Dr Thomas Lean writes:
From Isaac Newton 'discovering' gravity thanks to a lucky falling apple, to Alexander Fleming finding penicillin in his untidy lab, great scientific discoveries have long been told as stories about lucky chance and serendipity.
But is it really luck?
Or is it just easier to explain complicated science through simple stories? Is it modesty? Or perhaps, as microbiologist Louis Pasteur put it, “in the fields of observation, chance favours only the prepared mind”? Or perhaps something else entirely?
Last Monday saw An Oral History of British Science try to put the matter to rest once and for all, with the first of our evening public events. Four interviewees from the project - Professor Dame Julia Higgins, Professor Chris Rapley, Professor Cyril Hilsum, and Professor Mike Baillie - came together to discuss how serendipity had touched their careers, in areas as diverse as electronics engineering and dendrochronology, with historian of science Dr Charlotte Sleigh to add a historical perspective.
The results of our experiment certainly made for an entertaining evening... and you can see what we came up with on this video.
And if you want to know more about scientists and luck, check out Charlotte Sleigh's blog on the subject of luck and science - Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, Newton?
Or Douglas Heaven's reflection of the evening at the New Scientist blog