Israeli scientist Dan Shechtman, last year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, shared his personal learning experiences yesterday with more than 1,500 high-school and college students at National Taipei University of Technology, encouraging them to be inquisitive about everything.
Shechtman received the prize for his discovery of quasicrystal, a new structure of crystal patterns that were once thought to be impossible. Shechtman had faced skepticism and mockery when he announced his discovery.
After speaking for more than an hour about his discovery to students and teachers, Shechtman, joined by another winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲), answered students’ questions about learning and becoming a scientist.
Asked why Israel has had several Nobel Prize winners in recent years, Shechtman said Israel is only about half the size of Taiwan with a population of about 8 million people, and during the early years of the country, the people knew that they had to win in the face of enemies surrounding them because they had no where else to go, so Israelis have always encouraged constant innovation.
“To doubt everything, to ask questions about everything and an exquisite mind is [sic] essential to being creative,” he said.
While failure is often linked with shame in East Asia, people in Israel are given many chances to try again and to learn from each failure, Shechtman added.
Asked what features were needed to become an outstanding scientist, he said curiosity to observe the small details of everything around and trying to understand them is a main feature that many great scientists have.
Persistence is also another important feature, he said, encouraging the students to invest their time and energy into something and not to let what they discover go until it is fully understood.
Asking questions is essential and creativity is important, but young people have to be brave to be different and be creative, and confidence is essential to become different from others, Lee said, adding that confidence was accumulated knowledge and asking questions, as well as gradually developing the expertise to judge what is right.
Lee encouraged teachers to let students explore and develop their interests by not taking up all their time with schoolwork and exams.
“The Internet is a mixed blessing if you only use it for social purposes, which takes a lot of time, or to play games and watch movies, then it distracts you from doing something you really should do in scientific research,” Shechtman said in an answer to a question on how the Internet affects the quality of scientific research.
Shechtman said he did not feel frustrated when facing skepticism field because he trusted his profession and tested his results many times before publishing his work.