...poking in directions far away from my immediate area of expertise could lead to interesting results, even if the initial ideas were extremely basic. This in turn influenced my research style, as I started making similar exploratory detours that somehow acquired the name ‘‘Friday night experiments.’’ The term is of course inaccurate. No serious work can be accomplished in just one night. It usually requires many months of lateral thinking and digging through irrelevant literature without any clear idea in sight. Eventually, you get a feeling—rather than an idea—about what could be interesting to explore. Next, you give it a try and, normally, you fail. Then, you may or may not try again.
...While preparing for a lecture in Stockholm, I compiled a list of my Friday night experiments. Only then did I realize a stunning fact. There were two dozen or so experiments over a period of approximately 15 years and, as expected, most of them failed miserably. But there were three hits, the levitation, gecko tape, and graphene. This implies an extraordinary success rate: more than 10%.
...The very first handmade device on glass exhibited a clear EFE such that its resistance could be changed by several percent. It may sound little and of marginal importance but, aware of how hard it was previously to detect any EFE at all, I was truly shocked. If those ugly devices made by hand from relatively big and thick platelets already showed some field effect, what could happen, I thought, if we were to use our thinnest crystallites and apply the full arsenal of microfabri cation facilities? There was a click in my head that we had stumbled onto something really exciting. This was my Eureka moment.
What followed was no longer a random walk. From this point, it was only logical to continue along the same path by improving procedures for cleaving and finding thinner and thinner crystals and making better and better devices, which we did. It was both painstaking and incredibly rapid, depending on one’s viewpoint. It took several months until we learned how to identify monolayers by using optical and atomic force microscopy.
It's the initial recognition of something important that transforms a random walk (a divergent path) into a focused exploration (convergent path).
tags: creativity, quote, discovery