Perl reveals recipe for success
Feb 5, 1999
Pumping large sums of money into specific research areas is not the best way to achieve scientific breakthroughs according to Martin Perl, the US particle physicist who shared the 1995 Nobel prize. And 'fashionable' areas of science are not the best places to make major discoveries says Perl in a paper on the Los Alamos eprint server.
The history of science is littered with famous scientists who pushed the 'wrong idea', Perl told PhysicsWeb. And research organisations do not have a good track record of controlling the direction of scientific discoveries. He points out that all efforts to produce energy from controlled nuclear fusion have failed, despite the massive investment in fusion research. Perl also disapproves of the International Space Station because "there are cheaper and more immediate ways to do the same space, biological, and cosmic ray research." He does, however, think that the Large Hadron Collider at CERN will be worthwhile. "We have no other technology for studying very high energy and very large mass phenomena, " he says.
"One should always use the cheapest and most immediate experimental technology because it is more flexible and allows changes in direction and technique as the experimenter learns, " says Perl. "Surprises are the best part of the practice of science, but most surprises require the experimenters to do something new and different, such as examining a new phenomenon or applying a new technology to an old phenomenon."
Perl says he has three rules for carrying out speculative research: make sure the speculation does not violate established laws; enjoy yourself; and make sure others can duplicate the experiment. Perl currently spends half his time on a non-accelerator experiment that is searching for particles with fractional electric charge.