Over the years, I have come to the rather brutal realization that not everybody is as interested in chemistry as I am.
Even my wife, Jennie, who is a chemist by training herself, would wonder how I could easily lose myself for hours in the laboratory chipping away at my research, hoping to understand that puzzling result or finish the final draft of a key paper or grant proposal.
What is it that drives us obsessed scientists (and, I suspect, obsessed social scientists and artists)? I believe it’s the allure of being able to contribute something new and unique to the world, and for that contribution to have a positive effect on humankind. No doubt it is a lofty goal, and our work in furthering it requires tremendous focus and fortitude. It is also typically unglamourous as we mostly toil away in obscurity.
So it was indeed a proud day for all of us NYU "toilers" when our own economist Paul Romer was recognized for his outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of economics. Paul received the Nobel Prize in recognition of research that he had published decades ago. That research recognized and quantified the impact of innovative ideas on economic growth, giving economists new tools for measurement and, along the way, illustrating how government policies can advance or hinder innovation.
At universities, ideas are our business. We take those ideas and form hypotheses and then test them, rejecting those that don’t pan out and accepting those that do, with the aim of producing knowledge that others can build upon. There are countless examples of groundbreaking and life-changing research among my colleagues’ work in all disciplines at NYU. Whether it’s Steinhardt, Wagner, and Langone scientists studying how the environment influences children’s health, faculty at Global Public Health unearthing evidence-based solutions to tackle the opioid crisis, scientists at Abu Dhabi discovering alternatives for rainforest-destroying palm oil, or FAS psychologists unearthing cultural stereotypes that serve to undermine the advancement of women—the work our faculty, post-docs, and students are doing every day at NYU will likely be critical to the advancement of our global society decades or even hundreds of years from now.
Just taking a moment to ponder this fact is both exhilarating and humbling. Hopefully, it will inspire us all to continue to persevere in doing work that is a source of personal pride, despite the fact that we may not have received the Nobel prize—yet!