MadSci Network: Other

Re: How are scientists creative ?

Date: Thu Mar 25 08:00:21 1999
Posted By: Eric Maass, Operations Manager, semiconductors / communication products
Area of science: Other
ID: 920531381.Ot

Wow, Gemma - your question,"How are scientists creative?", is a tough one. I will try to answer it as best I can, and if I haven't answered what you really wanted to know, please rephrase the question and ask it so I or another Mad Scientist can respond.

Scientists, and engineers (who can be thought of as "applied scientists") are creative in one of several ways, and for one of several different purposes. I will list some purposes, and some ways below, then give a few examples:


* Creating something new - a new approach, or a new product, for example

* Solving a problem with something that exists

* Understanding something better - creating a new model of how or why something happens


* Dreaming or daydreaming

* Brainstorming

* Focused effort

* Serendipity

* Applying approaches from one field to another field

* Brainstorming: By himself or herself, a scientist might make a diagram of the problem, or several diagrams of the problem to see it from several perspectives. Then, he or she might spend some quiet time brainstorming - thinking of and writing down all the possible solutions that come to mind...even the ridiculous possible solutions. Alternatively, the scientist or engineer might get a team of people to brainstorm together, with a ground rule that no one criticizes any idea that comes out during the brainstorming stage.

I used this team approach to brainstorm a solution to the problem of how to make a useful inductor on silicon; as a result, we came up with a patent for an inductor on silicon that has the best quality factor (Q).

* Dreaming - The structure of benzene in chemistry was first understood by means of a dream. A scientist who had been focused on trying to determine the structure of benzene couldn't visualize how the number of carbon and hydrogen atoms could fit together...then, he dreamed of a snake biting it's own tail - and realized that the benzene was a ring of carbon atoms, rather than a chain of carbon atoms.

* Serendipity - The discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming was accidental. In 1928, he found that some mold had contaminated one of his culture plates on which he had been growing bacteria - and the bacteria had started dying. If Fleming had been less curious, and less persistent, or had stayed too focused on the original purpose of his research, he may have missed the incredibly important discovery of WHY the bacteria was dying, and would have not discovered the penicillin that came from the mold.

* Focused effort - While being too focused on the original research project could have worked against Fleming in the example above, some key creative results have been the result of focused efforts - often over a long period of time, often involving a lot of people. Thomas Edison, one of the most productive inventive minds in history, said "Invention is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." Many of his projects involved many scientists and engineers, working together for years, persistent despite obstacles or frustrating results.

* Applying approaches from one field to another field - Some of the major theories in population biology came from a physicist who became intrigued by population biology, and applied variations of some of his approaches in physics to creating models of how predators and prey interact. Psychology studies now routinely use the Student's t-test for analysing their experiments - but Student's t-test was developed for testing the quality of beer.

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