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Exceptional Creativity in Science and Technology

Individuals, Institutions, and Innovations

Edited by Andrew Robinson

In the evolution of science and technology, laws governing exceptional creativity and innovation have yet to be discovered. The historian Thomas Kuhn, in his influential study The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, noted that the final stage in a scientific breakthrough such as Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity—that is, the most crucial stage—was “inscrutable.” The same is still true half a century later.

Yet, there has been considerable progress in understanding many of the stages and facets of exceptional creativity and innovation. In Exceptional Creativity in Science and Technology editor Andrew Robinson gathers together a diverse group of contributors to explore this progress. This new collection arises from a symposium with the same title held at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), in Princeton. Organized by the John Templeton Foundation, the symposium had as its chair the late distinguished doctor and geneticist Baruch S. Blumberg, while its IAS host was the well-known physicist Freeman J. Dyson—both of whom have contributed chapters to the book. In addition to scientists, engineers, and an inventor, the book’s fifteen contributors include an economist, entrepreneurs, historians, and sociologists, all working at leading institutions, including Bell Laboratories, Microsoft Research, Oxford University, Princeton University, and Stanford University. Each contributor brings a unique perspective to the relationships between exceptional scientific creativity and innovation by individuals and institutions.

The diverse list of disciplines covered, the high-profile contributors (including two Nobel laureates), and their fascinating insights into this overarching question—how exactly do we make breakthroughs?—will make this collection of interest to anyone involved with the creative process in any context, but it will be especially appealing to readers in scientific and technological fields.

Introduction / Andrew Robinson / 3

Chapter 1: The Rise and Decline of Hegemonic Systems of Scientific Creativity
J. Rogers Hollingsworth and David M. Gear / 25

Chapter 2: Exceptional Creativity in Physics: Two Case Studies—Niels Bohr’s Copenhagen Institute and Enrico Fermi’s Rome Institute
Gino Segrè / 53

Chapter 3: Physics at Bell Labs, 1949–1984: Young Turks and Younger Turks
Philip W. Anderson / 71

Chapter 4: The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge: The Physical Realization of an Electronic

Computing Instrument at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, 1930–1958
George Dyson / 83

Chapter 5: Education and Exceptional Creativity: The Decoding of DNA and the 
Decipherment of Linear B
Andrew Robinson / 99

Chapter 6: The Sources of Modern Engineering Innovation
David P. Billington and David P. Billington Jr.  / 123

Chapter 7: Technically Creative Environments
Susan Hackwood / 145

Chapter 8: Entrepreneurial Creativity
Timothy F. Bresnahan / 163

Chapter 9: Scientific Breakthroughs and Breakthrough Products: Creative Activity as Technology Turns into Applications
Tony Hey and Jonathan Hey / 191

Chapter 10: A Billion Fresh Pairs of Eyes: The Creation of Self-Adjustable Eyeglasses
Joshua Silver / 211

Chapter 11: New Ideas from High Platforms: Multigenerational Creativity at NASA
Baruch S. Blumberg / 227

Afterword: From Michael Faraday to Steve Jobs
Freeman Dyson / 241

Contributors / 251

Index / 255