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Scientist Wilhelm Ansorge on What Makes a Scientist “Good”


A scientist has high doses of curiosity since he is always asking questions that, in the end, are the guides to find original solutions and answers to the various concerns that arise in his mind. These responses are supported by findings that generally tend to arise in the space of theory or the world of qualitative or quantitative empirical data. Originality in ideas of great scientists, such as Leonardo Da Vinci – to cite one exceptional example – has been recognized by history.

They have contributed to various scientific disciplines with findings made possible by the creativity and innovation of the methods they used. Such findings are constantly adapted to the changes observed in the objects of study, forcing researchers to rethink issues and theories.

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“To this innovative capacity must be added, as a key attitudinal factor, the passion and deep interest in the object of study, prioritizing certain thematic lines of research,” adds Wilhelm Ansorge. Some scientists are passionate about plants, some in other fields, like social behaviors, law, economics, anthropology, mathematics, the environment, medicine, history, etc.

Professor Wilhelm J. Ansorge, a former head of the Department of Genomics Technology at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory EMBL in Heidelberg, serves on Scientific Advisory Boards of several European Institutes, assessing research programs, projects and grant proposals. Recently he was a visiting scientist at EPFL-ETH Lausanne. His particular interest is in the field of development of innovative genomics and biomedical techniques.

Ansorge has developed ground-breaking scientific instrumentation and software throughout his career, which has contributed to advances in cellular and molecular biology, in study of genomes, genes, and proteins.

His laboratory introduced multidisciplinary approach to development of automated technology and techniques in an array of fields, including Sequencing and Analysis of genomes, DNA Chips, the first complete Human Genome Array, (and the International standard protocol for microarrays MIAME), devices for synthesis and analysis of DNA and proteins, Automated Systems for Microinjection and Image Analysis in Single Cells, Fast Screening of Monoclonal Antibodies, and Electro-transfection of cells.

Creativity and research passion, to be useful, are reflected and summarized in documents and, ultimately, serve some social actor to use them in applications helping to improve the life conditions of humankind.

A good scientist tries to be observant of ethical principles: says things as they are and not what specific groups want to hear. He promotes dissemination of information to the society, explains the importance and meaning of research results. He needs to be aware and take into consideration that sometimes scientists in positions of power, with political and manipulative skills, may tend to influence research directions of other teams, with the aim to push their own scientific ambitions.

 “Another point to highlight when contemplating about the characteristics of a good scientist is that, he always sees in his projects opportunities for critical thinking, to identify the causes of what and why is not working well, and develops the ability to generate ideas for viable solutions of problems”, adds Ansorge.

The critical thinking is needed by the society in all fields, even in political life, although scientists in general prefer to concentrate on their work.

Ultimately, with critical analysis, the good scientist can help to discern and formulate the insufficiencies in the society, pointing to those episodes in which there are abuses, inequities and injustices, considering the possibilities for remedy.

Amid all these investigative virtues, it is important to highlight an additional and fundamental ingredient called the scientist’s humility, which is tangible even when the scientist’s expertise and reputation are growing, and seeking recognition.