What Makes Great Scientists Great?
In March of 1986, an overflow audience of over 200 researchers and staff members from Bell Laboratories piled into the Morris Research and Engineering Center to hear a talk given by Dr. Richard Hamming, a pioneer in the field of communication theory. He titled his presentation “You and Your Research,” and set out to answer a fundamental question: “Why do so few scientists make significant contributions and so many are forgotten in the long run?”
Hamming, of course, knew what he was talking about, as he had made his own significant contributions — you can’t even glance at the field of digital communications without stumbling over some eponymous Hamming innovation.
But his original interest in the question came from his years spent in Los Alamos at the height of the Manhattan Project. “I saw Feynman up close. I saw Fermi and Teller. I saw Oppenheimer. I saw Hans Bethe,” Hamming notes. “I saw that although physically I was the same, they were different. [T]o put the thing bluntly, I was envious.”
Forty years later, as he took the podium at the Bell Labs auditorium, he set out to describe, in plainspoken detail, everything he had learned…