Fortunate Failures I Don't Regret

Scientists like to succeed. They like to get the results they hope for, to be recognized for what they have done. But they also know that the greatest success may come from something unexpected, including failure. For example, the failure of Michelson and Morley to detect ether drift was a magnificent failure, which upset classical physics and helped advance Einstein's revolutionary ideas. At the other extreme are the dismal failures that do nothing but consume time and energy and erode the sp

Maurice Wilkins
Feb 7, 1988

Scientists like to succeed. They like to get the results they hope for, to be recognized for what they have done. But they also know that the greatest success may come from something unexpected, including failure. For example, the failure of Michelson and Morley to detect ether drift was a magnificent failure, which upset classical physics and helped advance Einstein's revolutionary ideas. At the other extreme are the dismal failures that do nothing but consume time and energy and erode the spirit. In my career as a scientist I have had many failures; often they have been unproductive, but several have led me in new directions.

When I went to Cambridge in 1935 to study physics, I also worked with the Cambridge Scientist Anti-War Group, which was concerned with how science was being used for mass destruction. I was asked to verify by experiment a report from the war in...

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