'I knew that I had found the answer'

| Jelle Posthuma

The eureka moment, the moment when you have a brilliant idea or a sudden discovery. We asked UT researchers about their eureka experience.


‘I have had several eureka moments over the course of my scientific career. One of the most recent ones happened in a hotel room in Taipei (Taiwan). I was there for a conference. After I had gone to bed, I could not stop thinking about the stability of nanobubbles. When do they dissolve and when are they stable? Normally, I tend to fall asleep within a minute, but not this time. I had the idea to apply the calculation of the famous coffee-stain effect to the nanobubble stability problem and was suddenly wide-awake again. I immediately sat down at the desk in my room and began the calculations. I was right. When the calculation was done, I looked on my watch and it was half past three in the morning. It all happened fast. I began to write the paper the next day during my flight back to the Netherlands. Within a few days the paper was finished.’

‘I knew that I had found the answer. Now I had to convince the community of the veracity of  the solution. Some colleagues did not believe me at first. I encountered quite some resistance, as is usual with original ideas, but fortunately in science the facts are incontrovertible.’

‘Later I developed an ERC Advanced Grant application partially building on the idea I had that day and the application was granted. That allowed us to establish a new line of research at the UT for Diffusive Droplet Dynamics. We also developed practical applications, in diagnostics and the coating industry, for example.’

‘As a scientist, you live for the eureka moment. I see it as a puzzle: it can only happen after you have collected every piece. That takes years of preparation: reading papers, talking to fellow scientists, experiments conducted by doctoral candidates, the requisite knowledge and the general scientific background. You then start to turn, throw away and move these individual pieces until everything suddenly fits together perfectly. That is the eureka moment.’