Like lawyers, doctors and other professionals, scientists spend long years educating and preparing themselves for their careers. But unlike other professionals, scientists seem to do their best work early in life, leaving their later years for administration, consultation and other tasks not necessarily connected to their primary task of solving nature's puzzles. In this excerpt from his new collection of essays, A Modern Day Yankee in a Connecticut Court (Viking Penguin, 1986), Alan Lightman, a Harvard physicist, ponders this "early seniority" and his feelings on reaching age 35.

The limber years for scientists, as for athletes, generally come at a young age. Isaac Newton was in his early twenties when he discovered the law of gravity, Albert Einstein was 26 when he formulated special relativity, and James Clerk Maxwell had polished off electromagnetic theory and retired to the country by 35. When I hit 35 myself, I went through the...

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