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Advices of the old teacher: no one knows everything and does not have to strive towards this


1903. Майстерня (Альбом перших випускників хімічного відділення КПІ)

The second semester crossed its equator, and soon the students of our and other faculties and institutes will finish the regular academic year. Among them there are those who, regardless of specialty match one common characteristic that unites them - they are graduates. In the first place in front of them there is a question of choice or the future direction of work, which they would like to be engaged in life.

My thoughts today, which I submit to the court a young reader, perhaps, are more concerned with graduate students, who in principle already choose the profession.

I must admit that there is another circumstance prompts me to address short notes to students, physicists, chemists, biologists, computer scientists, mathematicians, who begin their - in fact independent - career in a particular cognitive science, especially the natural direction. The fact is that for almost thirty years, giving lectures on various branches of physics students of the National Taras Shevchenko University and the National Technical University of Ukraine "KPI", I used to hear from those graduates  the question – with science is the most promising?

It should be clearly understood that such questions have no an unequivocal answer - a lot depends on various factors. First of all, I mean experimental studies that determine, say, the shortcomings of existing theories or gaps in our knowledge about the animate and inanimate world, including the universe. One can play the role the random factors and the development of one or another direction, in the end the financial capacity, and they are unevenly on different sciences and directions. In addition, anyone, even genius, has its sights, tastes, experience and intuition, and the latter, as we know, from time to time fails, if we keep in mind the forecasts. So it's easier to rely on their own lives and vision problems, but only as one of the examples of possible situations and related reasons, not more.

* * *

When being a student of physics, I was completing my course work, and it was – it was almost 40 years ago, physics for me was a limited number of questions formulated by my supervisor. But in those days there were a lot of popular science magazines, which certainly played a role in shaping the world of youth and increase its overall awareness, clearly demonstrating her immensity of science in general and physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, particularly (cybernetics and genetics then for obvious reasons, were not encouraged). They (magazines) covered many tempting to study the problems, but, I thought, as much as possible to deal with them without knowing all that has been done before by previous generations of scientists.

Fortunately, my scientific advisor for the graduation project was  a prominent Soviet physicist Alexander Sergeyevich Davydov.  Learning that I attend all the seminars, then held at the Institute of Theoretical Physics, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, he told me to stop doing it immediately, and more focus and devote time to my own specific calculations. Despite my fears that I have nothing or very little know, he expressed the opinion that it is necessary as soon as possible to solve "own" problem, and the necessary knowledge pick up on the go. Much to my surprise, pretty soon I was convinced that this approach really works. I was able to easily do the diploma problem, though, we must frankly admit (and now I understand it particularly well), and after the successful defense of the thesis, I knew little about the real physics on the merits. But, nevertheless, I have learned one very important for the future of independent work thing: no one knows everything and does not have to strive for it.

Formulating this thesis, I don’t stand for the narrow specialization. No, and no again. Indeed, the more you know, or know how, so it is usually easier to enter into the unknown  problem, find and explore appropriate methods to solve it and succeed. I would just urge you not to fear a problem, try them, as they say, "to the tooth", with new, necessary knowledge for you, as an understanding of what your own education is incomplete or imperfect.

* * *

There is another rule that one need to learn to everyone who starts his own creative career. Having several different problems, try to choose the most complex of them. I will explain this on the example.

After graduation in June, I got 2-3 months to prepare for the entrance exams to graduate where my head was to be O.S.Davidov. He thought that I must continue the theme of the diploma project and should concentrate  on the problem of light absorption by molecular crystals under conditions of strongly interacmeting electrons elementary excitations with lattice vibrations. Here, as usual, there was still a number of issues, but it was very clear in what areas should future work go faster to achieve the desired goal of any graduate - preparation of the master's thesis.

Most likely, and there were my graduate quest if this would not have happened that I accidentally became acquainted with the annual report of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. In the section on advances in physics I have read that in the Kiev Institute of Physics it was observed the absorption of light in the crystal oxygen, which by their nature remains mysterious. I was interested and I soon became acquainted with the experimenter who belonged to the corresponding measurements, studied all (though, while not numerous) literature on the subject and, unlike other students who were preparing for postgraduate examinations essay on his thesis, submitted essay on unsolved absorption. Moreover, being enrolled in graduate school, I asked my manager to let me deal with it the problem of oxygen (which, incidentally, was O.S. Davidov familiar). He did not agree to change the object of research, arguing that it is not a task for the master's works, which have a limited and fixed time.

I do not agree. It seemed to me (to be exact - and it was), that in both cases we are talking about light absorption and molecular systems where the principles on which it should occur in one of them, more or less clear, then why, knowing them, not to understand second. In the end, the physics of the two phenomenon is similar and it is only necessary to understand what distinguishes them. I've discussed these issues with other graduate students O.S.Davidov, and somewhere after half a year of intensive effort was able to find some of the reasons for the differences in the absorption of oxygen from the rest of molecular crystals. O.S. Davidov distinguished himself as a teacher and not only did not hindered these investigations, but  began to support them. Summing up, I note that in the late 60's - early 70-ies of light absorption in oxygen really looked like a mess, but since then the work of experimenters and theorists were able to unravel it and connect all (well, almost all) strange facts a single picture. Without false modesty, I can say that there is a definite and my contribution, and in 1977 I became the youngest winner of the State Prize of Ukraine in the field of science and technology.

* * *

Постає питання: чому? Спробую пояснити.

The next tip is expressed not by me, but the Nobel laureate (1979) in elementary particle physics American theorist Steven Weinberg, but I fully agree with it and believe it is fair. It consists in the following statement: let yourself waste time.

The question is: why? Let me explain.

As a rule, teachers ask students to solve only those tasks that teachers themselves know that it necessarily needs to be done in order to pass the course and learn. It does not matter - and this one (except for certain professors) does not think whether these tasks are scientific or practical value. However, in real life, no one knows in advance what tasks are important. Moreover, sometimes it's difficult to argue is that of having a solution at the moment. Let me remind you, as an example, 100 years ago, in the early twentieth century, some well-known physicists (among them was, for example, the Dutchman Hendrik Lorentz) attempted to construct a theory of the electron. It was motivated by a desire to understand why all efforts to detect the Earth's motion through the ether proved futile.

 Now we know that using the concepts of classical physics, the researchers solved the wrong problem, since quantum mechanics has not yet developed. Only Albert Einstein realized that within the classical approach the right there is another problem - the influence of the movement of space and time. This led to the discovery of the special theory of relativity. And given that the earlier you can never be sure what the problem is correct and what is not, the vast majority of time in the lab, if you experimenter, or at the table, if you theorist will actually wasted. With this we must accept and, according to the same professor S.Vaynberg if you want to be creative, you can afford the most of your working time to spend tedious, while in calm ocean of scientific knowledge.

* * *

Finally, one more thing: be sure to learn something of the history of science, especially on the history of your own branch of science. The least important reason for this - the fact that the story can you really learn something, or be useful in your personal work. Firstly, the historical knowledge of scientific facts is the best resistance against the philosophy which, as evidenced by the same history of science, formulating some so-called general principles sometimes prevents scientists to deepen their understanding of a particular subject.

Secondly, and more importantly, the history of science can make you consider your work as those that deserves attention and respect.. And if you work in such areas of science as abstract questions of mathematical or theoretical physics as the theory of symmetries, quantum field theory, high-energy physics, the structure of the universe, and so on, you will not even be able to get pleasure from at least doing something directly useful for the average citizen. However, you can be very happy, deeply aware that your future activities in science will become part of the history of mankind.

Пропоную ще раз поглянути назад на ті ж 100 років. Згадайте і назвіть, хто були міністрами в уряді Російської імперії, президентом  США або канцлером Німеччини у 1910 р., і чи виявилось що-небудь з того, чим займались ці, здавалося б, величезні історичні постаті, ключовим фактором для життя і подальшої цивілізації. А от те, що Ернест Резерфорд у ті роки відкрив ядро атома і починав дослідження природи радіоактивності, мало і наукове, і, як виявилось пізніше, прикладне, а отже, історичне значення для всіх людей на нашій планеті, і, без всякого перебільшення, змінило наступну історію. Але не менш або навіть більш важливо, що зміна уявлень, обумовлена згаданими науковими відкриттями, мала революціонізуюче культурне значення.

I propose to take another look back at those same 100 years. Remember the names of the ministers in the government of the Russian Empire, the US president or chancellor of Germany in 1910. And did these seemingly great historical figures do something important for the life and future of civilization. But the fact that Ernest Rutherford in those years opened nucleus of an atom and began investigating the nature of radioactivity, and little scientific, and, as it turned out, applied, and therefore, the historical significance for all people on our planet, and, without any exaggeration , change the following story. But equally or even more important that the change in perceptions, due to the mentioned scientific discoveries, was a revolutionary cultural significance. Understanding of radioactivity allowed to explain why the nucleus as the Earth and the Sun may be hot to the present day, after millions of years of existence and burnout. This eliminated the scientific understanding of the challenge that many geologists believe the age of the solar system is very large. After that Christians and Jews were, in turn, forced or depart from the faith in the literal truth of the Bible, or to abandon intellectual inaccuracies. It was only one step in the sequence of development of Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton and through Charles Darwin to contemporary, from time to time manage to weaken still available based on religious dogmatism.

Therefore, the last and the main advice is to do science!

This work, which adorns the world and from which scientists can experience real pride and pleasure, knowing yourself actors continuous civilization and the historical process.

Editorial: V.M.Loktyev is our regular contributor. Its materials include scientific depth and variety of topics. Recently Vadim M. celebrated his birthday. We congratulate him and wish creative longevity!

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