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  March 5, 2001

Nobelist to Speak on Science and 'Progress'

When scientific discoveries are made, their far-reaching practical applications may not be readily apparent.

Such was the case in 1945, when scientists discovered nuclear magnetic resonance: It laid the groundwork for the most important invention in medical imaging since the discovery of the X-ray - Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

"The emergence of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) is one of the fascinating dream stories, telling us how important basic research is for the advancement of our civilization," says chemist Richard R. Ernst.

On Tuesday, March 6, Ernst, winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his contributions to the development of the methodology of high resolution NMR spectroscopy, will offer his thoughts on science and research. He will discuss "NMR, a Fascinating Success Story of Science: The Facts and Some Afterthoughts," at 4 p.m. in the Gant Science Complex, Room IMS20. The lecture is part of the Norman Hascoe Distinguished Lecture series.

"The discoverers of the fundamental phenomena had not the slightest idea of the practical importance their observations have achieved," Ernst says. "An esoteric physical effect, nearly impossible to observe, has revolutionized chemistry, materials science, biology, and clinical medicine."

In light of this example, Ernst will offer thoughts on science in general: Is this phenomenal emergence typical for science? Does it justify any basic research, even if no foreseeable benefit is initially apparent? Does science invariably lead to positive progress? Is our free market economy, taking advantage of scientific progress, truly the ultimate wisdom? Can rational science and free competition really replace ethics?

The Hascoe Lecture is aimed at advanced undergraduates who are interested in science, says William Stwalley, professor and head of the physics department. "Students from across all science disciplines should be comfortable with Ernst's talk. It's a real opportunity for them to interact with a truly outstanding scientist who has had a major impact on physical chemistry and other related areas," he says.

Marcel Utz, an assistant professor of physics at UConn who worked with Ernst when he was a graduate student, encourages students to ask questions at the talk. "He is very responsive and approachable," Utz says.

Other Nobel Laureates who have lectured at UConn in the past five years include: Steve Chu, 1997 physics prize; Rick Smalley, 1996 chemistry prize; David Lee, 1996 physics prize; Bill Phillips, 1997 physics prize; Horst Stormer, 1998 physics prize; and Jerome Friedman, 1990 physics prize.

Sherry Fisher