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Strange But Useful

Thomas Brock and Hudson Freeze were among the investigators honored at this year's Golden Goose Award ceremony. The award highlights basic — and sometimes odd-sounding — federally funded research that has had an effect on society.

The award name references both Aesop's fable of the goose that laid the golden egg as well as the Golden Fleece Award that former Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wisc.) would bestow on research he considered wasteful, LiveScience adds. The Golden Goose Award started last year by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and is sponsored by a number of science and university groups, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of American Universities

Funded by the National Science Foundation, Brock and Freeze studied microorganisms living in Yellowstone Park, and their discovery of a heat-resistant microbe has enabled countless PCR reactions and modern molecular biology.

Other awardees include John Eng, a physician whose studies of Gila monster venom led to a drug to prevent complications from diabetes, and David Gale, Lloyd Shapley, and Alvin Roth, whose work in theoretical mathematics on marriage stability has been implemented in the national program that matches kidney donors and patients and elsewhere. Shapley and Roth won the Nobel Prize for their work in 2012; Dale died in 2008.

"It's easy to mock researchers, but we couldn't live without their brilliant breakthroughs," Cooper said in a statement. "Today's awardees gave unexpected gifts to mankind. Fiscal discipline is important, but without science we'll never see the next discovery."