Ask people to conjure up an image of a scientist and Albert Einstein is most likely to pop into their head. The iconic image is of a lone genius beavering away in some secluded room until that familiar equation – E=mc2 – crystallised in his brain sufficiently to be written down. I very much doubt doing science was ever quite like that, but it is even more unlikely to apply now.
Stephen Hawking’s Grand Design, the three-part series currently running on the Discovery Channel, includes vignettes of many of the famous historical names of science: Einstein is there, as are Galileo, Newton and Descartes. They are all, says Hawking, his heroes and in each case their work is identified with them as individuals. But move into the 20th and 21st centuries and the famous names are no longer necessarily singletons. Discoveries are more likely to be the work of teams which, as in the case of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), may number hundreds, if not thousands.