Recently, the Noble prize laureates for 2012 were presented. But what is it that turns these researchers into Nobel prize winners? What are the key factors that makes the difference between a winner and the average researcher?
My interest for thistopic, stems from my concern that many university departments are not very good at providing the creative environment that I believe is required to house a coming Nobel prize winner. Constant stress, strong hierarchy, too heavy workload and a culture of criticism toward new ideas and suggestions rather than an open mind, are factors actively inhibiting creativity. But providing a creative environment is important for any department and any research group that strives, maybe not for a Nobel prize, but to perform at the top international level and conduct novel research that might for example lead to a paradigm shift in their field. Innovative, novel research is key for Oikos as well, and it certainly requires a high dose of creativity.
Therefore, I was really curious when I found an article by Serge Haroche, co-winner of this years’ Noble prize in physics, “The secrets of my prizewinning research“, where he tries to explain what made him a Nobel Prize winner. He gives a lot of credit to the “unique intellectual and material environment of the Kastler Brossel Laboratory at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris”. At this lab, he got the opportunity “to gather a permanent research group of exceptional quality, transmitting expertise and knowledge accumulated over time to successive generations of bright students.”
Other important factors he mentions are reliable financial support and European mobility programmes, “bringing expertise and scientific culture to complement our own” by opening up for visiting students and researchers. Specifically important, he argues, was “the freedom to choose our path without having to justify it with the promise of possible applications”.
Haroche also expresses an anxiety over the scarcity of resources and “the requirement to find scientific solutions to practical problems of health, energy and the environment”, that meet young scientists today. “I can only hope that they will be granted similar opportunities to those that we had: being free to choose research goals and to manage his own efforts over the long term, and able to afford the pursuit of hazardous paths before seeing the light.”
What about you, do you work in an environment stimulating Noble prize research or at least innovative, novel research that will fit in Oikos?