Dr. Leon M. Lederman
Charles Townes did the essential physics that made the laser possible. John Bardeen and some colleagues applied the quantum theory to the properties of electrons in semi-conductors and came up with the transistor. James Watson, along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, reasoned out the structure of the DNA molecule, the key to genetics. Individual scientists, working alone or in teams, have made discoveries that have changed the way humans live on this planet. Not in the seventeenth century, with Galileo and Newton, or in the nineteenth century, with Dalton and Faraday, or even in the early twentieth century, with Einstein, Rutherford, Bohr, and Heisenberg, but in the late twentieth century, these men became scientific pioneers.
Where did they come from? What schools did they attend? What influenced them? How many scientific discoveries—a cure for cancer, the theory of everything, the origin of life—were missed because the requisite talent was lost due to an unfortunate early environment: poor teaching, insensitive parents, poverty?
For centuries the world has accepted its gifted scientists as it accepts natural events—hurricanes, earthquakes, lightning strikes. However, as humans began to translate knowledge into utility, science into technology, the pace of science began to accelerate. Curiously, the number of technological problems also grew. Breakthroughs in the sciences of medicine, nutrition, and general health care led, in part, to exploding population growth. Low-cost power, whether generated by nuclear reactors or the burning of trees, led to global warming, the ozone hole, and radioactive despoliation of the environment.
Everywhere we turn, the demands on science, mathematics, and