In Praise of Science

By Deirdre Sackett

In a world of smartphones, computers, medicine and astronomical advancements, we are constantly surrounded by products of science. Yet despite the hype over iPhone 5, some people do not even wonder how it came to existence. The difference between the excitement over a new electronic toy and the apathy for how it works is astounding. People will not bother to ask how the touch screen functions or what makes 3G different than other signals. They choose to stay glued to Angry Birds instead of learning how it became possible to hurl the fowls across the screen.

From children’s shows such as “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” to the Arts and Sciences section of both the Campus and major newspapers, to even a quick Google search, it is easy for anyone to gain access to this information. In fact, communication of scientific method and achievement is essential for explaining how the world works — or better yet, for sparking an interest in the sciences. I know that for many of my friends, good ol’ Bill Nye was their earliest exposure to the sciences, and it stuck with them. Childish curiosity turns to a mature drive, and a scientist is born.

At institutions like Middlebury, students drink deep from the sense of wonder and challenge that science brings. Since the (relatively) recent construction of McCardell Bicentennial Hall, there has been a sharp increase in science students. For instance, take the rise in 100-level computer science enrollment — these are students (often fresh out of high school) learning about a subject that was once mocked as being “geeky” or “nerdy.” In today’s world, being a computer scientist means you are intelligent; it means you are an innovator; it means you can think on your feet; it means you can understand and communicate in entire electronic languages; it means you will not suffer for jobs when you graduate.

I must also stress the opportunities the College offers to students interested in the sciences. Introductory science classes are open to everyone and are simple enough that most non-science majors can come away with a basic knowledge of, say, how a cell works or how to program in HTML. In addition, few undergraduate institutions offer one-on-one lab work with professors. At most major research universities, undergraduates are often left to be the lackeys of graduate students — if they are lucky enough to get a research assistantship at all. Here, students are capable of running their own projects, getting funding from the College and performing lab tasks that are often first learned in graduate school. In addition to the pursuit of knowledge, this close-knit scientific community fosters good communication and interpersonal and research skills — all keys for success both in and beyond academia.

With that in mind, I want to make it clear that I am not undermining other majors or academic interests. In fact, understanding and loving science is not restricted to just “scientists” or “geniuses.” Most professions (such as educators, businesspeople, international ambassadors and politicians) should have a firm background in science to understand more of the world, open more socioeconomic doors, increase research skills and perhaps even gain a good sense of skepticism from encountering less-than-trustworthy sources. If nothing else, science teaches essential critical thinking skills — which are important no matter what the job.

Of course, as a science major, I am slightly biased. The neuroscientist in me asserts that science is beautiful; science is how we make sense of the world. The universe has laid its secrets bare, and humans have taken up the mantle to unlock them. The pursuit of science, this burgeoning drive for knowledge, has taken us to the bottom of the sea and beyond the moon. I wish for that sense of curiosity to spark in others, so that we may go even further.

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