Nautilus

Five Veteran Scientists Tell Us What Most Surprised Them

Turn back the clock to 1965. Science appeared to be marching forward at an unrelenting pace. Biochemists had cracked the genetic code (how DNA translates into proteins), inspiring Life magazine to envision “superbabies with improved minds and bodies.” In an article for the trade magazine Electronics, computer engineer Gordon Moore predicted that the number of transistors on an integrated chip would double every year while the cost stayed the same—the eponymous Moore’s Law. This, he wrote, would lead to “such wonders” as home computers, mobile phones, and automatic control systems for cars.

Meanwhile, the New York World’s Fair provided further glimpses of what the future might hold: fusion power, moon colonies, underwater hotels, robot maids, flying cars, and 3-D TV. For young scientists at the time, these forecasts must have been both thrilling and daunting. What did they expect to realistically come true in their lifetimes? And did science live up to their expectations?

We checked in with five scientists whose careers were just beginning in 1965. They are microbiologist Rita Colwell, former director of the U.S. National Science Foundation and a top expert in infectious diseases; physicist Mary K. Gaillard, who co-predicted the mass of the charm quark; astronomer Edwin C. Krupp, who has directed Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory for 41 years; retired astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, one of the last people to walk on the moon; and paleoanthropologist Ian

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