There is a kind of science that takes place during the summer in Woods Hole that follows a unique process: two scientists (they can be at any level of seniority–one might be a senior professor, the other a grad student for example) sit down by the water over lunch and compare experimental results. Together they notice someone odd and unexpected in some recent data. They wonder if the oddness might be explained by some ‘totally out there’ explanation. They design a new experiment to test their hypothesis. That evening, they set up the experiment and around 2AM the next day, they both witness the result which changes our understanding of biology.
The bringing together of life scientists to randomly interact like that and then, productively, move our field forward of course happens elsewhere. But I’ve never seen it happen more regularly than at MBL. There is a magic to the place that is beyond the beauty of an Eel Pond sunrise. As with evolution itself, both history and contingency play an important role in Woods Hole’s secret sauce. I’m not at all sure that it can be scaled. But it’s an important example of how science can be a successful enterprise.