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 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.
As time 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.
Even 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 t: 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.
What 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?
Of course, 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 that seemed
to be promising turns out to lead nowhere. Sometimes, an idea
that 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 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.