I went to a lecture by Oliver Smithies this morning. I most enjoyed his stories of things that didn’t work. His PhD thesis that nobody ever read, his inventions that nobody ever used, and the story of when he spilled beta-mercaptoethanol* on his shoes.
He also showed a lot of pages from his notebooks, and noted that most of his most important work was done on weekends. I’ve noticed the same in my own (not at all Nobel prize-worthy) work and have sometimes even wondered why I bother coming during the week…
The talk he gave was very similar to the Nobel lecture he gave last year, and that is online at the Nobel Prize website, so you can have a look at the slides (lots of old notebook photos!)
He did add a bit more recent work as well, and had lab notebook photos as recent as a few weeks ago. Yes, he is still active at the bench!
“It’s not about what you do, it’s learning how to do it.”
-Oliver Smithies about PhD research
*beta-mercaptoethanol smells very strongly like rotten eggs. Even tiny amounts smell really bad.