Visiting the post-impressionist gallery on the 2nd floor of Musée d’Orsay in Paris, I realized how rapidly painting in the late 19th century evolved.
This morning I took my youngest to 36 rue de Vaugirard in Paris, to show him the last original public display of the Metre Standard dating back from the 1790s when the meter was officially adopted. The story of the metre offers a good illustration of the gap between ideation and innovation. It also illustrates that, as much as common wisdom makes them responsible for killing innovative ideas, large organisations can also be instrumental in turning an idea into a full-scale mainstream product.
An emerging scientific paradigm (which can be referred to as a theory or a model) can be compared to a net which is just good enough to hold a few large pieces of evidence that have been observed – but so far not grasped – by the scientific community. At the risk of overworking the metaphor, picture a net-bag holding Newton’s apple: as a bag, it is rather unsophisticated, but it is good enough to catch the apple as it falls. If it also manages to catch a few other pieces of fruit, the bag becomes effective and consistent enough in the eyes of the scientific community, that everyone adopts it as THE bag that will enable them to grasp ANY piece of fruit. A paradigm is born and everyone believes in its abiliy to explain the whole world.
Marc Giget’s annual innovation conference held this year at Sorbonne University, Paris, was packed with first-rate presentations, from start-ups to multinationals, from public sector to private enterprise, from the frontier of science to social innovation. In today’s post I’ll focus on inspiring examples of cutting-edge science advancement and transfer.
CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), which was represented at the conference by its Innovation Director Pierre Gohar, is the main body for public research in France, covering 10 scientific disciplines: biology, chemistry, earth sciences & astronomy, ecology & environment, engineering & systems, humanities & social sciences, information sciences, mathematics, nuclear & particle physics, physics. In the last 10 years, following the Allegre innovation bill, CNRS has undergone a massive cultural transformation, whereby scientists are strongly encouraged not only to publish as they used to do, but also to file and to leverage patents through start-ups and industrial partnerships. In its 2013 Innovation Awards, CNRS has just recognized three outstanding scientists who have demonstrated such an enterprising spirit.
Brent Carey, a graduate student at Rice University in Texas, has discovered a material that behaves in an unusual way, at least for a non-living material. Made of carbon nanotubes and a rubbery polymer, the composite material does not show any sign of the damaging fatigue that would normally come with repeated exposure to stress; instead, it grows stiffer and stiffer. Why? Nobody knows yet.
That’s the point where science and innovation start to follow diverging paths. Read more…
“The mere formulation of a problem is far more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skills. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science.”