Find your most interesting question

Nicola Spaldin

From Science, 3 July 2015. Video

“Frighteningly, I have reached the stage in my career when young people often ask me for advice. My safe and sensible side tells me to pass along the same advice I received: Make a solid contribution to an established field and publish a lot to become known and respected by your community. Save the high-risk stuff until after tenure. But, deep down, I hope young scientists—you—will choose not to follow that advice. I hope instead you will find the question that for you is the most interesting in the world, go after its answer with all your youthful passion, and pioneer your own science revolution.”

From Physics Central: “Prof. Spaldin spends her time researching how to get materials to do multiple tasks. She uses calculations and simulations to design materials that combine more than one function. “Basic laws say this property can’t coexist with this property and we try to get around that,” she said. For example, “In your laptop, a semiconductor material processes the information and a magnetic material stores the information. If we could process and store in the same piece of stuff, we could make your computer smaller, lighter and able to use less power.” Her research continues to have real implications in technology as iPods shrink and PCs become the size of notepads.”

I was asked why I am featuring a theoretical materials scientist in my SEMANTICS notebook. One reason is that I love her career advice. The other reason is that I find it very useful for my own work to take glimpses into other disciplines. The way Spaldin uses computational modeling to find ways of combining apparently incompatible properties of materials is truly fascinating and inspiring. Incidentally, the bust Spaldin is almost hiding behind in the picture above (taken from her website) is the bust of Robert Schumann. Why should a theoretical materials scientist portray herself as peeking out from behind a bust of Robert Schumann? 

What I enjoyed most during my year as a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute was the company of scholars and artists from many different fields. Hearing about their work and trying to understand what makes them tick inspired my own work. I have no idea why and how, but it did. I am using my notebook to hold on to that spirit.