Top scientists applaud harnessing curiosity

Top scien­tists applaud har-nessing curiosity

The Vital Role of Curiosity for Nobel Laureates!

In September 2016, the third Nobel Prize Laureate Medical Summit and Sino-American Fellow Forum took place in Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan in south western China. The event, which was co-hosted by the Association of Chinese Medicine, the International Society of Scientific Communication for Nobel Laureates, and a number of other prominent Chinese and international science leaders, involved six Nobel Prize Laureates and over 20 internationally acclaimed scientists and researchers. The main focus of the summit was on precision medicine, the bio-pharmaceutical industry, and the importance of scientific exploration, including the role of serendipity in science, and how this can lead to new innovations and ideas. A key highlight of the annual event was an in-depth discussion between five Nobel Laureates, based on the importance of curiosity and imagination in the context of scientific research. One of the legacies of the 2016 summit is that all scientists – including Nobel Laureates – rely on their fervent curiosity and creativity in order to push science forward and pioneer in their respective disciplines – a lesson we can all learn from.

Investing in Curiosity and Imagination

The emphasis of the 2016 Nobel Laureate Summit was on developing medicines and medical technology in order to battle to cure diseases. Disciplines that were featured included molecular and cellular biology, epidemiology, immunology, endocrinology, pharmacology, oncology and targeted molecular therapy. For instance, Zhan Qimin, the director of the Chinese State Key Laboratory of Molecular Oncology, highlighted the major advancements that had been made in precision treatment methods for targeting cancerous growths in the body. Even so, the summit was not exclusive to experts in the biomedical sciences. Indeed, one of the hopes from the organizers was that all people involved in the event – and especially the younger generation – would leave inspired, and to ask more questions and use their creativity to become the eminent scientists of the future. To conduct scientific research, it is necessary to ask good questions about things that are not fully understood, leading to new methods and techniques that result in pioneering insight and discovery. And even if experiments fail or produce unexpected results, there is an opportunity for further curiosity: unexpected outcomes are sometimes Mother Nature’s way of hinting that a new discovery is waiting to be made. 

A common misconception is that major scientific discoveries and groundbreaking innovations are due to innate genius-like qualities. Undoubtedly, scientists are intelligent and educated people. However, as well knowledge, understanding and skills – combined with an element of chance – a vital attribute that makes all scientists great is their curiosity in the world around them, and devising new approaches that can answer their questions and hypotheses. An inquisitive nature is vital for all the sciences – and an important life skill in general – which drives forward scientific discoveries, theories and technology.

Hope for Us All

The Nobel Prizes, awarded each year in Sweden and Norway, are a global celebration of the greatest thinkers and revolutionary innovators that have helped to advance the human race. When Nobel Laureates share how they became successful – whether in physics, chemistry, medicine, economics, literature or peace – it is evident that their curiosity, persistence and passion are all key drivers. 

One of the Nobel Laureates that attended the 2016 Chinese summit, and who took part in the public debates, was Sheldon Lee Glashow. In the 1960s and ‘70s, Glashow devised the unified electroweakinteraction theory, a discovery that ultimately led to the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979, along with fellow scientists Steven Weinberg and Abdus Salam. During the discussions at the Chinese summit, Glashow recalled it was his zealous curiosity that was crucial for enabling his research to take place. In addition, the American physicist said it was his curiosity that continued to both motivate and challenge him within the realm of theoretical physics, even after receiving the Nobel Prize. Likewise, the Israeli Nobel Laureate, Aaron Ciechanover, who received the Prize in Chemistry for understanding the ways in which cells degrade and recycle proteins, said “Without curiosity and imagination, a lot of wonderful discoveries would never happen”. Ciechanover continued by stating his curiosity originated from his former studies, and that he hopes future teachers and educators will continue to inspire creativity and imagination in their students.

Although we won’t all become ground-breaking scientists and Nobel Laureates, it is still comforting to know that by embracing a curious mind it is possible forgreatness to happen – and a curious mind is a quality that is innate within all of us.

This piqued my curiosity!