These days we’re told countless times that it’s essential for a scientist to have an “elevator message”. That is, we need to be able to describe what we’re doing in a pitch accessible to a lay person ideally in something like a single sentence. Some people have a comparatively easy time of this. They can say “I’m trying to cure cancer”, or “I’m trying to solve the energy crisis”, and have that be a reasonable description of their overarching research goals. Condensed matter physicists in general often have trouble with this, and tend to fall back on things like “My work will eventually enable faster computers” or “…better sensors”. I’m all in favor of brief, accessible descriptions of what scientists do, but there are times when I think the elevator message idea is misguided. Not every good research program can be summed up in one sentence.
Doug goes on to give a five sentence summary of his research focus. I think it is a good idea for every researcher to come up with a short and pithy description of her own research; it is only one sentence summaries that are not always possible. Having said that, even to give a statement like Doug’s in four or five statements takes lots of thinking, effort and experience.