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Professor Shares Success Stories

Many of history’s great scientists and discoverers had to overcome difficult obstacles before rising to the top of their fields, a renowned professor and chemical engineer said at Brigham Young University’s annual Reed M. Izatt and James J. Christensen Lecture.

Robert Byron Bird shared the stories of Emmy Noether, Paul Dirac, the Wright brothers and others who he said overcame various challenges to do great things. “These are fabulously interesting people,” he told an audience on November 17.

A renowned German mathematician, Noether fought to study and teach at universities in a time when female students and professors were almost non-existent. “She was a wonderful person,” Bird said. “Everybody loved her.”

Often teaching without pay, she helped many of her students earn doctorate degrees and developed Noether’s Theorem, which shows the relationship of energy momentum and angular momentum to the properties of space and time.

Another critical theorem came from Paul Dirac, who Bird said was one of the “two most revolutionary, creative physicists of the twentieth century.” Dirac overcame a difficult childhood to create an equation that satisfied both quantum mechanics and relativity and predicted the existence of positrons in atoms. He received the Nobel Prize at age 31.

“Everybody was amazed,” Bird said. “Fantastic story.”

Wilbur and Orville Wright were two others Bird said were two of his favorite pioneers. The brothers, who owned a bike shop in Dayton, Ohio, eventually began building and testing gliders, earning every cent for their research, materials and travel, Bird said.

The brothers developed the idea of wing warping and were the first to build a successful motorized airplane, which Orville first flew for a total of 12 seconds on December 17, 1903.

“Think of the progress we’ve made in the last century,” Bird said. “Now we go to the moon.”

Bird encouraged the audience to read about history’s great scientists and discoverers and how they overcame obstacles. People should emulate these pioneers and glean as many ideas as they can from these stories, he said.

“Ideas are very closely related to progress,” he said. “If Wilbur and Orville hadn’t had their ideas about how to make a glider stable, they never would have been able to fly.”

Watch What Makes Scientists and Discoverers Tick here.

By Justin Ritter Posted on