Scientists contest - Jury - What
constitutes a winning project ?
President of the Jury
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 in
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.
has gone on, the sum total of human knowledge has increased
to such an extent that nobody can now claim to know everything
there is to know. At the present time, scientific disciplines
are divided into a number of different specialised areas and
fields of research are extremely diverse and sharply focused.
The 20th Century saw outstanding progress in our understanding
of the universe around us, including what are considered to
be its more mundane aspects, and in the development of new
technologies. The 21st Century may also lead to a host of
ground-breaking discoveries, as a result of which certain
individuals may play a decisive part in shaping scientific
progress. The present time, however, is one of progress in
tiny steps forward, with thousands of scientists working together
rather like ants, not one in which any single genius will
come up with revolutionary new ideas.
if this means that scientists today have to exercise a little
more modesty, there is no reason for despondency because each
passing day reveals things hitherto unknown and opens up new
questions. In particular, ever since they have known about
the problems, scientists have spoken out and said that work
must also focus on finding ways of counteracting the adverse
effects of human activity and population growth. Today, we
are called upon, as a priority, to find ways of managing the
dramatic, uncontrollable consequences of what, only recently,
we proudly called technological advances: global warming (which
is probably due to human pollution), the ethical and economic
problems related to rapid population growth, public health
issues in the food industry, problems of jobs due to the use
of robots in industry... These are the new challenges we must
rise to : they are just as exciting as past challenges and
are vital for humanity. More than ever, it is therefore necessary
to stimulate and promote the resources of our imagination
and creative spirit.
is the secret of a successful project? 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 breathtaking computerised database which,
when intelligently consulted and used, would cast a completely
new light on a particular problem?
the world is not 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 which seemed to be promising turns out to lead nowhere.
Sometimes, an idea which seemed to be unrealistic or without
any rational foundation nevertheless leads on to exciting
and unexpected developments.
So what is the recipe ?
Here is one: choose a subject which 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.
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.
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.
12th European Union Contest for Young Scientists
September 2000, Amsterdam, The Netherlands