Eureka! Stories of Scientific Discovery

Eureka! Stories of Scientific Discovery

Eureka! Stories of Scientific Discovery

Eureka! Stories of Scientific Discovery

Synopsis

The common language of genius: Eureka! While the roads that lead to breakthrough scientific discovery can be as varied and complex as the human mind, the moment of insight for all scientists is remarkably similar. The word "eureka!", attributed to the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes, has come to express that universal moment of joy, wonder-and even shock-at discovering something entirely new. In this collection of twelve scientific stories, Leslie Alan Horvitz describes the drama of sudden insight as experienced by a dozen distinct personalities, detailing discoveries both well known and obscure. From Darwin, Einstein, and the team of Watson and Crick to such lesser known luminaries as fractal creator Mandelbrot and periodic table mastermind Dmitri Medellev, Eureka! perfectly illustrates Louis Pasteur's quip that chance favors the prepared mind. The book also describes how amateur scientist Joseph Priestley stumbled onto the existence of oxygen in the eighteenth century and how television pioneer Philo Farnsworth developed his idea for a TV screen while plowing his family's Idaho farm.

Excerpt

Scientific progress comes in fits and starts—years of toil in a laboratory may prove fruitless but a contemplative walk in the countryside can yield an astonishing breakthrough. That's what the nineteenth-century French mathematician Henri Poincaré found out when previous efforts to solve a particularly thorny mathematical problem had come to naught. “One morning, walking on the bluff, ” he wrote, “the idea came to me, with… brevity, suddenness and immediate certainty…. Most striking at first is this appearance of sudden illumination, a manifest sign of long, unconscious prior work. the role of unconscious work in mathematical invention appears to me incontestable.”

As mysterious and unpredictable as such bursts of creative insight are, their occurrence is frequent enough that the phenomenon has been well chronicled. Another French mathematician, Jacques Hadamard described the experience: “On being very abruptly awakened by an external noise, a solution long searched for appeared to me at once without the slightest instant of reflection on my part…and in a quite different direction from any of those which I had previously tried to follow.” the German mathematician, Carl Friedrich Gauss, offers a similarly arresting . . .

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