How is creativity important in science?
This essay was submitted to the Oxford scientist essay competition (Hilary Term - 2021)
When the word “Science” comes to most people’s minds, they don’t often think of creativity. This all stems from the classroom, where the common (and easy) thing to do is to take science just as a body of facts to be memorised. However, this is very far from the real truth! Yes, it is true that Scientists have to adhere to the scientific method, carefully repeating and conducting experiments and meticulously measuring their results. Despite this, when Science is used to solve the problems of the world, there is never just one solution. Creativity is paramount in any scientific research and breakthrough.
Creativity is very often just associated with the humanities and arts, but in the famous words of Albert Einstein “The greatest Scientists are artists as well.” Though creativity in science can sometimes be dismissed as just routine scientific creation through research and investigation, a spark of creativity and out of the box thinking is always needed to produce a great scientific discovery or invention. If you really think about it, creativity and innovation are part of every successful scientific invention! Creativity is all about challenging knowledge and asking the “What if” questions and finding innovative ways to answer them.
In medical science, without the continual formulation of bold and creative approaches of treatment and care, healthcare would not be where it is today. The continuous formulation of fresh and inventive pharmaceutical drugs, surgical treatments and medical devices have enhanced the standard of medicine and care immensely worldwide.
Even the thermometer, which is a common household item today, was only created when inventors realised that they could use the property of the expansion and contraction of liquids under different temperatures to their advantage, to measure body temperature.
To this day, out of the box inventions are used to save lives. For example, REBOA - Resuscitative Endovascular Balloon Occlusion of the Aorta, was recently invented to save the lives of Chest Trauma patients. With Haemorrhage --blood loss because of trauma, being the leading cause of potentially preventable death in the UK and US, medical scientists invented REBOA, an innovative way of decreasing blood loss from chest trauma.The device works by threading a balloon catheter up the Aorta and blowing it up, obstructing blood loss from large vessels, helping to maintain blood flow to critical organs until the haemorrhage can be controlled by surgery. REBOA is much less invasive and much quicker as compared to previous procedures and can even be performed in the field or before the patient has reached the hospital, saving precious minutes. This improvement represents a big leap for Trauma science and medicine, improving patient outcomes and marking the start of more similar innovative treatments in Trauma medicine.
Creativity in science is also about a scientist’s willingness to take intellectual risks and challenge popular viewpoints. For example, in the mid-1980s, Dr Barry Marshall, a gastroenterologist from Western Australia discovered that ulcers were caused by bacteria, instead of stress and excessive acid. This was contrary to medical wisdom held at the time and other scientists in the community opposed his view resolutely. Because Marshall was so firm in his belief, he drank from a Petri dish which contained billions of bacteria to prove his point. He was later given the 2005 Nobel prize for his discovery. When asked about his unconventional choice to infect himself, he reasoned that if he was right, the treatment for ulcer disease could be revolutionised with a simple, affordable cure and that he had done it for the sake of his patients. Though his method for proving his point was unorthodox, he wasn’t afraid to be different, challenging the current scientific belief for the greater good of public health.
Even though creativity is innate, it is also like a muscle and has to be practiced and cultivated. It’s a type of extreme curiosity, which develops with further reading and learning, in an environment that encourages the free exchange of ideas. Creativity is an extremely important mindset in science, to solve the problems of the world in different and better ways. Here’s to the next generation of creative scientists, that will change the world!