14th Feb 2013

Creativity in Science

They should have sent a poet,” whispers Ellie in the 1997 film Contact. She is a radio astronomer, and when she sets eyes on an alien galaxy for the first time, she has no words for its beauty. Despite being fiction, I think this interestingly highlights the need for pursuits in arts and sciences to be cross-disciplinary. Many students lose interest in science at an early age because it’s largely “taught to the test”, and so there is a decreased focus on creativity and imagination. Even practical experiments allow little room for creativity, as students are all expected to get the same results—and although this is important for teaching the scientific method, careers in science are not entirely like this: they require creativity and innovation. The infographic above shows the results of Creativity and Education: Why it Matters, a survey by research firm Edelman Berland (note: it is not specifically science-related). The research shows that that 85% of participants think creativity is crucial for problem solving in their career, yet 32% don’t feel comfortable thinking creatively. Yet, creativity is what keeps science moving forwards, because it fosters new connections and therefore gives rise to not only practical innovation, but also the creation of new knowledge. Scientists and engineers frequently encounter problems where they must use abstract, creative thinking, and they should be equipped to do this. From an early age, students should be encouraged to let their imaginations run wild, and also to use scientific reasoning to assess and test their ideas—and this approach of being open to multiple disciplines would be beneficial not only to science, but also foster innovation in other disciplines too. In Einstein’s words: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

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