There was an interesting article that showed up in many places that had some neat information in it. It also didn’t really explore one of the things that struck me as interesting.
The article(s) is MSN: The stroke of genius strikes later in life today. It talks about the idea that scientists do their best work before the age of 30.
It turns out that it definitely USED to be generally true; but it has increasingly not been the case. It turns out that for physics at least, 48 is the average age at which their most genius work is done.
One thing that struck me was this sentence:
“In fact, in 1923, the proportion of physicists who did their breakthrough work by age 30 peaked at 31 percent. Those who did their best work by age 40 peaked in 1934 at 78 percent.”
Let’s keep those numbers in mind for a minute. Consider for a second that it was a certain generation of physicists who bring about the Quantum Mechanics revolution, and not a particular age. Let’s consider the generation born in 1893-4.
If this generation was in the proper place due to an accident of birth, they might have the lion’s share of substantial breakthroughs over a twenty year span or so. This group of physicists would have turned 30 in 1923-24. This same group of physicists would have turned 40 in 1933-34.
So, it’s the same generation in both cases, the only thing that differed was when their “best work” was considered to have occurred. In fact, since the percentages peaked in both decades, it appears that that generation is the one that dominated physics for twenty years.