Behind Every Great Scientist is a Great Mentor

Michael Faraday became the greatest experimental scientist of the nineteenth century.  But that never would have happened without the right mentor.

Michael Faraday was probably the greatest experimental scientist of the nineteenth century. Faraday came from a very, very poor family.  His father was a blacksmith.  They had 12 children.  He had no education.  And early on in his life Faraday realized that he wanted to be a scientist.  But in England at the time, in the early nineteenth century, you could not become a scientist unless you went to a university – Oxford or whatever.  So he had no hope of going to university because he came from such a poor background and had no formal education. 


He worked in a bookstore as a bookbinder, as an apprentice.  So he was around books and he was able to read about electricity and chemistry, the fields that interested him.  But all he would ever be in life would be a dilettante.  He would only be able to get his knowledge from books.  He would have no access to laboratories.  It would be a useless career and it wouldn’t lead anywhere and he would be a bookbinder his whole life.  He needed a mentor and he realized it at about the age of 18 when he went and saw a lecture from the greatest chemist of his age, a man named Humphry Davy.  Michael Faraday realized at that lecture that this man had a kind of knowledge that he could never get from a book.

And so he decided that he would somehow make Humphry Davy his mentor which was basically an impossible task or quest.  Someone from Faraday's background had no access to that kind of world.  But he went on a campaign that I detail in my book.  He wrote him letters.  He showed all of the incredible labor that he had gone through in the years of studying science on his own.  And eventually he got his chance to enter Humphry Davy’s laboratory on a certain level and prove himself.  And he got the job as his apprentice and then his career completely took off and he became the greatest experimental scientist of the nineteenth century.  But it would have never happened if he had never found the right mentor and connected himself to him.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Space toilets: How astronauts boldly go where few have gone before

A NASA astronomer explains how astronauts dispose of their, uh, dark matter.

Videos
  • When nature calls in micro-gravity, astronauts must answer. Space agencies have developed suction-based toilets – with a camera built in to ensure all the waste is contained before "flushing".
  • Yes, there have been floaters in space. The early days of space exploration were a learning curve!
  • Amazingly, you don't need gravity to digest food. Peristalsis, the process by which your throat and intestines squeeze themselves, actually moves food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all.
Keep reading Show less

Steven Pinker's 13 rules for writing better

The Harvard psychologist loves reading authors' rules for writing. Here are his own.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 21: Steven Pinker speaks onstage during OZY Fest 2018 at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park on July 21, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Ozy Media)
Personal Growth
  • Steven Pinker is many things: linguist, psychologist, optimist, Harvard professor, and author.
  • When it comes to writing, he's a student and a teacher.
  • Here's are his 13 rules for writing better, more simply, and more clearly.
Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less