By Alan Lightman This week, New Scientist begins its 50th year of reporting on scientific discoveries. But what will produce the stories behind the next 50 years of headlines? Is the process of scientific breakthrough a product of hard work, personality, inspiration, intelligent guessing or plain old-fashioned luck? Physicist and novelist Alan Lightman explores the recipe for scientific progress IN ONE of the most remarkable narratives of scientific discovery, Otto Loewi, at age 87, recalled how the idea came to him for testing the way nerves communicate. The thought arrived in a dream: “The night before Easter Sunday of  I awoke, turned on the light, and jotted down a few notes on a tiny slip of paper. Then I fell asleep again. It occurred to me at 6 o’clock in the morning that during the night I had written down something most important, but I was unable to decipher the scrawl. The next night, at 3 o’clock, the idea returned. It was the design of an experiment to determine whether or not the hypothesis of chemical transmission [of the nervous impulse from nerves to their respective organs] that I had uttered 17 years ago was correct. I got up immediately, went to the laboratory, and performed a simple experiment on a frog heart according to the nocturnal design.” At the time of Loewi’s dream, it was well known that signals travel down the spindly filaments of a nerve in the form of electricity. What was not known was how nerves conveyed their electrical impulses to muscles, organs and other nerves. In short, how did nerves talk to the rest of the body?