Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What Is Science?

The other day I was asked "What Is Science?". Well, that's a toughy - very philosophical for my right-brained self... but I sat down and thought it out. Here are my thoughts, pre-Antarctica.

Science is an adventure. It’s a quest for knowledge that never ends. It takes time and effort, but it’s really quite simple once you get to the heart of it. People like to learn new things. This is especially true when it comes to the world around us. So they come up with stories of what they think will happen, and then create controlled experiments to see if they’re right. It is a process… and a messy one at that. Filled with lots of mistakes, lots of work - and if you really love what you’re doing, lots of fun as well! Science is opportunity. It’s an opportunity to show the world that there’s more out there than meets the eye. It’s an opportunity to shine a light on the very small,
SEM image of Biotite, a mineral found in ash.
(the very small)
and pull into perspective the very large. It’s an opportunity to discover something that no one else thought of, or find something unexpected. Science is not only for the stodgy, bearded, academic. Science is organic, and holds a place in everyone’s hearts. While there are many fancy words, impressive citations, complicated formulas etc. Everything begins with a question. And that question sparks new questions. From a child asking where rain comes from, to NASA wondering if there’s water on mars. Everything stems from that integral human trait - curiosity.

I mean, I know that’s why I agreed to a six week journey to Antarctica - the coldest and most desolate on Earth. It's curiosity, adventure, the idea of discovering something new! The opportunity to stand on ground that no one has ever stood on before! One doesn't just suffer through weeks of no showers and no internet for kicks. Besides, many people have been through much worse for the sake of discovery. Science is messy. It's sloughing through marshes, playing with lightening, exploring in the jungle... and camping in the cold and wind of
BUARG camp site juxtaposed to the TAM
(the very large)
Antarctica. In order to learn how nature works, you need to go up and poke it with a stick.
I'm so excited to have this opportunity to actually get in there, roll up my sleeves (or layer them on) and figure it out for myself!

Yet, science is an enterprise that affects so many more people than just the solitary scientist. It builds upon years and years of hard work by others in our fields. When I was a kid, I used to wonder why nature does what it does. But this is an age old question that humans have been tackling for centuries. It began with the very first people and simple experiments like "is this berry safe to eat", or "can I touch fire". As time went on people soon realized that science is methodical, a process. It involves experimentation, and data collection. Plus the invention of written language probably didn't hurt. Thus over centuries of hard work, we have transformed "science" into the large body of knowledge that we have and enjoy today. Yet even now, with the scientific method, peer review, modeling, and new technology... it still all begins with a simple question. An observation. A spark. An adventure!

-Emelia Chamberlain

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