Breakthrough Scientific Discoveries Happen Later In Life

Albert Einstein once said, "A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of 30 will never do so." But according to research, most modern scientific breakthroughs are happening later in life.

Why It Matters

It can be hard to see a prodigious young kid whose already killing it at the violin, or painting, or inventing, or whatever. You see this impressive kiddo and think about yourself, a smart college grad just going with the flow. "These kids are starting so young these days, it's too late for me to pick up a new instrument, or learn to use a paintbrush, or pitch something on SharkTank." Well, do we have some great news for you! It's never too late, and we're not just saying that. According to a 2011 study by Ohio State University researchers, scientific breakthroughs are not dominated by young people anymore. "Today, the average age at which physicists do their Nobel Prize winning work is 48. Very little breakthrough work is done by physicists under 30," said Bruce Weinberg, a co-author of the study. Why is this the new trend? It's probably because people are living longer, and maintaining a high quality of life for longer, too.

So don't let the fact that Albert Einstein proposed his theory of special relativity when he was 26 (yes, really) make you feel inadequate. Times they are a-changin'. But even when huge discoveries and important inventions were made mostly by younger people (about two-thirds of Nobel winners in chemistry, physics, and medicine before 1905 did their prize-winning work before age 40), there were exceptions. And these exceptions come from all across the spectrum—not just science and technology. At 54, Annie Jump Cannon became the first astronomer to classify the stars according to spectral type. Julia Child didn't even learn to cook until her mid-30s. At 62, J.R.R. Tolkien published the first volume of "Lord of the Rings." Pablo Picasso completed his masterpiece painting "Guernica" at age 55.

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Why It's Relevant

These days, society is obsessed with youth. You see it everywhere: How to look younger! Feel younger! Bend the curves of time to remain young forever! Coupled with this love for all things youthful is the fear of all things "old." But according to research from the Pew Research Center, getting older is not nearly as bad as people expect it to be. With this attitude, who knows, maybe you'll become the next 60-year-old to make a major scientific discovery. It could happen.

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Written by Curiosity Staff December 19, 2016

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