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In science, rejection can be a compliment

KVA Hˆgtidssammankomst 2015
Egor Babaev accepts the Göran Gustafsson Prize in March from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The Academy cited Babaev’s “original theoretical research, which has shown entirely new ways to understand complex systems and processes in materials physics.” (Photo: Markus Marcetic, © Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien)


Physics researcher Egor Babaev speaks from experience when he tells his students that rejection can sometimes be taken as a form of compliment.

His most influential paper, published in 2003 on the subject of superconductivity, was initially turned down by a number of journals on the grounds that its conclusions couldn’t be possible in principle. It took Babaev two years to get it published, but the effort was worth it. “It is one of my most cited papers, but at the same time it was the hardest to publish,” says Babaev, an assistant professor at the Department for Theoretical Physics at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. It also led to a prestigious award from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

As a postdoctoral researcher at Uppsala and Cornell universities, Babaev had proposed a type of superconductor that didn’t fall inside of the traditional classification of superconductors. Neither type I or type II, the type 1.5 superconductor he predicted has not only garnered numerous citations, but research funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Among those citing the were prominent researchers from Princeton and Stanford. “I got many invitations for seminars,” he says. “I tell my students about it as an example: if you try to do something innovative, do not expect referees to immediately and uniformly accept it.

“When we get occasionally get a similar reaction from a referee, that can be taken as a compliment,” he says. “In physics one should try not to take for granted, but challenge, even the most basic notions, no matter how well-established they may seem to be.”

David Callahan

Watch Egor Babaev give a presentation on type 1.5 superconductivity



David Callahan is editor for international news and media at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

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