Born from play
Imagine a Friday afternoon, hanging out with colleagues and messing about with some scotch tape.
Sir Andre Geim is a scientist who teaches at Manchester Uni. He hosts ‘Friday sessions’ for his students that are fast and loose, end-of-the-week experiments, often fuelled by a few beers. Geim champions “Curiosity-driven research. Something random, simple, maybe a bit weird—even ridiculous.” As he knows that “Without it, there are no discoveries.”
To get a sense of the play factor, Geim once published a levitating frog experiment in the European Journal of Physics, under the title ‘Of Flying Frogs and Levitrons,’ and in 2000 it won the Ig Nobel Prize, an annual award for the silliest experiment.
Thank goodness for these Friday sessions, because it was thanks to one of them that Geim discovered Graphene. (The first two-dimensional structure (i.e. one atom thick) that has limitless potential applications thanks to its remarkable properties). Graphene is the thinnest and strongest substance known to science, can carry a thousand times more electricity than copper, is stretchable, almost transparent and conducts heat better than any other known substance.
With the help of a PhD student (Novoselov), Geim began working fourteen-hour days to study Graphene and spent two years experimenting to uncover the many incredible properties of this material.
The three-page paper that described the discoveries from these experiments was twice rejected by Nature. One reader stated that isolating a stable, two-dimensional material was ‘impossible’ and another said that it was not ‘a sufficient scientific advance.’
Finally, in October, 2004, the paper, ‘Electric Field Effect in Atomically Thin Carbon Films’ was published in Science, and amazed the scientific community.
In 2010 Geim and Novoselov jointly won the Nobel prize in physics. The Nobel committee made a point of citing “playfulness” as one of the differentiating factors in how they work together. “A playful idea is perfect to start things but then you need a really good scientific intuition that your playful experiment will lead to something, or it will stay as a joke for ever” Novoselov says.
Time and time again, we see people who many would describe as lucky in discovering things. However, closer analysis reveals these people make their own luck. They have a prepared mind and constantly interact with people and their environment in ways that produce unexpected results.
We see this occur in many places, from leading chef kitchens to Geim’s lab. And this is why, at The insights Shed, we invest time in our creative workshops to force connections with seemingly random stimulus and creating an environment that’s fit for play. get in touch to join in