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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Friday, September 01, 2006


September has arrived! To coincide with their week-long holiday, educational organizations have put together an exciting line up of activities to encourage school kids to do science. They have been doing this since 2001 and they call it the "science" month.

I personally think it's great that they get to play with lots of fun stuff, but I have to stress that the "science" for kids and the "science" we actually do in the labs is way different. I can rant all day about this, but let me quote (paraphrased) a wise professor instead:

Research is different from studying textbooks. The most important thing about research is novelty. Do you know what that means? It means that nobody has done it before. So nobody knows whether it will work or not. You can spend years on it and still not get it to work. You may fail again and again...

Many of the smart kids who are entering science today have never failed at anything in their entire lives. In fact, some of them have always been straight-A students.

Unfortunately doing science requires more than just "passion" or good examination skills. Experiments are usually dull, repetitive and you spend much of your time waiting for stuff to incubate, equilibrate or terminate. Occasionally the entire experimental procedure goes through without a hitch, but most of the time something goes wrong somewhere and you will need to spend a long time troubleshooting it.

When doing scientific research, unsuccessful experiments are routine. It needs near-pathological stubborness to persevere in your research direction in the face of uncertainty and failure.

I think them newbies are in for a big surprise. Muahahahahaha!