University of South Florida

Innovation after 5 PM: My take on “Night Science”

Some of you may have heard my discussion of “Night Science” in a lecture or seminar that I have given at USF MCOM, and for some levity I will comment on its essential elements.  I encourage everyone to consider practicing Night Science — when the time is right.

I first heard this term from Gerald Rubin of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Janelia Research Campus.  He heard it from someone else, but, I have modified it to my version so it may not resemble what the originator had in mind.  Night Science differs from your “day job.”  It is risky, chaotic, unpredictable, and not hypothesis based. It works towards something really new, typically goes against dogma, and often requires development of innovative methods. Some ideas helping to shape my version of Night Science came from Nobel Laureate Alfred Gilman, who has written that hypothesis-based research is over-glorified.

A key property seems to be that the results of the experiments come after 5 p.m.  It is a special time in the lab, when the vested few hang around for the results.  It is quiet.  Your mind is open, and when the data emerge and you see that little signal that indicates you are headed in the right direction, it is magical. In addition, it is important to know when to stop certain Night Science experiments, a sort of nocturnal intuition.  The practice is best carried out when you have resources in play, rather than when you are generating data for your first grant.  At a recent meeting of several former HHMI fellows, we all admitted to the practice and most of us felt that our best work came from such adventures.

I continue to refine this Night Science concept, and will report back on any new properties. In the meantime, we have a box of flashlights in the Office of Research for those who need one.


Stephen Liggett, MD
Vice Dean for Research
Professor of Medicine, Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology
USF Health Morsani College of Medicine

Stephen Liggett_2015_Preferred_headshot

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