Home > Uncategorized > The Good Old Days…

The Good Old Days…

I miss the days when we were all scientists. As children, discovery and invention applied to contexts of everyday life, from the arrangement of building blocks in the playroom to the study of dirt and pebbles of the backyard. During long summer afternoons at the beach, I can fondly recall my tireless endeavors to plot the best canal system through the sand. When the first snow of the season fell in November, I would contemplate the most effective way to mold a proper snowman. When all else failed and there was nothing left to do outside, I would pass time in the kitchen, mixing various sauces and condiments from the refrigerator in hopes of producing some sort of massive explosion. And although my sand sculptures often crumbled, my snowmen melted, and my food concoctions failed to produce anything but a predictably wretched odor, I was content with my role as a master of science.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but at some point during my maturation, science converted from a physical to a far more conceptual entity. As a college freshman and intended biology major, I devote far less time to experimentation than I did as a kindergarten student. Although currently enrolled in multiple science courses, class time is wholly dedicated to the memorization of uninspired lectures, and lab periods are regularly consumed by note taking. It often feels as though my ability to actually do science has been overshadowed by the precedent to learn about science. As do my classmates, I spend far more time researching the efforts of others rather than forming my own basis of knowledge through trial and error. In the context of collegiate study, this is obviously necessary and appropriate. After all, the administration most likely wouldn’t appreciate hoards of students converting university property into personal lab spaces. Not to mention, the material presented in our textbooks is essential to a complete understanding of the subject as a whole. Whether practical or not, however, the manner in which science is taught to college freshman simply isn’t as fun as we once imagined.

As we now discuss the rhetorical nature of science during class, I once again find myself nostalgic for a simpler time. While it certainly is interesting to consider many of the more abstract implications of defining science, such discussions also sadly serve to remind me that I am no longer a wide-eyed child. The world of discovery has its boundaries. Ethics, proper methodology, and observational acuity define the limited landscape in which experimentation is meaningful. While each and every GW science student has experienced this transition at some point in his or her life, we rarely take the necessary moment to appreciate its magnitude. Growing up is both a gift and a curse. While we can learn to appreciate the complexity of the surrounding world, many of our most innocent assumptions are lost forever. Science is no longer whatever I want it to be. There are rules, and these rules will forever govern my experiences as a student and a professional. Every once in a while, though, it can’t hurt to take a step back into the past… a past where all I needed to be a scientist was a set of beakers and the hope of making something explode.

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  1. September 18, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    I think perhaps you have not become any less of a scientist, but instead you have changed your definition of a scientist. As a child, trial and error is often more obvious and defining, take for example riding a bike, you are forced to experiment with balance and power and if you fail your errors are quite obvious in the pain that results from falling. But if we look at the general definition of a scientist, as essentially one who test a hypothesis then I believe we are all still very much scientists but we just fail to recognize it. For example, when doing something as common as having a conversation with a classmate you are preforming a number of small experiments with each sentence you speak. If you tell a joke you are testing the hypothesis that what you have to say is funny, if they laugh you have confirmed your hypothesis, if not then you have disproven it, and so you learn and adapt to his or her sense of humor. Or say for example you are writing a paper, you write it one way and hand it in with hypothesis that it will please your teacher and you will get a good grade, then depending on the result, you will either continue to write that way because it got you a good grade, or you will change your style of content until you receive a grade that pleases you. So essentially what im trying to say it that I think while not all of us are biologists or chemists, we are all still scientists who preform our own little experiments daily.

  2. September 18, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    I don’t think that our days of experimentation are over just because we are adults. Do you ever think about the world? Do you ever tried to see how many beers you can down before you are totally wasted? Vodka? Is that not experimenting?

    Many musicians would agree that part of music is also experimenting. We still experiment, even though our discoveries aren’t as profound as “Ow. Aww Lawd Almaigty. I burned myself. I guess fire is hot.”.

  3. September 18, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    I can agree with the beginning of your post where as young children we experimented without theorizing first i can certainly remember making explosions in my back yard with mentor and diet coke or baking soda and vinegar. But now as I grow older I feel like rather then shying away I am theorizing a little but still experimenting in much bigger ways. I remember last year i got bored around the house and decided to build an electronic pen to use with a wii remote and projector. Sure i did a little research before hand but the majority of the work came from actually experimenting with what worked and what didn’t work. I finally finished it and it was awesome, but that feeling of awesomeness was from all the experimenting and not so much the research. Even now in computer programming we perform trial and error with our code to see if we can get the program to do what we want it to. Oh this while loop doesn’t work? Maybe we’ll try the do while loop? Oh that doesn’t work either? Lets try an if/else statement. That works Great! Knowing how something works from research is great but knowing how a certain thing works when combined with another is a whole other thing and is something that can only usually be determined from trial and error. But i truly think the best way is to balance research/theory with trial and error /application. Having a balance usually will cut down time and be more efficient in science.

  4. September 18, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with these words: “science converted from a physicial to a far more conceptual entity”…the truth to this matter is that I think that this should apply to all of us. As infants we felt the desire to experiment and play around with objects (I’m betting we all probably enjoyed it) but as I grew, it also happened to me, science suddenly became purely conceptual and I felt very confused. For me it almost felt as if I had lost a passion, but I think that we also have to understasnd that science is conceptual and that it is proven through physical tests. This is what captured my attention, because I felt identified with the fact that really science has upgraded; by this I mean that from simple, experimental, funny tests, that taught us something to complex, professional experiments that we actually don’t get a notion of how they trully work.

  5. September 20, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Trent et al… I really enjoyed reading this post. I agree with what Haysoos is saying… as we have to learn the theories of things, the experimentation ends up happening in improvisation, which is much more subtle than, say, seeing who can build a contraption that will allow an egg to safely land on asphalt if dropped from a fifth floor window.

    I’m also wondering if you know about the new science and technology building that’s slated to go where the old parking garage was (the huge demolition site diagonal from Gelman at 22nd & H). It’s allegedly going to have state-of-the-art labs, and I’m wondering how you guys feel about that? What kind of technology should go into a state-of-the-art lab?

    –tina

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