IOANNIS MARCUS MARCI LECTURE

On September 5, 2000, a special invited lecture was given by the Nobel laureate Sir Harold W. Kroto. This lecture is held under the auspices of the Ioannis Marcus Marci Society (the Czech Spectroscopic Society). The abstract of the lecture follows here:


Science: A Round Peg In A Square World
Sir Harold W. Kroto, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK.

Science (including technology) is the dominant culture of the 20th Century and seems set to dominate the 21st even more. However scientific advances are only made by intellectual endeavour as are advances in the Arts. These cultural aspects are continually overlooked as society exploits scientific knowledge without understanding it. This results in not only the injudicious use the fruits of scientific advances but also the misapplication of resources for research.

Symmetry patterns are intrinsic to all aspects of perception and seem to play an essential role in the creative process in both the sciences and the arts. Without an awareness of the importance of such abstract concepts to the cathartic responses that underpin human endeavor it is unlikely that the present desperate attempts being made to improve the quantity and the quality of achievements (in scientific research and development or the arts) will be particularly successful.

Scientists have made an outstanding impact on all aspects of everyday life, so much so that governments and their advisors have systematically, since the 2nd World War, taken more-and-more control of the direction of science and exerted pressures on scientists to become more-and-more relevant to what they (governments) deem to be important. This has led to the present crisis in that the eternal and interminable debate on the value of fundamental science versus applied science is no longer comparative - the question is whether any fundamental science should carried out at all. The definition of fundamental science may need clarification and two cases which highlight the importance of free access to information and the elimination of secrecy may help - The discoveries of platinum anti-cancer drugs and C60, Buckminsterfullerene. The latter highlights a progression of advances starting from fundamental quantum mechanical concepts which stimulated radioastronomy studies that led to a discovery which ultimately promises massive impact on chemistry and nanotechnology for the 21st Century.

Even though Science is the dominant culture of the 20th Century and looks destined to become even more dominant in the 21st, this dominance as well as the cultural nature of science are poorly appreciated by the Public as well as many in Industry and Government. Major problems arise in the way the Media propagate bizarrely stereotyped images of Science and the Scientist. As long as science education is seen as a training exercise for industry rather than a part of our cultural heritage, science and therefore also society will lose out. Some (personal) efforts to redress the problems are being initiated via the Vega Science Trust (www.vega.org.uk) which aims to take advantage of the revolution in TV and digital communications. The best scientists and science communicators are being recorded and the programmes being broadcast on BBC-TV. Furthermore School/University outreach programmes are being developed. It is hoped that soon a TV Science Night will be launched. These efforts present a perspective on Science which places the cultural factors in the foreground and focuses on the intrinsic charisma of science which is hidden from many. It is now crucial that the society in general and the scientific community in particular accept that a real intellectual problem is involved. It is similar to the problems that confront those who desire a "real" understanding of Shakespeare or Akutagawa without an adequate understanding of the English and Japanese languages respectively. Science is part of our cultural heritage and sometimes, in some very important cases in which science underpins society's needs, an adequate degree of understanding requires some knowledge of scientific "language" for the communication of ideas and concepts.


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