Three of UCSB’s biggest brains — chemist Alan Heeger, economist Finn Kydland, and physicist Walter Kohn — shared advice and highlights of their Nobel Prize–worthy careers with a crowd of high school students Monday night as part of the university’s Research Mentorship Program.
Heeger, who’s been at UCSB for 31 years and discovered that plastics can share some of the same properties as metals and semiconductors, relayed to the young crowd the best piece of advice a professor had told him: Communication is key. “You have to be able to express your work clearly or it will have no value,” he said. “Many of my papers were rejected. Then someone took one out of the wastebasket and said, ‘This is a discovery. It should be published.’ And 24 years later, it was.”
Kydland, who received his Nobel Prize for research on business cycles and macroeconomic policy, joked when asked if there was a point in his career when he knew his work was award-worthy: “I think in econ, if you embark on something thinking you will win a Nobel Prize, you’d have to be crazy.” He later added, “If you do something that you’re convinced is correct, but everyone thinks is wrong, don’t throw it away.”
Kohn, famous for developing the density functional theory and publishing interdisciplinary findings that revolutionized the fields of physics, chemistry, and materials science, had simple advice for the high school kids: “Start with considerable exploration,” he said. “It’s much more fun than sticking to one thing.”