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Most know Musk as the founder of Tesla, cofounder of PayPal, and the CEO of SpaceX. And while he’s done quite a bit in his lifetime in the field of science, some may ask the question if he is truly a scientist by trade?
Musk has a physics degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and he enrolled in a graduate program in physics at Stanford University before dropping out early on. He was a coder in the early days of the internet and made vast amounts of money selling his ventures — Zip2, a company that sold early online maps and was bought by Compaq for $307 million, and PayPal, which eBay bought for $2 billion.
By 2002, Musk was on his way to being an investor who quickly became interested in electric cars and space travel. And while he was an investor in both SpaceX and Tesla Motors, he was also heavily steeped in design, playing a lead role in both products’ engineering. While he might not have a degree in engineering, he oversaw the development of the all-electric Tesla Roadster and Model S sedan.
Musk is a famous workaholic who, in a 2021 interview, said that the majority of his working time was spent developing the technology. “Almost all my time, like 80 percent of it, is spent on engineering and design […] developing next-generation product,” he said to Y Combinator founder Sam Altman.
At SpaceX, he was responsible for overseeing the design of SpaceX Falcon 1, the first privately developed rocket to reach orbit. Since then, SpaceX has also debuted Falcon 9, Dragon Spacecraft and Falcon Heavy, one of the most powerful operating rockets in the world.
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Through another one of his ventures, The Boring Company, he’s seeking to use underground tunnels to solve traffic congestion by finding another place for cars and freight to go. According to the company, the only way to solve the issue of “soul-crushing” congestion is through flying cars or tunnels, and “unlike flying cars, tunnels are weatherproof, out of sight, and won’t fall on your head.”
While Musk doesn’t do lab research per se or author scientific papers, it would be difficult to argue that he wasn’t a scientist at all. His background in physics is, after all, his guiding light.
He famously said that he operates by “the physics approach to analysis. You boil things down to the first principles or fundamental truths in a particular area, and then you reason up from there.”
When he was a child and was afraid of the dark, he used physics to overcome his fears, writing that “dark just means the absence of photons in the visible wavelength — 400 to 700 nanometers […] It’s really silly to be afraid of a lack of photons.”
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