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Words of Wisdom

Physicist Arthur Leonard Schawlow: You Don’t Need to Know Everything

"To do successful research, you don't need to know everything; you just need to know one thing that isn't known."

Physicist Arthur Leonard Schawlow was born May 5, 1921, and was one of the most respected 20th century experts on lasers. His work in optics and contributions toward the development of the laser spectrometer earned him a share of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physics. Schawlow was a long-time faculty member at Stanford University where he was Physics department chair from 1966-1970. He died in 1999.

Schawlow, like so many other great physicists, possessed a witty lightness to his personality. Here are a couple notable quotations that do well to succinctly capture truths about scientific research:

“Anything worth doing is worth doing twice, the first time quick and dirty and the second time the best way you can.”

“To do successful research, you don’t need to know everything; you just need to know one thing that isn’t known.”

Sourceas quoted by Steven Chu and Charles H. Townes (2003). Biographical Memoirs V.83. National Academies Press. p. 201.

Interested in physics? You ought not miss this amazing lecture from Michio Kaku:


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