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30 May 2013

Looking for Science Heroes

Estimated reading time Time 2 to read

Several outstandingly important milestones in scientific progress have been reached this last year: the discovery of the Higgs boson, the sequencing of the Denisovan DNA and the first cloning of stem cells. Despite the widespread dissemination of these and other cases in the media, it is hard to put a face to many of the scientists responsible.

All scientists are heroes, or at least, they are engaged in heroic work: they are on a thrilling journey towards knowledge, even though the rest of society may not always be aware of all the ups and downs of their quest. Paradoxically, “the hero’s journey” is one of the narrative techniques most commonly used by Hollywood screenwriters, and yet this theory is not applied when telling the stories that lie behind our sciencists. Often, information on science overlooks the one aspect that arouses most interest in all of us: the human dimension.

The article The Decline of the Scientific Hero, by Roger Highfield, published in, brilliantly exposes some of the arguments that highlight the need to get to know our scientists’ more heroic side”.

In the world of science, the faces of the key players who will be responsible for society’s advances in coming decades are all too much hidden away in their laboratories. This is why a group of successful Internet entrepreneurs (among them the co-founder of Google Sergey Brin  and the founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg) have decided to draw them out of their limited spheres and place them under the spotlight. The folks in Silicon Valley will use a small dose of stardom and a reward of $3 million dollars in order to achieve their goal: “to convert scientists into the celebrities of modern life”.

The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences is the name chosen for this award that in 2013 will be presented for the first time to 11 scientists from a range of disciplines. Some of the discoveries that have earned them the distinction of this award include such important advances as outlining hereditary diseases in humans (David Botstein), research into the ends of chromosomes and how they are related to cancer (Titia de Lange) and research into tumor suppressor genes (Bert Vogelstein).

There is no doubt that the most powerful tool for selling the magic of science is its very own heroes, who enable scientific progress and ideas to go viral. And it’s not only a question of marketing: “it is important for society to know what science is about if modern democracy is to function”, according to

Although initiatives of this type are effective in putting a face to scientific advances, what about the collaborating teams and projects which are becoming ever more interdisciplinary endeavors conducted in scientific laboratories? Is this an efficient way of “creating” heroes for science? At OpenMind we invite you to share your reflections with us and to explore our website to discover many of these heroes who are alredy members of our community.

By Dory Gascueña for OpenMind


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