The secret to making a scientific discovery

Story highlights

  • Three leading scientists reveal the secrets behind their breakthroughs
  • The innovators answered questions during a CNN Tech Twitter chat

(CNN)Scientists spend years in search of answers to some of the world's biggest questions: Is there life beyond Earth? How can we use technology to save lives? What do we know about how humans evolved?

But what does it really take to make these breakthroughs in science?
    Some people believe you need vast amounts of money or funding, others stress access to equipment as the most important thing, while many believe it's about building a dependable research team.
    As part of CNN Frontiers, we held a Twitter chat asking three eminent scientists for their tips on making a scientific breakthrough: astrophysicist Sara Seager, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, and biomedical engineer Chris Toumazou.
    They explained the secrets of their success to help future scientists reach that eureka moment.

    Q1. What are the essential steps for making a scientific breakthrough?

    Berger and Seager emphasized the importance of working hard, testing your hypotheses and often just following your instinct. They also stressed the need to persevere over a long period of time.
    Toumazou gave a step by step guide, and stressed the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone.
    A group promoting the professional well-being of African American physicists and physics students had some sage advice.

    Q2. What is the most common misconception about scientific endeavour or research?

    As well as our interviewees, other scientists joined in the chat to impart their wisdom. Between them they focused on the amount of work that goes into making a breakthrough in order to dispel the myths believed by some who believe it's just luck.
    Seager was keen to point out that creativity is also key when working in science and that success is not a straightforward process, just like in other industries.