5 Scientists' Feelings When They Made Their Greatest Discoveries

7 April 2019

We are all held in awe by the discoveries of these great scientists that changed the world and made modern human civilization possible. Without these giants, science wouldn’t certainly be where it is today. So from a speech of Indian physicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, himself a great scientist and winner of the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the black holes and his work on the mathematical theory that explains their existence, here are those great scientists and what they felt before or after making their discoveries.

  1. Johannes Kepler: Discoverer of the laws of planetary motion that the planets move in elliptical orbit around the sun and that the squares of the periods of revolution of any two planets is in the ratio of the cubes of their mean distances from the sun. These laws were crucial in the later discovery of the laws of motion by Newton.

Here he is talking about his feelings after he discovered these laws.

“The conclusion is quite simply that the planet’s path is not a circle - it curves inward on both sides and outward again at opposite ends. Such a curve is called an oval. The orbit is not a circle, but an oval figure.

Why should I mince my words? The truth of Nature, which I had rejected and chased away, returned by stealth through the back door, disguising itself to be expected... I thought and searched, until I went nearly mad, for a reason, why the planet preferred an elliptical orbit [to mine]...Ah, what a foolish bird I have been!

We have lived to see this day after 22 years and rejoice in it, at least I did; I trust that Maestlin and many other men will share in my joy!”

  1. Paul Maurice Dirac: Called by Stephen Hawking as the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Newton, he is famous for his Dirac equations in quantum mechanics for which he was one of the youngest persons to be awarded a Nobel Prize. Besides, he did much work in quantum electrodynamics.

Here he is talking about how he came to formulate the legendary Dirac equations.

…which had just come out of the blue. I could not very well say just how it had occurred to me. And I felt that work of this kind was a rather 'undeserved success'.

  1. Einstein: Nuff said!

Here he is talking about how he came upon first the basic principle behind his General Theory of Relativity

When in 1907 I was working on a comprehensive paper on the special theory of relativity...there occurred to me the happiest thought of my life...that ‘for an observer falling freely from the roof of a house there exists’- at least in his immediate surroundings –‘no gravitational field’.

  1. Enrico Fermi: Another theoretical physics giant. Colleague of Einstein along with Dirac – they all worked at Princeton. Was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on induced radioactivity by neutron bombardment and is among the men considered as ‘father of the atomic bomb’.

Here he is talking about induced radioactivity by neutron bombardment.

I will tell you how I came to make the discovery which I suppose is the most important one I have made. We were working very hard on the neutron-induced radioactivity and the results we were obtaining made no sense. One day, as I came to the laboratory, it occurred to me that I should examine the effect of placing a piece of lead before the incident neutrons. Instead of my usual custom, I took great pains to have the piece of lead precisely machined. I was clearly dissatisfied with something; I tried every excuse to postpone putting the piece of lead in its place. When finally, with some reluctance, I was going to put it in place, I said to myself: ‘No, I do not want this piece of lead here; what I want is a piece of paraffin’. It was just like that with no advance warning, no conscious prior reasoning. I immediately took some odd piece of paraffin and placed it where the piece of lead was to have been.

  1. Werner Heisenberg: Legendary German physicist known as the father of ‘Quantum Mechanics’ and famous for the formulation of a mathematical theory that no one including Einstein could understand at that time (I couldn’t understand it either when I was made to study it in my engineering days). Won the Nobel Prize for the ‘creation of quantum mechanics’.

Here he is talking about how he came to create quantum mechanics.

One evening I reached the point where I was ready to determine the individual terms in the energy table, or, as we put it today, in the energy matrix, by what would now be considered an extremely clumsy series of calculations. When the first terms seemed to accord with the energy principle, I became rather excited, and I began to make countless arithmetical errors. As a result, it was almost three o’clock in the morning before the final result of my computations lay before me. The energy principle had held for all terms, and I could no longer doubt the mathematical consistency and coherence of the kind of quantum mechanics to which my calculations pointed. At first, I was deeply alarmed. I had the feeling that, through the surface of atomic phenomena, I was looking at a strangely beautiful interior, and felt almost giddy at the thought that I now had to probe this wealth of mathematical structures nature had so generously spread out before me. I was far too excited to sleep, and so, as a new day dawned, I made for the southern tip of the island, where I had been longing to climb a rock jutting out into the sea. I now did so without too much trouble, and waited for the sun to rise.

That’s all folks. Five great scientists, five great ideas, and their five great moments of joy when they hit upon their ideas and/or etched it in elegant mathematical equations forever for the coming generations to benefit from.