Is there an age for optimal creativity?
That's a question many people have debated over the years. Many great mathematicians and scientists did their most innovative work quite young (see this story, "Fleeting Youth, Fading Creativity in Science" by Jonah Lehrer in the Wall Street Journal for more on this.) It can help to be able to see a field afresh, without the weight of previous interpretation narrowing your focus. This isn't necessarily true in all fields -- writing a great novel may require knowing lots about the human condition, which tends not to happen until you've experienced the human condition -- but it is in many branches of science.
That can be a problem, because funding tends to come later in a scientist's career. Grant-making bodies like the NIH like to see a track record, which a younger scientist might not have. But Lehrer highlights work that is being done to change that, so that's encouraging.
Of course, one easy way to get funded is to work for a tech company that really hopes you will make a breakthrough. So I was fascinated to see, yesterday, a press release from Intel about a new $3.5 billion job initiative. Intel, and several other companies, are committing to increase hiring of American college grads into various science and tech positions. I imagine that many top math and science grads already have their pick of positions, but certainly giving a broad swath of young people access to capital and equipment probably won't hurt the cause of innovation.