Night Science

Nigel Goldenfeld and the jazz of impossible problems

January 29, 2024 Itai Yanai & Martin Lercher Season 4 Episode 13
Nigel Goldenfeld and the jazz of impossible problems
Night Science
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Night Science
Nigel Goldenfeld and the jazz of impossible problems
Jan 29, 2024 Season 4 Episode 13
Itai Yanai & Martin Lercher

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Nigel Goldenfeld is the Chancellor's Distinguished Professor in Physics at the University of California at San Diego. In this episode, he talks with us about how research is an art form, and how he tries to help graduate students make the transition from being a “classical musician”, where the goal is to faithfully reproduce every note supplied by the composer, to being a “jazz musician”, where collaborators have to develop the beauty of the composition – or here, the science – on the spot. Nigel emphasizes the importance of suspending disbelief in the resulting improvisations, and the need to feel free to say stupid things. He points out that if our work’s impact is measured by the ratio of what we contribute to what everyone else contributed, then the easiest way to make a big impact is by minimizing the denominator – to work on something that no one else is working on. And the three of us argue whether the optimal group size for improvisational scientific discussions is two or three people.

This episode was supported by Research Theory (researchtheory.org) and the Independent Media Initiative (theimi.co). For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .

Show Notes

Send us a Text Message.

Nigel Goldenfeld is the Chancellor's Distinguished Professor in Physics at the University of California at San Diego. In this episode, he talks with us about how research is an art form, and how he tries to help graduate students make the transition from being a “classical musician”, where the goal is to faithfully reproduce every note supplied by the composer, to being a “jazz musician”, where collaborators have to develop the beauty of the composition – or here, the science – on the spot. Nigel emphasizes the importance of suspending disbelief in the resulting improvisations, and the need to feel free to say stupid things. He points out that if our work’s impact is measured by the ratio of what we contribute to what everyone else contributed, then the easiest way to make a big impact is by minimizing the denominator – to work on something that no one else is working on. And the three of us argue whether the optimal group size for improvisational scientific discussions is two or three people.

This episode was supported by Research Theory (researchtheory.org) and the Independent Media Initiative (theimi.co). For more information on Night Science, visit https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/night-science .