Monthly Archives: October 2014


Notable quotations by FRED KAVLI about scientific research.  Obtained from , and from http://www/ ,

Notable quotations by FRED KAVLI about scientific research.  Obtained from , and from http://www/ .

  The Kavli Prizes are bestowed every 2 years for the most outstanding research within 3 of the largest branches of modern science: astrophysicsnanoscience, and neuroscience [1].  These international Prizes are made possible by the late Fred Kavli, who was born in Norway and later moved to the USA, held a degree in physics, and was a very successful industrialist; he generously donated funds to establish this new award program.  Kavli Prizes were first awarded in 2008, and are regarded as having the same very high prestige as the Nobel Prizes in science [2].  Nevertheless, the Kavli Prizes have several distinctive differences from the Nobel Prizes, particularly for their focus on only 3 topical areas in modern science, their open nomination process, and their recent origin in the 21st century. I recently covered the announcement of the 2014 awardees of the Nobel Prizes in science (see “The 2014 Nobel Prizes in Science are Announced” ).  The honorees for the 2014 Kavli Prizes were announced in late May, and their awards were presented in September as part of the extensive Kavli Prize Week festivities in Oslo (Norway).  In this article I will first give a short description about Fred Kavli and the nature of the Kavli Prizes, and then will offer an overview of the 2014 Kavli Prize awardees and their seminal research discoveries.  Each segment is followed by sources for additional information that are available on the internet.    [1]  The Kavli Prize, 2014.  Kavli Foundation – Science prizes for the future.  Available on the internet at: .   [2]  Nobel Prizes, 2014.  Nobel Prize facts.  Available on the internet at: .   Fred Kavli and the Kavli Prizes Fred Kavli was an entrepreneur, a vigorous worker and leader in industry, an outspoken advocate for experimental research, a philanthropist, an innovator, and an amazing benefactor of science.  After he sold his very successful business, he established the Kavli Foundation.  This works to “support scientific research aimed at improving the quality of life for people around the world”.  It does this through establishing research institutes at universities in many different countries, endowing professorial chairs at universities, sponsoring science symposia and workshops, engaging the public in science via education, promoting scientists’ communications, and, rewarding excellence in science journalism.  As part of these programs, the Kavli Prizes were established by the Foundation in associatiion with The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, and The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.   The Kavli Prizes are intended to honor scientists “for making seminal advances in 3 research areas: astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience”.  Fred Kavli elected to emphasize research areas representing the largest subjects (astrophysics studies the entire universe), the smallest subjects (nanoscience studies structure and function at the level of atoms and molecules), and the most complex subjects (neuroscientists can study normal and pathological functioning of the human brain).  Fred Kavli was particularly enthusiastic about supporting basic scientific research because he correctly viewed that as the generator of subsequent developments providing practical benefits for humanity.   He also recognized that experimental science is not always predictable, and that practical consequences often arise only many years after a discovery in basic research.  Clearly, all of the programs sponsored by Fred Kavli are having and will continue to have a very beneficial impact on science in the modern world. The selection of Kavli Prize Laureates is made by international committees of distinguished scientists recommended by several national academies of science.  The awards are announced by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters as part of the opening events at the annual World Science Festival.  During the Kavli Prize Week in Oslo, each Laureate receives a gold medal, a special scroll, and a large financial award, from a member of the royal family of Norway. Very good information about Fred Kavli (1927 – 2013) is given on the internet by the Kavli Prize website at: .  A glimpse into Kavli’s life, personality, and hopes for science progress is offered by several good short videos on the internet: (1) “WSF (World Science Festival) Remembers Fred Kavli (1927-2013), Giant of Science Philanthropy” at:  (wonderful!), and, (2) “Basic Research’s Generous Benefactor” at:  (very highly recommended!).  The organization, purpose, and history of the Kavli Prizes and the Kavli Foundation are available at: ,  and at: 2014 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics The 2014 Kavli Prize iin Astrop hysics was awarded jointly to 3 professors working with theoretical physics: Alan H. Guth, Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA), Andrei D. Linde, Ph.D. (Stanford University, USA), and Alexei A. Starobinsky, Ph.D. (Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics, Russian Academy of Science, Russia).  These  awards are made for their independent development of the modern theory of ‘cosmic inflation’, which proposes that the there was a very brief yet gigantic expansion of our universe shortly after its initial formation; this dramatic new theory now has been supported by some data from space probes and caused large changes in current theoretical concepts for the evolution of the cosmos.    Further information about the 2014 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics and these Laureates is available on the internet at: . 2014 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience The 2014 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience was awarded to 3 university professors:  Thomas W. Ebbeson, Ph.D. (University of Strasbourg, France), Stefan W. Hell, Ph.D. (Max-Planck-Institute for Biophysical Chemistry}, and John B. Pendry, Ph.D. (Imperial College London, U.K.).  Each independently researched different aspects of basic and applied optics needed to advance the resolution level of light microscopy much beyond what had been believed to be possible; their research findings led to the development of nano-optics and the transformation of light microscopy into nanoscopy.  The new ability of light microscopy to now see objects at the nanoscale dimension greatly expands and improves its utility for nanoscience research (i.e., nanobiology, nanochemistry, nanomedicine, and nanophysics).  It is interesting to note that Prof Hell also will receive a 2014 Nobel Prize in recognition of his outstanding research.   Further information about the 2014 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience and these Laureates is available on the internet at: 2014 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience The 2014 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience was awarded jointly to 3 professors:  Brenda Milner, Ph.D. (Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Canada), John O’Keefe, Ph.D. (University College London, U.K.), and Marcus E. Raichle, Ph.D. (Washington University School of Medicine).  Their different research investigations revealed a cellular and networking basis for memory and cognition in the brain; their experimental findings resulted from the development and use of new technologies for brain research, and led to establishment of the modern field of ‘cognitive neuroscience’.  The resulting new knowledge about memory and cognition advances understanding of human diseases causing memory loss and dementia (e.g., Alzheimer ’s disease).  It is of special interest to note that Prof. O’Keefe also will receive a 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, in recognitionof his very significant brain research.  Further information about the 2014 Kavli Prize in Neiuroscience and these Laureates is available on the internet at: .  A discussion with all 3 of these 2014 Laureates, which will be readily understood and especially interesting for both non-scientists and professional scientists, is available on the internet at: .   Concluding Remarks It is indeed very striking that several honorees for the different 2014 Kavli Prizes also have been selected for the 2014 Nobel Prizes (see: ).  That convergence of judgment emphasizes that the choices of which scientists have made sufficiently important advances in research are made with consistency by the different selection committees for these 2 supreme science awards.  Since Fred Kavli elected to emphasize work in several of the hottest research areas in modern science, this convergence of awards can be expected to continue in the future.  There can be no doubt that all awardees selected for the 2014 awards of Kavli Prizes are very outstanding investigators who have made remarkable progress in scientific research.  Everyone in the world should appreciate and celebrate the hard work and research success of the 2014 Kavli Laureates. 


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Adjusted Photographic Portrait of ALFRED NOBEL in the late 1800's Taken by Gösta Florman.  Common Domain Image obtained from Wikimedia Commons at the Wikipedia website: Nobel_adjusted.jpg .
Adjusted Photographic Portrait of ALFRED NOBEL in the late 1800’s.  Recorded  by Gösta Florman. Common domain image obtained from Wikimedia Commons at the Wikipedia website ( Nobel_adjusted.jpg) .

The Nobel Institute has just announced the awardees of this year’s Nobel Prizes in science.  As always, the scientists selected are unquestionably outstanding researchers and contributors to the progress of science.  The Nobel Prize [1] and the Kavli Prize [2] are the very highest honor any scientist can earn.

In this article, I will first present a short introduction to the Nobel Prizes in science, and then I will very briefly summarize the research work of the new 2014 honorees.  For each topic I also will offer some good resources where more information can be found on the internet. 

[1]  Nobel Prizes, 2014.  Nobel Prize facts.  Available on the internet at: .

[2]  The Kavli Prize, 2014.  The Kavli Prize – Science prizes for the future.  Available on the internet at: .

The Nobel Prizes in Science

Alfred Nobel (1833 – 1896) is famed as the inventor of dynamite and other explosives, and as a very successful industrialist.  Surprisingly, this Swede had very limited formal schooling.  At his death, he held over 350 patents.  Nobel left much of his substantial fortune to establish the honorific prizes that bear his name; his will directed that the awards in science should be for “those who during the preceding year have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind”.  The first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901. 

At present, separate Prizes are devoted to all of the 3 major branches of science, and also to literature, economic sciences, and peace.  The selection of honorees (Nobel Laureates) is administered by The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences,  The Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute (Norway), and the Nobel Foundation.  The Nobel Prizes in science are presented by the royal ruler of Sweden during the large celebration of “Nobel Week” in December; each new Laureate gives a Nobel Lecture and receives a Nobel Medal, a Nobel Diploma, and a document stating their financial award.  As many Laureates have said, receiving a Nobel Prize is a spectacular once-in-a-lifetime experience; nevertheless, a few scientists actually have won a second Nobel Prize. 

The official history of Alfred Nobel is presented at: .  General information about the Nobel Prizes, Nobel Prize Week, Nobel Laureates, and the topics for recent awards are presented at: .  A listing of all the awardees for each Prize is given at: .  Many good materials for science education and modern videos about the Nobel Prize awardees are available on that site.   First, you are required to select one item from very extensive lists of all the yearly Nobel Prizes and Laureates , and then to select one year; lastly, indicate whether you want to see a Nobel Lecture, an  Interview with a specific Laureate (highly recommended!), or a Commentary. 

2014 Nobel Prize in Physics

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physcs is awarded jointly to 3 professors : Isamu Akasaki, Ph.D. (Meijo University and Nagoya University, Japan), Hiroshi Amano, Ph.D. (Nagoya University, Japan), and, Shuji Nakamura, Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Barbara, USA).  Their determined and detailed research investigations over several decades finally led to several successful ways to create emission of blue light from light-emitting diodes (LEDs).  That invention then led to the long-sought development of LEDs that emit white light.  There now is worldwide installation of commercial white LEDs as replacements for standard light bulbs, since these new LEDs are brighter, less costly, longer lasting, non-polluting, and  much more efficient.  These practical improvements for everyday life came about through the classical sequence of basic research, applied research, and engineering developments, and, will benefit all humans. 

Further information about this 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics is available on the internet at: , and at: .  

2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded jointly to 3 academic scientists: Eric Betzig, Ph.D. (Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, Virginia, USA), Stefan W. Hell, Ph.D. (Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, and  German Cancer Research Center, Hdeidelberg, Germany), and William E. Moerner, Ph.D. (Professorships in Chemistry and Applied Physics, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA).  Working independently, each contributed to enable the difficult technological breakthrough that permits light microscopy to become “nanoscopy” or “super-resolution light microscopy.  Much smaller details now can be seen than was previously possible with standard light microscopes.  This great advance in research instrumentation even allows detection of location and movements of individual protein molecules within living cells.

Further information about this 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is available on the internet at: , and at: . 

2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded jointly to 3 university scientists: John O’Keefe, Ph.D. (Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in Neural Circuits and Behaviour, University College London, U.K.), May-Britt Moser, Ph.D. (Centre for Neural Computation, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway), and Edward I. Moser, Ph.D. (Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway).  Their neuroscience research involves experimental studies of the brain, and seeks to define how place and navigation in the spatial environment are sensed, analyzed, and remembered.  Spatial memory is frequently affected in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.  Their investigations show that this sensing of spatial positioning occurs in certain cells within 2 brain locations; these cells talk to each other and together form a map of spatial locations that is recorded in the memory. 

Further information about this 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is available on the internet at:, and at: .

Concluding Remarks

The Nobel Prizes represent recognition that science, research, and scientists are producing new achievements that benefit all of us in our daily life.  Ordinary adults who are not scientists should be generally aware of the new Nobel Prize awards, and can point these out to any of their children showing interests in science.  For non-scientists, knowing the names of the Laureates is not important, but the nature and meaning of the research advances meriting these awards are significant (i.e., How are the results important to me and others?).  The Nobel Prizes are a recognition of preeminent progress in global science, and everyone is invited to join this celebration!  

Professional scientists should be particularly aware of the new Nobel Laureates in their branch of science.  Only a small handful of scientists ever win a Nobel Prize, and some who clearly deserve one are passed over.  All research scientists should join in celebrating the wonderful achievements of the 2014 Laureates, and also should celebrate their own less-recognized contributions to the progress of science! 




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Quotations by Prof. Nadrian (Ned) C. Seeman (from pages 20 and 23 of his Living History essay in ACA RefleXions, American Crystallographic Association, Summer 2014, Number 2, pages 19-23)
Quotations by Prof. Nadrian (Ned) C. Seeman (from pages 20 and 23 of his Living History essay in ACA RefleXions, American Crystallographic Association, Summer 2014, Number 2, pages 19-23)


In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists.  I prefer to let these scientists tell their own stories where possible.  Autobiographical accounts are interesting and entertaining for both non-scientists and other scientists.  My selections here mostly involve scientists I either know personally or at least know about.  If further materials like this are needed, they can be obtained readily on the internet or with input from librarians at public or university libraries, science teachers, and other scientists.

In the preceding segment of this series, the story of a very celebrated basic research scientist working on Protein Dynamics in Cell Biology was recommended (see “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 7”).  Part 8 presents the life story of a research scientist who dreamed up and established an amazingly novel new branch of chemical engineering based upon the well-known double-helix of DNA.


Prof. Nadrian (Ned) C. Seeman (1945 – present) originated several new fields of science and engineering: DNA Nanotechnology, DNA-Based Crystallography, and DNA-Based Computation.  His very creative investigations and innovative new concepts for “Structural DNA Technology” often were developed for practical applications (e.g., better production of highly ordered macromolecular crystals, nanocomputation, nano-electronics, nanomedicine, and nanorobotics); thus, he is both a basic and an applied researcher.  All of his dramatic innovations and unusual research topics are based on the structure and properties of DNA.  Numerous other research labs around the world now also are working with DNA-based nanostructures.

DNA is known to most as the double-stranded genetic material making up chromosomes.  The binding between each of the 2 associated strands takes place by specific pairing between their individual nucleotide bases; this binding is very specific and fairly strong.  In the laboratory, segments of synthetic single-stranded DNA can be  hybridized (reassociated) to form new double-stranded DNA; branch points and unpaired base sequences at the termini can be produced as desired, and are key points of technology for using DNA to produce new nanostructures.  Seeman developed and used these characteristic features from the early 1980’s to form self-assembled DNA polygons, and, 2-D and 3-D lattices; subsequently, he went on to invent nanomechanical devices (e.g., synthetic computers, robots, translators, and walkers), and other nanostructures (e.g., superstructures of DNA associated with other species, and nano-assembly lines).  In 2004-5, he was the founding president of a new professional science association, the International Society for Nanoscale Science, Computation and Engineering (see: ).

Seeman’s unconventional research involves unique combinations of biochemistry, biophysics, chemical engineering, computer science, crystallography, nanoscience and nanotechnology, structural biology, and, thermodynamics.  His creative ideas and amazing lab studies for making new nanostructures involve both theory and practice, and are also being used to advance scientific knowledge and understanding about the biophysics of intermediates in the recombination of chromosomal DNA during its replication.

Prof. Seeman chairs the Department of Chemistry at New York University.  He has received many honors for his pioneering research, including the Sidhu Award from the Pittsburg Diffraction Society (1974), a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health (1982), the Science and Technology Award from Popular Science Magazine (1993), the Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology (1995), and the Nichols Medal from the NY Section of the American Chemical Society (2008).  He is an elected member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (U.K.), and holds an Einstein Professorship from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.  In 2010, Prof Seeman and Prof. Donald Eigler (IBM Almaden Research Center, San Jose, California) were jointly honored as awardees of the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience [1]; also see the photo of these 2 awardees receiving their Kavli Prize from H. M. King Harald of Norway [2].  Seeman is without question an embodiment of what Dr.M wrote about in an earlier essay on the significance of curiosity, creativity, inventiveness, and individualism in science (see: ).

[1]  Kavli Foundation, 2010.  2010 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience.  Available on the internet at: .

[2]   Kavli Foundation, 2010.  The Kavli Prize in Nanoscience (2010).  Available on the internet at: .

Lots of interesting information about Prof. Seeman is displayed on his laboratory home page (see: ).  My recommendations (below) start with Seeman’s own explanation of his research in DNA Nanotechnology, as written for non-scientists (1A).  For working scientists, his review article provides a stimulating overview (1B).  The second recommendation (2) is an official summary of why Seeman and Eigler were selected for the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience in 2010.  The third item is Prof. Seeman’s personal description about his own career in science (3), and is filled with stories and anecdotes about both his difficulties and his triumphs; all readers will find this to be a very fascinating account.  Dr.M considers that essay to be extraordinary, since it is probably the most unusually forthright and outspoken piece ever authored by a modern scientist.

(1A)  Seeman, N. C., 2004.  Nanotechnology and the double helix (preview).  Scientific American  290:64-75.  Available on the internet at: .

(1B)  Seeman, N. C., 2010.  Nanomaterials based on DNA.  Annual Review of Biochemistry  79:65-87.  Available on the internet at: .

(2)  Kavli Foundation, 2010.  2010 Nanoscience Prize explanatory notes.  Available on the internet at: .

(3)  Seeman, N. C., 2014.  The crystallographic roots of DNA nanotechnology.  ACA RefleXions, American Crystallographic Association, Number 2, Summer 2014, pages 19-23.  Available on the internet at: .



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Quotation from Prof. David D. Sabatini (from 2005 Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology, volume 21, pages 1-33)
Quotation from Prof. David D. Sabatini (from 2005 Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology, volume 21, pages 1-33)


In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists.  I prefer to let these scientists tell their own stories where possible.  Autobiographical accounts are interesting and entertaining for both non-scientists and other scientists.  My selections here mostly involve scientists I either know personally or at least know about.  If further materials like this are needed, they can be obtained readily on the internet or with input from librarians at public or university libraries, science teachers, and other scientists.                                     

In the preceding segment of this series, the story of a very determined clinical research scientist working in Transplant Surgery and Immunology was recommended (see ).  Part 7 presents the activities of a very celebrated cell biologist whose research succeeded in untangling and explaining the extensive subcellular and molecular interactions occuring during the synthesis, trafficking, sorting, and secretion of proteins by our cells. 


David D. Sabatini has led modern research efforts to understand the very complex interactions taking place with the dynamics of proteins during their biosynthesis, co- and post-translational processing, sorting, and, secretion.  After receiving his M.D. degree in Argentina he came to the USA and earned a Ph.D. in 1966 at The Rockefeller University (New York).  His training and early research studies flourished at the very special research center established at Rockefeller by several founding fathers of cell biology (Profs. George Palade [1], Philip Siekevitz [2], and Keith R. Porter (see Part 2 in this series at: )).   Much of Sabatini’s reseach efforts have centered on ribosomes, the ribonucleoprotein assemblies that synthesize new proteins inside cells; his lab investigations led to breakthrough findings about the molecular mechanisms directing newly-synthesized proteins to their different intracellular or extracellular target destinations. 

Prof. Sabatini is especially renowned for co-discovering the signal hypothesis in collaboration with Prof. Günter Blobel (Rockefeller University).  This concept nicely explains the dramatic initial passage of all secreted proteins across the membrane (translocation) of endoplasmic reticulum via the presence of a short initial segment of aminoacids that is absent from non-secreted proteins retained for intracellular usage; this segment is termed ‘the signal for secretion’.  Subsequent research studies in other labs added to this hypothesis by discovering additional signals that directed different  newly synthsized proteins to other destinations inside cells;  the generalized signal hypothesis now explains much of the intracellular trafficking of proteins. 

By his nature, Prof. Sabatini always is intensely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about research questions and controversies in cell biology.  His numerous research publications always feature analysis of very detailed experimental results where data and interpretations are elegantly used to form groundbreaking conclusions.  Sabatini led the Department of Cell Biology at the New York University School of Medicine since 1972, and developed that into a leading academic center for modern teaching, scholarship, and research in cell and molecular biology.  He has served as the elected President of the Americal Society for Cell Biology (1978-79), and was awarded the E. B. Wilson Medal jointly with Prof. Blobel by that science society (1986).  In 2003, he received  France’s highest honor in science, the Grande Medaille d’Or (Grand Gold Medal).  Prof. Sabatini has merited membership in the USA National Academy of Sciences (1985), the American Philosophical Society, and the National Institute of Medicine (2000).   His celebrated research career exemplifies the important contributions that scientists from many other countries have made to USA science.   Prof. Sabatini recently retired, but his family name will continue to appear on many new research publications since several of his children have become very productive doctoral researchers in bioscience. 

[1]  Farquhar, M.G., 2012.  A man for all seasons: Reflections on the life and legacy of George Palade.  Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology28:1-28.  Available on the internet at:

[2]  Sabatini, D. D., 2010.  Philip Siekevitz: Bridging biochemistry and cell biology.  The Journal of Cell Biology, 189:3-5.  Available on the internet at: . 

All 3 of my recommendations (below) provide exciting glimpses into real scientists in action. The first recommendation (1) is a short video presentation by Prof. Sabatini at the conclusion of the special Sabatini Symposium held in 2011 to honor him upon the occasion of retirement.  My second recommendation (2) is a superb autobiography giving many interesting stories about his life and career as a research scientist.  Non-scientist visitors are urged to read (only) pages 5-11; these present a fascinating account of his exciting adventures as a young scientist researching first with Barrnett at Yale University, and then with Palade and Siekevitz at The Rockefeller.  Doctoral scientists should read all of this very personal account.  The third selection (3) is a brief obituary he wrote about his teacher and mentor, Prof. Siekevitz; the stories told here illustrate the importance of scientists as people, and show that some of the controversial items discussed on Dr.M’s website also are of concern to other scientists.    

(1)    Sabatini, D. D., 2011.  Speech at awards ceremony and closing.  Sabatini Symposium, Dec. 2, 2011, New York University School of Medicine.  Available on the internet at: . 

(2)     Sabatini, D.D., 2005.  In awe of subcellular complexity: 50 years of trespassing boundaries within the cell.  Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology21:1-33.  Available on the internet at:

 (3)     Sabatini, D. D., 2010.  Philip Siekevitz: Bridging biochemistry and cell biology.  The Journal of Cell Biology189:3-5.  Available on the internet at:



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Are There Too Many New Ph.D.'s in Science Being Produced?   (
Are There Too Many New Ph.D.’s in Science Being Produced?   (

In 2011-12, there were about 67,200 new doctoral degree’s awarded by universities in the USA [1].  Many of these are for studies in science, medicine, and engineering.  In addition, there are numerous new foreign Ph.D.’s in science who come here to work on research.  After finally getting an academic job, all new faculty scientists immediately seek to attract as many graduate students as possible to work in their new laboratory.  This ongoing scenario thus is a Malthusian progression in the number of new doctoral scientists.

This dynamic immediately runs headlong into the several difficult practical problems involving imbalances of supply and demand.  At the top of the list, there is not enough money available to support all the new research projects proposed by the ever-growing number of new research scientists in academia.  This same shortage of funding actually impacts on all faculty scientists, whether new or senior.  The end result is that this money problem gets worse every year (see earlier article on “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research”).  Another large practical problem, the limited number of open science faculty positions in universities, also is made worse by the enlarging number of new doctoral scientists.

I have never heard of any official or unofficial discussions about the wisdom of constantly generating more and more new doctoral scientists than can be supported adequately by the pool of available tax-based research grant funds.  In this essay, I will (1) describe the causes and consequences of increasing the number of new science Ph.D.’s, (2) explain how this is bad for science, and (3) then will lay out my view of what could be done to stop this ongoing problem, and discuss why nothing can be changed now.

Causes of this Malthusian problem 

One must look closely at the never discussed reasons why this peculiar ongoing generation of more and more new science Ph.D.’s remains in operation, in order to recognize the actual causes of this problematic situation.  The ultimate causes are the practices of universities.  The graduate schools at universities had been under financial stress for several decades, and so sought to maximize their inflow from tuition payments by enlarging their enrollments.  Since tuition can only be increased so much, the tactic utilized is to raise the number of enrollees paying tuition.  This fits in nicely with nature of modern universities as businesses where money is everything (see earlier essay on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?”).

Consequences of this Malthusian problem 

The direct consequences of the yearly production of more and more new science Ph.D.’s now are apparent, and indicate that these are having bad effects on science.  The expanding enrollment in university graduate schools means that their standards for admission will continue to get lowered; to increase enrollments they must accept and later graduate more students regardless of their deficient qualifications.  I myself have observed 2 graduate students utterly undeserving of a Ph.D. be awarded that hallmark of advanced education; one of them even had a crying spell in the midst of the oral presentation for her thesis defense.  Modern university graduate schools feel they must do everything and anything to further increase their enrollment and awarding of degrees in order to help deal with the current financial realities.  Pressures to further “modernize” standards for the doctoral degree will increase as the graduate student population continues to be enlarged.  In addition, more teaching responsibilities will be shifted onto graduate students.  The science faculty usually are reluctant to work in the very large introductory courses, and are happy to be able to reduce their teaching load.  The consequences of this problem for university education are obvious.

As the number of unfunded or partially funded academic scientists grows larger every year, federal research granting agencies will need to obtain increased appropriations from the Congress.  Generally, this means increased taxation.  These agencies additionally will need to increase the size of their support programs for graduate education in science, thereby making the problem with finding support for research activities even worse.  Both these needs add to the current negative impact of this Malthusian problem on science.

Are graduate students or scientists to blame for this ongoing problem? 

We must note that the graduate students working to earn a Ph.D. in science are innocently entering a career path that is their choice.  They mostly are unaware of being used as cash cows in a business, and so are blameless for the resultant problems.  Faculty scientists become trapped within the university system for getting promoted and tenured.  Foreign students and scientists will continue to move here despite whatever difficulties they encounter since the situations hindering and restricting the conduct of scientific research in their own countries are much greater than exist here.  They cannot be blamed for making this choice.  The important contributions of foreign professional researchers to the science enterprise in the USA are very widely recognized to be substantial.  Blame for the Malthusian problem lies mainly with the universities.

What will result for science if the number of new science Ph.D.’s is decreased? 

Directly, a reduced number of new Ph.D.’s in science will significantly decrease the number of applicants for new research grants.  That result is equivalent to providing more tax-based dollars to support research investigations, and will be obtained miraculously without any increase in tax rates.

The ultimate results for science of stopping the problematic Malthusian progression will be dramatic, and will include several very good secondary effects.  (1) The quality of the new incoming graduate students will be raised, since there will result a more rigorous selection of the capabilities and aptitude of applicants for admission into graduate training programs.  (2) In turn, the better graduate students should lead to a general increase in the quality of scientists and of science.  (3) The enlarged pool of funds available for research support will enable more good proposals and more scientists to be fully funded than is the case at present.  These several positive effects will combine to produce an important derivative benefit: a general increase in the quality of scientific research.

How could this Malthusian cycle be stopped?

In theory, a single step could solve this problem!    A reduction in enrollments of new graduate student candidates into Ph.D. programs will stop this Malthusian progression, since that will decrease the output of new science Ph.D.’s!

As one example of how this theoretical solution can be accomplished at graduate schools, each science training program currently accepting 20 new students every year will have a 10% reduction, so that only 18 new students will be accepted for the next (second) year.  In the following (third) year, another 10% decrease will occur, so only 16 new students will be enrolled.  These annual decreases will continue for at least 5 years, until the number of new students enrolling reaches a level of 50-60% of the original figure; this cutback will produce a corresponding decrease in the number of new doctoral degrees awarded.  Use of incremental progressive decreases, rather than trying to do everything all at once, will prevent large disruptive effects and will allow sufficient time for each graduate school to make the needed adjustments to the new system. The graduate students already enrolled will simply continue their course of advanced education just as at present.

This change in size of enrollments in each program must be made for the total number of graduate students, since otherwise the present widespread practice will continue with accepting foreign applicants to officially or unofficially fill the absent places scheduled for occupancy by USA students.  Thus, the 10% annual decreases in enrollment must apply to the total number of all students enrolled, and not just to those from the USA.

Can this proposed cure for the Malthusian cycle actually be installed? 

The answer to this question seems to me to be “Never!”.  Universities as businesses always are happy to obtain more profits, and so will never agree to decrease their number of new Ph.D.’s being  graduated.  In principle, the federal granting agencies could mandate such decreases based upon their provision of research grants and education grants to many universities.  From what I have seen, these agencies like their growing budgets and increasing influence, and so are very unlikely to ever change their present operations.  Thus, I am forced to view the problem of too many new science Ph.D.’s as being unsolvable.

Concluding remarks

The answer to the question proposed in the title clearly is “No!”.  Dr. M considers it to be both sheer insanity and very wasteful to ordain more new doctoral research scientists than can be supported adequately during their subsequent careers in academia.  The number of new Ph.D.’s in science .should be balanced with the amount of financial support for research.  It now seems to be badly imbalanced.  The current production of too many new Ph.D.’s is bad for graduate students, bad for science, and bad for research.  It is time to put an end to this idiocy!  Unfortunately, there appears to be no way at present to prevent this problem from continuing and becoming even worse.

Dr.M welcomes questions about this essay and other opinions about this controversial question, via the Comments!

[1]  Council on Graduate Schools, 2013.  U. S. graduate schools report slight growth in new students for Fall 2012.  Available on the internet at: .



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