The value of years: good stories and advice from M. H. J. Koch


One paper I managed to miss for my review paper on data corrections is a paper by M. H. J. Koch from Hamburg. The paper is written in a nice informal way, replete with good quotes, where he talks about his experiences in instrument development for SAXS and WAXS beamlines. In particular the paper details the development of delay line (wire) detectors, and may form a good introduction into this topic. It seems that wire detectors may still have their uses: their rapid response to incoming photons still puts them among the fastest 2D detectors out there.

What I especially appreciated about the paper are the short stories and insights. In particular, a quote on the managerial response to new situations is very enlightening: “[Given the trend of the EMBL and everyone else in the 1980s to put the emphasis on protein crystallography, meant that] support for further development in SAXS instrumentation was halted and the outstation was reorganized into independent groups. Many years later I found a quotation which George Hampton [director at CERN] circulated to his colleagues after a discussion of a reorganisation in that institution: “It seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be disbanded. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation. Petronius Arbiter 57 AD.” I [M. Koch] did not check the authenticity of the quotation but it very well describes what happened at regular intervals at the EMBL outstation in subsequent years.”

It is nuggets of wisdom like these that can be very helpful and supporting to any young researcher in the field, and the paper is well worth a read for those at the very least, besides gaining insight in some of their more technical findings of molten slits, wrong-way-around-beamlines and detectors that never were. I leave you with this quote from him on the nature of science: “[practically, ] science is driven by the five F’s: Funds, Freedom (there is none without funds), Fun (there is none without freedom), Fortune and Fame.”. It indicates that all science begins with funds and should end in fortune and fame!


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