Jerome Karle

The Role of Motivation in Scientific Research

Category: Lectures

Date: 2 July 1986

Duration: 42 min

Quality: HD MD SD

Jerome Karle (1986) - The Role of Motivation in Scientific Research


“Socrates was a Greek.He gave people advice.They killed him.” - with this summary by a young scholar, Jerome Karle familiarizes the audience with potential side effects of well-intended advice. Still, despite the cautionary tale of Socrates, the first half of his talk is dedicated to the young researchers present and some general advice on how to be successful as a scientist.If one strives for wealth, power, easy living or even general recognition, science is the wrong profession, Karle says. If one, however, is able to derive pleasure from progress, even without the recognition of others, science might just be the right choice. In any case, the keys to success are motivation, hard work and persistence, Karle explains, not only with respect to scientific challenges, but also to those challenges life and nature pose. While he admits that everyone has to make compromises, he urges the young researchers to avoid “destructive” compromises, i.e. those that affect the foundations of their own motivation. Just one year before the present talk, the chemist Karle had shared the 1985 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with the mathematician Herbert Hauptman. The Laureates had been rewarded "for their outstanding achievements in the development of direct methods for the determination of crystal structures". These methods allow to circumvent the so-called “phase problem” of x-ray crystallography and to determine chemical structures from x-ray diffraction data in very short timespans. Today (2013), x-ray crystallography is routinely employed to elucidate or confirm the structures of unknown molecules, be they synthetic or natural, using merely minute substance quantities {Link to X-ray Topic Cluster}. Still, for Karle himself, the path to success was not always as exciting as it might seem from a today’s perspective. He points out that the translation of the mathematical solution to the phase problem into a technique that could actually be used by x-ray crystallographers took some ten years - and a lot of motivation. Fortunately, motivation for chemical challenges appears to be abundantly available in Karle’s family: his wife, Isabella, and two of his three children are chemists [1]. David Siegel[1]