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Meet the Ovshinskys 4 pages: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |

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Stan holding a roll of photovoltaic product

Stan holding a roll of photovoltaic product.

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS: It sounds like every idea that you have, people would say "It can't be done," or "That will take way too long."

IRIS: That is absolutely true.

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS: What do you take from that, and how do you use it?

STAN: Well I use it philosophically. What we do has never been considered as possible, or people tried and failed, either one. We get basic patents. We use that time of incredulousness or skepticism, which is natural, on something that is dramatically different. And then we don't allow the criticism to do anything but spur us on. It goes with our belief that you don't talk about it, or wave your hands, we do it like we did at the Bibendum. We always build it to show that it works. And when that does it, that shifts the debate pattern. It's very difficult for somebody to say it ain't going to work when you're driving around in a car with it.

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS: But what is it about you guys that you can look beyond what people see in the day to day, and see the possibilities?

"What we do has never been considered as possible."


STAN: Well I think that's a very good question. First of all I don't play in the stock markets, I don't try to foresee the future in any way, I don't claim any extraordinary power. But I do know what society needs, and I think that the industry, building new industries, that that is an absolute requirement. Old industries are cyclical. Whether it's oil or whether it's automotive or whether semiconductors, they're all cyclical. Which means that the ups and downs can be very extreme at times. And the only thing that generates new jobs is innovation. So I "know" where science is going. And the global economy depends on energy and information, they're the twin pillars of our global economy. So I picked the ones that I knew were fundamental to our society, and to our global society, and then made, so to speak, revolutionary changes.

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS: Stan, you mentioned that you have been inventing for a very long time. What do you think of as your first invention? Were you a kid who was always thinking of better ways to squeeze the toothpaste tube and things like that?

IRIS: No no he's very inventive. My mother used to say, "Why can't his inventions do this or that," but he's not interested, he's not a tinkerer at all.
Stan at the chalkboard

In 1960, Stan showing Iris his energy loop starting with hydrogen fusion in the sun.

STAN: Edison was a great, great inventor but he would try a thousand things to get a result. Scientists make fun of that and that was called the Edisonian Method. I think that Edison was a bit smarter than that. That's like saying that a thousand monkeys can write Shakespeare. But that is not the way-- I know what I want, I know what I'm going to do, and I use the periodic chart of atoms as if it's an engineering diagram. It's not throwing darts at the periodic table. So I know what I can do and I just go ahead and do it. And I'm very blessed by having the help of a great team of people here. Colleagues and collaborators through the years, and a great group of people here, we're a meritocracy. Even though we have a lot of Ph.D.'s you don't have to be a Ph.D. to-- Otherwise I wouldn't be here, Iris is the only Ph.D. in our family.

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS: Do you think not having that Ph.D. credential, in some way frees you? Does not having had that rigid sort of training open your mind in a different way?

IRIS: I definitely think that's true.

STAN: In the early days it made me an easy target to some of the scientists.

IRIS: They looked at his work skeptically because he didn't have a Ph.D.

STAN: However, let me say this. When young people go to school they have to really respect authority and follow it. So they take, so to speak, orders when they go to grade school, high school, and then when they go to college. And all the time they're being treated in a "giving of information to you" kind of way. And then when they get out of school they say, "Okay, now you're on your own, think, be creative." After all those years of trying to kill it. And so you have to be an unusual person to survive and to do original work. So I think in that sense I think that you're absolutely right, and I think my scientific colleagues who told me the same thing, over and over again, I think that they must be right.

IRIS: The other thing you have to say, I mean he has an amazingly inventive mind. And he reads constantly. He's got way more than a Ph.D. in terms of all the stuff that he studies himself every single day.

STAN: That's true, I'm 81 and I'm still learning. I love learning. The fact is that in science it's your contributions that are important. And I look upon science differently, and that is that nature, God if you're religious, did not make disciplines. Man did, humans did. And therefore I don't recognize separation of disciplines. So I have published in neurophysiology, neuropsychiatry, cosmology, solid state physics, chemistry, physics, materials science, and so on. Wherever I feel I can make a contribution, that people want what I have to invent. That's fine, I work in it, and I get great joy out of it.

Learn more about the Ovshinsky's inventions.
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4 pages: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |

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