Like it or not, for many of us science and chemistry are a way of being. From atomic weights and chemical symbols to biological reactions, we spend a considerable portion of our lives learning the intricacies of science. All around us, scientific discoveries continue to happen every day, but do we ever truly stop to consider the driver of scientific and creative discovery?
In Monday afternoon’s Meet the Expert session, “Clinical Chemistry’s Inspiring Minds… Live!” the audience got a full overview of the single most important part of innovation—the human element. This unprecedented session, developed in conjunction with Clinical Chemistry and the Society for Young Clinical Laboratorians (SYCL), featured a panel of renowned clinical laboratory professionals including Steven Soldin, PhD, Fred Apple, PhD, and Carl Wittwer, MD, PhD.
Misia Landau, a senior science writer at Harvard Medical School, asked each panelist about the personal stories and internal motivations that helped define their scientific careers. During this exciting and nontraditional session, panelists answered questions in a round robin format. “This session, was intended to put a human face on science—to explore firsthand the life stories of some of the most renowned clinical laboratorians working today,” Landau said. “We hope that in hearing these stories, students and established scientists were educated, entertained, and most of all, inspired.”
Soldin, a senior scientist at the National Institutes of Health, explained that his career developed by “optimizing creativity” and “seeing things others tend to miss.” He also observed that “we all have job choices in life and seem to thrive on challenges. However, being aware that creativity can be fostered through what British philosopher Alan Watts termed ‘the wisdom of insecurity’ … can often bring out the best in us.” Soldin added that his success also has been bolstered by avoiding what was comfortable and focusing on diseases that are not managed well.
A highlight of the session came when the panel was asked if they could discuss a specific moment that impacted their life. Apple, medical director of clinical laboratories, clinical chemistry, toxicology, and point-of-care testing at Hennepin County Medical Center, related a moment back in 1979 when he was in Miami, Florida at his uncle’s pool. That day he received a call from Jack Ladenson from Washington University asking if he would be interested in taking a look at the clinical chemistry program. “I told him that I was pretty busy at the moment, but I would get back to him in a week,” Apple said. “I will never forget Jack’s response, he said ‘I think you’re sitting around a pool drinking a beer,’ which I was. I started looking around and I thought to myself was he in the bushes?” Apple explained. “The rest was history.”
Wittwer, who is a professor of pathology at the University of Utah School of Medicine, offered personal advice about overcoming obstacles. “We should be careful on what we trust to be true,” he said. He added that in our daily life “we must not let authority get in the way of our rationality” and that we need to have a hobby to maximize creativity. Fortunately for those in attendance, Wittwer gave a special performance of the juggling ability he developed as an outlet in medical school.
For many of us, the human element defines our love for science, and indeed, we wonder if there would be any science at all without passion and self-sacrifice. Hearing Monday’s Inspiring Minds talk reminds us that those who pursue the scientific art will always have a story to tell.