Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Nobel prize in physics

I have been more busy than ever in the last month, so I have not found the time to write a post. However, the Nobel prize in physics that was just announced a couple days ago got me thinking about science and discovery.

The most interesting discoveries often come about by accident. A decade ago, the recent Nobel Laureates were measuring the expansion of the universe by determining the brightness of certain types of supernova, and found that they were dimmer than expected. The only explanation was that they were further away than expect by cosmic expansion. By carefully analyzing a few dozen such supernova, they came to the conclusion that the expansion of the universe is accelerating rather than slowing down.

The theoretical implications are vast, leading to the need for adding a cosmological constant to Einstein's equations. The best explanation is that some unknown form of dark energy is all around us, pushing space-time apart.

Though I am sure these researchers are very smart, great intellect was not essential. Rather, they were lucky enough to have discovered something unexpected while doing some very mundane measurements. While many scientists may dream of getting a Nobel Prize, we all make new discoveries every day that please the intellect. While the new insights that we gain as a result may not be earth shattering, if we work long and hard, perhaps someday we will stumble onto something extraordinary.

But even if our names remain obscure, we can take pleasure in all that we learn, and in how our research in aggregate contribute to the body of science.

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