Some scientists are traditional sedate scholars, while certain others fulfill the Hollywood image of being quite mad. Most research scientists are somewhere in between these extremes, but often have lives filled with new experiments, several surprises, and much perspiration, as well as with some acclaim by other researchers, personal satisfaction, and at least a little bit of fun (see my article in the Basic Introductions category on “What is the Fun of Being a Scientist?”). Winners of the biggest science prizes often show major strengths at being imaginative, argumentative, and humorous during many years of work in their research laboratories.
Ordinary people typically know nothing at all about the life of any individual scientist. Children in school unfortunately study only dead scientists and almost never get to see and learn about living professional researchers as fellow people. Teenagers like to read about strong personalities in fantastic predicaments, but very few teens realize that some living scientists have exactly those adventures. Most modern adults worship sports stars and TV celebrities, and so are not able to perceive that after many years of effort, a hard-working research scientist who is one of their neighbors finally succeeds in establishing a new theory by the sheer strength of will and character.
In this series, I am recommending to you a few life stories about real scientists. I prefer to let the scientists tell their own stories. Their 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.
Most of these materials reveal the human aspects and personalities of individual scientists, and are not primarily intended to explain or instruct about science. By getting to know more about the life of a few real scientists, I hope that readers/viewers/listeners will conclude that all these special individuals are also their fellow human beings.
Part 1 Recommendations: NANOSCIENCE & NANOTECHNOLOGY
Prof. Sumio Iijima (1939 – present) is known globally for his co-founding of the new discipline, nanoscience, through his 1991 discovery of carbon nanotubes. Today, many hundreds of other research scientists and engineers around the world are working to further develop carbon nanomaterials for dramatic new devices and innovative uses in energy storage, clinical medicine, and industrial processes. This leading Japanese scientist was honored in 2008 as one of the inaugural Kavli Prize awardees in Nanoscience.
Prof. Iijima is somewhat unusual because he is working on research both in academia (Meijo University, at Nagoya) and in industry (NEC Corporation). I recommend everyone’s attention first to viewing a wonderful video of his masterful public presentation given at a Friday Evening Discourse (London) in 2007. Secondly, read the delightful autobiographical account describing his childhood and research career; this also presents his personal advice to youths beginning their career in science. A third article gives his own story about discovering carbon nanotubes. Much further information about his life and work are available on Prof. Iijima’s own website (http://nanocarb.meijo-u.ac.jp/jst/english/mainE.html ); a gallery of photographs also is available (http://nanocarb.meijo-u.ac.jp/jst/english/Gallery/galleryE.html ).
Iijima, S. & The Vega Science Trust, 1997. Nanotubes: The materials of the 21st century. Available on the internet at: http://vega.org.uk/video/programme/71 .
Iijima, S., 2014. About myself. NEC, Carbon nanotubes. Available on the internet at:
Iijima, S., 2014. The discovery of carbon nanotubes. Available on the internet at:
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