During a long period scientific work followed two different directions: describing and explaining the nature of phenomena which had been observed and searching for new ways and means to improve the quality of life, possibly generating a little profit into the process. Early scientists were scientist-philosophers who could boast that they understood everything known in the realms of philosophy, science and technology during the period in which they lived.
As time has evolved human knowledge has increased to such an extent that nobody can now claim to know everything there is to know. Scientific disciplines are divided into a number of different specialised areas and fields of research that are extremely diverse and sharply focused. The 20th Century saw outstanding progress in our understanding of the universe and in the development of new technologies. The 21st Century will also undoubtedly lead to a host of ground-breaking discoveries. In parallel to the major leaps forward are the everyday advances in tiny steps. While our young scientists start with tiny steps, these steps could one day lead to major new discoveries and scientific advancements.
Who would not like to know the recipe?
What scientist has not dreamt of developing the procedure for an experiment which would radically alter the scientific landscape or call into question concepts which have been accepted as "true" for generations? If only we had a list of apparently ordinary substances which, on reacting together, would cause something new, something earth-shattering, to appear. Imagine the prospects if we had a technology bank from which you just had to make a careful choice of technologies which, when combined in the right order, would lead to something never seen before. Or what about a breath-taking computerised database which, when intelligently consulted and used, would cast a completely new light on a particular problem? Of course, the world is not yet like that.
An idea is often born of an intuition and it may take root when you are thinking about something completely different. The first idea leads to another and, gradually, the project takes shape. Highly productive episodes are followed by periods of profound gloom. Sometimes, a course of action that seemed to be promising turns out to lead nowhere. Sometimes, an idea that seemed to be unrealistic and without any rational foundation has led on to exciting and unexpected developments. All scientists are curious; they tend to be creative and have good intuition.
So what is the recipe? Here is one: choose a subject that interests and inspires you (the idea must of course be an original one). Add a little curiosity and know-how, a touch of perseverance and obstinacy, some advice from specialists, a good pinch of ingenuity, a large measure of a critical mind, enthusiasm and an enterprising spirit and, above all, the best part of your imagination.
If the recipe is a good one, it will contribute to scientific and technological progress, but will also give you intellectual pleasure and personal satisfaction. There is obviously the risk of failure and disappointment. This difficulty is quickly overcome if you take the trouble to ask what caused things to go wrong and then try to find ways of remedying the situation.
So what, then, is a winning project? Being selected by a jury - which is always subjective - is not the most important thing. The main thing comes at the end of the day: it is that feeling of a very legitimate personal sense of pride in having overcome untold difficulties to develop and see through an original idea and to have given the best of yourself to increase your own understanding and for the benefit of the community.