Like anything else in life, there is a lot of luck in scientific success. Astronomers searching for new worlds have to pick the right sections of sky. Biologists cross their fingers that their cell lines will survive long enough for an experiment. Two paleontologists are excavating at a field site in Montana — both skilled, both committed. One turns up a T. rex skeleton; the other, nothing but dirt. In the end, it’s the luck of the dig.
A fruitful career in science can also depend on the luck of birth. Early exposure to the wonders of discovery, access to a good education and the wisdom of an academic mentor are all matters often outside of a future scientist’s control. As is the historical context in which a scientist lives. It’s impossible to know, but what if Albert Einstein had been born a century earlier, or a century