It’s not like Dr. Fleming wrote a detailed five-year project proposal upfront on making the breakthrough invention of penicillin. Like many other breakthroughs in science, his accidental discovery stemmed from a failed experiment testing another hypothesis.
A breakthrough is an important discovery or event that helps to improve a situation or provide an answer to a problem. From that point onwards, things in that area will never be the same again; the breakthrough means the start of a lasting change. Sometimes breakthroughs are anticipated upon, sometimes they are perceived as a surprise.
Meanwhile, Fleming published his findings in June 1929 with only a passing reference to penicillin’s potential therapeutic benefits. At this stage it looked as if its main application would be in isolating bacteria in a mixed culture.
From initial recognition to breakthrough
It was Howard Florey, Ernst Chain and their colleagues at Oxford University who turned penicillin from a laboratory curiosity into a life-saving drug. It seems that the NWA-ORC programme targets this stage of research and development. The stage between the initial recognition and realising the potential and creating a breakthrough in science and, if the discovery is as impactful as the discovery of penicillin, also in society.
The Perfect Match
To sum up what seems to be a perfect match for a NWA-ORC grant:
- There is a problem or problematic situation or trend that has been there for a while and the mainstream opinion acknowledges this particular problem.
- While there are several (groups of) scientists around the world working on a solution, it isn’t there yet.
- You have reason to believe that your hypothesis points towards the solution for (part of) the particular problem.
- More research is needed to prove this.
- If you really digged up gold for this project, you could really work towards a solution with some further research and/or development.
- In order to make this happen you need expertise and experience from collaborative partners.
A brainstorm session about breakthroughs
You may find it difficult to think of your own project in this way, finding the balance between overpromise and undersell. Feel free to plan in a brainstorm session with us, perhaps we can help!
Stay tuned for part 2 in this series: the knowledge chain