Flights of Imagination

Mario Capecchi, Ph.D. Nobel Prize Winning Geneticist


We like stories, we like storylines. When I write a paper, I always write it in terms of a story. Not because that's the way life is, but because that's the way we think. When we started gene targeting what it does is inactivate one gene at a time. No story is one gene. It's always the interaction of many genes together that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

My end is always understanding. I'm excited when all of a sudden I understand something that I didn't understand before. And that is what makes science exciting, when you know all of a sudden, you see something that nobody else has seen before. My feeling is always push, push, push understanding. Push basic research and translation will automatically follow.

Science is interesting because it entails almost two completely opposite skills. One is flights of imagination. You have to think about things that don't exist and why they don't exist. It's that kind of mentality that allows you to jump into areas where the solutions aren't clear, that they look impossible. You simply have to extend yourself into them and then make it possible. On the other hand, if you want experiments to work, you have to work extremely diligently and pay attention to detail which is a completely opposite skill. A successful scientist has to have both.

Each one of us sees the world from our own eyes because of our training and because of our experiences, and everybody else is seeing it from slightly different eyes. I think the cross mashing of that is where new things can arise.

If you want to really be innovative, you're almost working at the edge of science fiction because at that point people are willing to have flights of imagination. One of the aphorisms that I was raised on, "The difficult we do right away, the impossible takes a little longer." It takes the same amount of effort to work on big questions as little questions. So why not work on big questions?