My daughter’s school science department organised for our Year 10 students to go to a speech given by Dr Blackburn at the inner-east Moriah College yesterday. They were thrilled by her clever slide presentation and the passion she conveyed for her work. Dr Blackburn was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine for her joint discovery of Telomerase, an enzyme that replenishes a protective structure at the end of chromosomes called the telomere, an enzyme with exciting implications for the study of cancer and human longevity.
Here’s some quotes from a speech she gave at Questacon in Canberra the day before yesterday, which no doubt is essentially the same speech:
THE first Australian-born woman to win a Nobel prize has revealed the secret to her success: daydreaming.
Speaking to an audience of children at the national science and technology centre, Questacon, in Canberra yesterday, the molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn conceded grown ups might not welcome her advice.
”Your parents and your teachers are going to kill me if they hear you say ‘she told us just to daydream,’ ” Professor Blackburn joked.
”That’s not what I’m saying. I think it is really important that you engage energetically in your learning … but … I think you need time to daydream, to let your imagination take you where it can,” she said.
”Just do that some of the time, because I’ve noticed [that] among the creative, successful scientists who’ve really advanced things, that was a part of their life. Not that they didn’t work hard … but we sometimes forget about the creative part of science.”
Ms Blackburn also advocates for less restrictive funding models for research, to allow for long term projects, arguing that constraining funding models to be reliant on six-monthly reports is too limiting.
‘When science becomes the grant itself, that’s a tragedy,” she said. ”The grant should be the launching pad for the science.”
Dr Blackburn also owns another notable distinction: that of being fired by the Bush administration –
For just doing what I do, which is to say “get the science right, get the science right.” That wasn’t a very popular attitude in the Commission or the Council that I was serving on as an advisor.
That body was the President’s Council for Bioethics, a federal commission whose mandate is to advise on National Science policy. Dr Blackburn was dismissed after submitting a report stating that the scientific consensus was generally in favour of stem cell research. She was not the only respected scientist to fall foul of the Bush administration’s pattern of politics trumping science.