowledge for knowledge's sake. It is intended to answer why, what or how questions and increase understanding of fundamental principles. Basic research does not have immediate commercial objectives and although it certainly could, it may not necessarily result in an invention or a solution to a practical problem.
Applied research is designed to answer specific questions aimed at solving practical problems. New knowledge acquired from applied research has specific commercial objectives in the form of products, procedures or services.
Fundamental research answers the initial question of how things work. This fundamental knowledge is then used by applied scientists and engineers, for example, to make improvements on existing products, technologies and processes. Likewise, basic researchers take advantage of improved technologies to answer new fundamental questions. It is an important cycle for advancement.