ARCHIVED - NRC Scientists Discuss their Work (Part 3)

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November 05, 2005— Ottawa, Ontario

It's been said that scientific discoveries don't begin with the fabled "Eureka!" but rather with... "Now, that's funny... " [1]

About this article

We hope you enjoy reading this final installment of the series.

Each article presented the remarkable responses we received, a number of which are cited here. The answers are often candid and don't shy away from making some broad statements.

  • Part 1 (September 2005)
  • Part 2 (October 2005)
  • Part 3 (November 2005)

To test this statement and to shed more light on the nature of science and scientific discoveries, NRC Highlights recently e-mailed a series of questions to NRC researchers whose work we have profiled over the past three years as part of the monthly Highlights.

Perhaps being overly pessimistic, in the e-mail, we raised the possibility that for many people science is like something like a black box, the kind that investigators examine after a plane crash. Non-experts know that there is important information contained in the box, but perhaps they are unsure of how it got there and how to interpret it.

Using this metaphor, we asked NRC scientists to share their thoughts about what happens around that famous "Now that's funny... " moment and what this means for discovery. In a series of highly non-scientific open-ended questions we raised issues such as: how science evolves; how new scientific fields are created; how scientists deal with these shifting changes, and the role of the scientific method vs. just plain intuition.

Looking to the horizon.

Looking Ahead – Think Big or Go Home

In baseball, there's an expression used to describe a batter that really, really wants to hit the ball for a home run; they call it "swinging for the fence."

In the final section of our survey we asked researchers to describe some of their hopes for their research. Selected responses are contained below.

"For biology I would love to know how to get structural information from a single protein molecule. Knowing how to do this would revolutionize biology."

"To commercialize a vaccine against group B meningitis. This is the missing scientific link required to eradicate infant bacterial meningitis."

"I dream of using our extremely accurate experiments to see if we can look into some of the fundamental relations that make the universe work. Are there any deviations of things that we believe to be fundamental constants with time? Can we further test the accuracy of Einstein's General theory of Relativity? One very important new development is that we believe that the universe is accelerating in its expansion. Can we measure this by other means instead of astronomical observation? What does this imply about our understanding of the creation and evolution of the universe? If I would have a chance to be able to scratch the surface into these pressing questions, I would be very happy indeed."

"I would have a hard time limiting myself to one. It would be revolutionary and life changing in every respect... if you dream you may as well dream big."

By now, you probably have some questions and thoughts as well. NRC Highlights tries to interest "sci curious" readers and we would like to know what you thought of this second installment. Was it interesting? Did it help you better understand some of the underlying issues around scientific investigation? What are your views? Let us know what you think by filling out the feedback form below!

 


[1]"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, "hmmm... that's funny... " Issac Asimov


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