Stanford University Professor Richard Zare delivered the James S. Plant Distinguished Scientist Lecture to an eager audience in the Chapel on Oct. 29. Established in 1988 by Hamilton alumnus James Plant, the series was created to bring to the campus outstanding scientists and guest lecturers. Professor Zare was no exception.
Zare, the Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science at Stanford, is renowned for his work in the field of laser chemistry. His development of laser induced fluorescence as a method for studying reaction dynamics has been implemented in many laboratories. His discussion of new developments in imaging of gastrointestinal cancers as well as detection of reaction intermediates using ambient ionization mass spectroscopy were staples of a chemistry seminar he delivered Monday night in the Kennedy auditorium.
Zare has authored and co-authored more than 888 publications, received numerous awards such as the National Medal of Science, Priesly Medal, and International Science and Technology Cooperation Award of the People’s Republic of China and has been dedicated to many outreach programs. He emphasizes the advancement of women in science, and is dedicated to fostering creative minds, the focus of the Plant lecture he delivered.
This was the question of the night- Can creativity be taught?
After a combination of mind-boggling logic problems interspersed with amusing anecdotes and a final transition into a variety of insights on how to foster a creative mind, Zare ultimately concluded that creativity cannot be taught. Yet, as Zare was quick to point out, we are capable of fostering it, and foster creativity we must.
Creativity, defined by Zare as an attitude and process of forming original ideas, was inextricably tied to becoming deeply involved in a subject, fostering creative thinking skills, and spring-boarding into contemplation of solutions to a problem through internal motivation.
How do we do reach creativity? According to Zare it is through the use of tools like adaptability, playfulness, imagination and the power of the questions that we become masters of our own creative minds.
As Zare noted his talk, “pearls only come from irritated oysters,” and creativity is a process we find by becoming comfortable dealing with chaos and ambiguity. We must break through our fear of thinking outside the box and learn to work past failure and be critical of our own ideas. This is how we learn to ask the right questions, he said. This is where science becomes art.