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At Cornell

Watt W. Webb
The High Tech Path

Watt W. Webb

To Experiment Is the True Way

Colleagues Rebecca Williams and Warren Zipfel, Appplied and Engineering PhysicsI’ve changed fields six times since I’ve been at Cornell, and I’ve changed career directions six times before that. After 12 years in industry with various responsibilities, Cornell was a great choice because of Applied and Engineering Physics’ flexibility in accommodating a variety of interdisciplinary research.

What I’ve found most productive and most enjoyable is trying to invent new technologies to solve what we call the “impossible problems.” I’ve always been sensitized to unsolved problems.

Each challenge raises its own questions. Why is it important? Is it valuable to the knowledge and welfare of society? First, I have to recognize what is important to learn, then, how to discover the measurement pathways and make them work. If an experimental problem looks like it’s a mess—hard to understand—it may still offer a challenge of great significance. If the alleged concepts seem to be nonsense, then the first step is to reformulate the question; this step often defines the experimental approach. Thinking about experiences in other fields often suggests new approaches. And sometimes that leads to invention of new solutions to the impossible problems. If the new solution is really reliable, it may become useful worldwide. That is a very satisfying reward for our efforts.


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