WHY DO SCIENCE.
According to Wikipedia, Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. The Free Dictionary gives a similar definition: the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena. In other words, scientists study the universe, systematize the accumulated knowledge, perform experiments and theorize about the future of various discoveries. It is impossible to pinpoint the exact dates or events for the beginning of Science. Did it all start with the usage of fire? Were the very first instruments like hammer and wheel precursors of rockets and colliders? Or perhaps Science began with the very first human beings gazing at the sky or the ocean and pausing in their activities to wonder about the unknown? Maybe it all started when just one Homo Sapiens found the time to think, or simply learned to think, observe, remember and store the new information for possible future use.
Growing up among researchers, hearing discussions at home, catching snippets of scientific jargon in the street daily has given me unique opportunities to understand some of the specific ways an academic mind works and to receive some answers to questions asked or unasked. Communicating with scientists, watching their modus vivendi is a privilege. I also attend several annual conferences which give me plenty of opportunities to listen and to observe, to gain insights into the world of research; and I picked up enough lingo to listen with an intelligent face J It is quite a useful knack. People of various ages and all manner of specialties produce virtually the same answers to several questions. Why do science? Why go in for research? What makes it so attractive and challenging? Why conduct experiments not even knowing what the results may be?
I heard virtually the same answers from people of different ages and nationalities. “Compared to research all the rest is bland. Science will save the world; it is limitless”. Anticipation, figuring out what’s around the next corner is half the fun. Modern young scientists produce more insights and give me more concrete examples from their areas of research. Here are a few of them.
One takes a grain of sand, tries to connect it to many other grains never knowing what may be created. Thus physics and chemistry, biology and medicine, mathematics and genetics may all blend together into something totally new and wonderful. Synthesis is never easy or predictable; when one gets the desired result it is the best high of all! It is impossible to name just one exciting area of research. Modelling biological processes is a really amazing thing. It takes a lot of time and patience, one thinks and thinks about one’s model, then all these cytokines and Gaussians rush into one’s night dreams – and then it is ready and one feels that a whole new world was created.
I love my cutting-edge research focused on detection of new pieces of genetic information for atherosclerosis because it provides insights into disease pathogenesis, identifies new drug targets, and improves care of patients. It is joyful to realize that this collaboration across molecular biology, genomics, epidemiology and bioinformatics makes a difference in people’s lives.
An important part of research is sharing one’s findings by way of publications, conferences and correspondence. Science has no boundaries and no borders. International cooperation is a necessity. Researchers from different countries find each other and write joint grant applications, project plans and naturally articles.
In February 2012, we attended a conference in Leiden, Holland. It was a fascinating meeting with many wonderful presentations. I listened to the participants and marveled at how passionate they all were about their branch of science. Frankly, until that time I was used to thinking that though I could grasp some general concepts and ideas, the actual research was beyond my ken. And then we had the traditional conference dinner which was held on a boat swimming along the canals, in the dark, on a cold winter night. Being quite allergic to boats per se, I settled at a table and refused to budge. In a short while, a young American researcher plumped down at my side and inquired about my special field of study. I gave her my usual “I’m just a lowly accompanying person” reply. She persisted: “But what do you do?” So I elaborated: Internet in Education, Ph.D. in English Language and Literature. NOT hyper-polarization or spin, I clarified. She stared and exclaimed, “But this is all wrong! ANYBODY can understand hyper-polarization; it’s so easy and so beautiful!” Somewhat to my horror, she took a paper napkin and proceeded to draw schemes and diagrams, explaining to me what it all meant. The most amazing thing is, I understood her explanations! This is what I call the modern attitude. One should be able not only to share with colleagues, but also to explain to laymen and women what the research is all about.
Scientists are indeed different. If we listen carefully, sometimes we may even hear some clicking and whirring, it’s those great big brains at work. They never seem to rest. If we feel the Universe shift, it means another problem was solved. Their ways of thinking, of seeing the world are definitely far from mundane. In my hometown, a statue was erected a few years ago. It is a monument to the Mouse Who Is “Knitting” DNA.