Serendipity, Scientific Discovery, and Project Cirrus Walter On Roberts Lecture Duncan C. Blanchard Albany, New York ABSTRAC T Irving Langmuir defined serendipity as the art of profiting from unexpected occurrences. Numerous such occur- rences during World War II led Langmuir and Vincent Schaefer fro m research on gas masks through a variety of defense- related projects ending with the supercooling of clouds. Serendipity led Schaefer to discover that dry ice could nucleate ice formation in supercooled clouds and Bernard Vonnegut to discover ice nucleation by silver iodide. The government- sponsored Project Cirrus grew out of these discoveries. During Project Cirrus (1947-52), many serendipitous discover- ies and inventions were made, opening up areas of research still being pursued today. There has been speculation on why the role of serendipity is seldom mentioned in reporting discoveries in technical journals. The aversion to it may be ego related, the feeling that chance or luck is not good science. Editors inadvertently discourage it by the straight-jacket requirements in the writing of papers. By being curious, persevering, widely read, and aware that many branches of knowledge must often be brought to bear on a problem, one can be prepared to expe- rience serendipity when
Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society – American Meteorological Society
Published: Jun 1, 1996
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