When I think back on how my love of science grew, I think fondly of all the science teachers who conveyed their enthusiasm for the subject to me and my fellow students. And when I went through recent reader contributions to this series (send your own to [email protected]), I was pleased to hear from two individuals who work with students every day.
Elizabeth Fife teaches physics to juniors and seniors at Mesa High School in Mesa, Arizona:
When I was in high school I viewed science as a puzzle to be solved; my teacher would present me with a handful of variables and a paper full of equations, and I was expected to find some missing quantity. I loved rearranging the numbers and chugging through the equations, and I felt a smug sense of satisfaction once I finally figured out the path to the correct answer. But I never really understood the concepts, the actual science, behind what I was doing; it was all algebraic manipulation to me. And though I eventually decided to pursue science in college, it was not because of any high minded ideals—I liked the idea of feeling smart and making a lot of money.
Somewhere along the way, however, I came to the startling realization that all those equations actually mean something. I began to see connections and explanations, and I finally saw the elegant beauty of a world explained by science and saw that science isn’t about numbers and math—it’s about explanations and patterns and relationships. It’s about unlocking the world around us and laying it out to be admired.
This was such a powerful realization that I changed my course of study. I wanted everyone to see what I had finally come to see, that there is a beautiful elegance to the physical laws that construct and connect our world. More than just an appreciation, there is a certain joy in really understanding how the world operates and a raw excitement in the act of gaining that understanding, in making an opaque world just that much clearer.
Years later, I now find myself at the front of that exact same classroom where I sat so long ago as a know-it-all high school student. I shake my head at the ghost of my younger self who thought science was nothing more than an interesting number puzzle and a means to a lot of cash. I grin with shared excitement whenever one of my students’ eyes light up and they say, “OH. So THAT’S why…” because that is what science is and what makes it so enjoyable. It is in the realizations and connections we make, it is that shiver of excitement that accompanies those “ah-ha” moments of discovery, and it is in finding the order in an oftentimes nonsensical world.
Katherine Krein, of Sterling, Virginia, works in the special education department of a local middle school. This year she is assisting students in eighth-grade physical science:
Science enables us to stretch our senses beyond our human limitations. We cannot see the whole spectrum of light, we cannot hear all sound frequencies and we cannot see all matter. Unaided, we can only perceive what is within our range, our reach and our human scale. We cannot sense what is inaccessible to us. Science expands our access.
Science has empowered us to detect and sense the world around us. The nature of science, with its strong foundation of methods, has allowed scientists to develop tools that help us to identify the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes visible light; tools that assist us in measuring and recording all wavelengths and frequencies, including all the sounds that our ears can detect; tools to search for and find ever increasingly small particles of matter; and tools to see things that are farther and farther away from us. Through the study of science, scientists can detect the DNA in a follicle of hair or a speck of saliva, see viruses in blood, and find tumors within a body. The list goes on—the benefits to mankind are manifold.
On a more personal scale, science has given us hearing aids which help my father hear. Science has given me eye glasses that correct my near-sightedness. Science has given us medicine that helps many of us live healthier lives. Science is helping a co-worker battle breast cancer.
To say that I like science is an understatement that does not adequately express my gratitude for everything that it has given humanity, my friends and family, and me.