Everyone knows that science and research now are active in almost every country all over the world. Many graduate students in science, and very many doctoral scientists employed to conduct research here, were born in foreign countries; thus, science and research in the U.S. have a distinctively global character. These facts commonly lead to a false assumption that scientific research is proceeding and progressing nicely everywhere. Actually, history shows different examples where events completely outside science can disrupt the practice and progress of research!
This dispatch considers the present situation for professional scientists and science students in Venezuela. I bring this up because many academic scientists in the U.S. and other Western countries complain loudly about the recurring shortage of money for support of their research, but fail to see that faculty scientists at certain foreign universities now must struggle just to get enough food to eat; that situation completely overwhelms all the many ‘normal problems’ in today’s academic research!
Brief background about Venezuela!
Venezuela is an independent constitutional republic of some 31 million people located on the Northern edge of the South American continent. It is nominally a rich country due to its very large deposits of oil and other natural resources; despite the recent political conflicts, some gasoline produced from Venezuelan oil is widely sold here in the U.S. Venezuela has several universities and big hospitals in its largest city, Caracas. Its current national leader, Nicholás Maduro, is a socialist who has responded to increasing economic difficulties (hyperinflation) and popular disapproval of current government policies by imposing dictatorial rule, capital controls, and political repression.
A university scientist describes how the current turmoil in Venezuela affects research and teaching in its universities!
Faculty scientists in the U.S. often remain blissfully unaware that their own career misgivings are minuscule compared to scientists in certain other countries that are seized with such a great turmoil that daily life descends into a struggle only to eat and survive. Venezuela now is the prime example of such an unfortunate situation.
Prof. Benjamin Scharifker courageously has just authored a dramatic description of current university science in Venezuela, “Science struggles on in my ravaged country”, published within the May 11, 2017, issue of Nature (volume 545, page 135). He is an Emeritus Professor continuing to conduct research at the Simón Bolívar University, and also serving as a Rector at the private Metropolitan University; both institutions are located in Caracas.
He describes the present difficult situation in graphic detail and with heartfelt anguish. A sampling of quotations from his published report includes: “concomitant shortages of food and medicine”, “annual inflation rate in excess of 500%”, “A full professor makes much less than US$100 a month”, “we did not have running water in the laboratory”, “the brain drain in Venezuela is staggering”, and, “How do we cope? We don’t; we just try to survive.” Most reading his story have never personally encountered the extreme situation described by Dr. Scharifker, and probably cannot readily believe or even imagine that any faculty scientists and science students could be facing this in 2017!
The large crisis in Venezuela soon probably will advance to cause the shutdown of universities and all their activities for teaching, scientific research, and other scholarly pursuits, despite the determination of students and faculty to carry on no matter what happens. Nevertheless, a large number of university faculty and graduate students already have left Venezuela in order to be able to continue conducting their research and education; this brain drain is very sad, since I know that Venezuela previously has produced some renowned research scientists! Prof. Scharifker comments that he hopes there will not be further bloodshed of university students in their public demonstrations and protests!
What are the main messages for scientists in the West?
This situation in Venezuela is gory! Let us hope that it does not spread to any other countries! Many of us who sincerely complain about the decayed and degenerated current condition of scientific research at our universities, must recognize that our own troubled situation is drastically better than what our fellow scientists and students in Venezuela must face every day!
Science never exists in a vacuum, but always takes place within some social and political context. Scientific research can be corrupted either internally (e.g., by scientists and science companies with dishonesty or greed) or externally (e.g., by economics, politics, or society). Scientists everywhere should simultaneously be citizens, and so must take part in national and local disputes, governmental issues, and politics; just because we are always busy with researching and teaching is no reason to avoid participating personally in these areas.
In turn, science and research interact with the external milieu to produce some changes that help everyone (e.g., advanced technology, better education, improved public health and safety, innovative new concepts, new medical and dental therapies, the internet, etc.). Thus, science and society usefully interact with each other!
From my viewpoint, I believe the following conclusions are warranted. (1) Scientists are privileged people who should actively accept their simultaneous role as citizens in their country! (2) Complainers about not enough money for research, or counterproductive policies in modern academia, must recognize that everything could get very much worse! (3) Let us give our fellow faculty scientists and science students in Venezuela our hopes for their better future!
Manuscripts submitted for publication in science journals, and applications for research grant funding of proposed investigations, both must be critically evaluated to determine acceptance or rejection. For science, these examinations are termed ‘peer review’ because they utilize the opinions of other scientists having expertise and experience in the research topic involved. Peer review aims to objectively judge quality and merit. A very informative history of peer review in science, “In Referees We Trust?”, was recently published by Melinda Baldwin in the February issue of Physics Today .
Although most scientists accept the usefulness of the peer review process, several operational issues can compromise it (e.g., conflicts of interest). Today’s essay examines some current problems in peer review that are encouraged by the corruption within modern scientific research (see: “More Hidden Dishonesty in Science is Uncovered!”). I am talking here about deceitful lies and outright cheating!
What stimulates corruption in modern science?
Job pressures in both academia and commercial industry negatively impact scientists working on research. At universities, strong pressures to obtain important results more quickly, produce more research publications, and acquire more research grants, all can cause unethical behavior in attempts to find an easier way to satisfy these demands. At industrial companies, evaluations of a new commercial product can be compromised by pressures to only acquire data supporting its merits and to ignore any data denying its desired qualities. At both locations, corruption results in some expert scientists not being rigorously honest and making false judgments during peer review.
Intense job pressures at modern universities largely are due to the conversion of academic science and scientists into business entities. That ongoing change means that: (1) money now is everything, (2) quantity is much more important than quality, and (3) the nature of scientific research is fundamentally altered (i.e., the chief goal is to get more money (from research grants), instead of getting more new knowledge; applied research is much more valued than is basic research). These conditions encourage judgments by peer reviewers to become distorted.
Since research scientists are only human, it always is hard to criticize a collaborator, personal friend, or teacher. Similarly, it is not so easy to avoid being more harsh when reviewing some research competitor. These common psychological inclinations are made much worse in academia by the vicious hyper-competition for research grant awards (see “All About Today’s Hyper-Competition for Research Grants” ). Getting and maintaining research grant awards now is a life-or-death matter for all faculty scientists. For industrial scientists, the concept of loyalty can become wrongly centered on the employer at the expense of dedication to the integrity of science.
Actual examples of distortions and inadequacies in peer review!
Some real faculty scientists I have known sought to have ‘friends’ in the peer review boards evaluating their research grant applications. Others worked to have ethnic counterparts supervise the peer review of their output. These successful tactics degrade the objectivity of peer review and make it only a game of strategy. Officials at federal granting agencies do try to keep peer review objective by requiring reviewers from the same institution as the author being evaluated to leave the room when that submission is being discussed; of course, input from any absent reviewer still can be given at other times and in other ways. Journal publishers use analogous rules to try to prevent favoritism by manuscript referees.
How frequently is peer review in science inadequate?
A distinguished former Editor-in-Chief of the very prominent New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Marcia Angell, stated in 2009 that “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published” . Dr. Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of the prestigious clinical journal, The Lancet, stated in 2015 that “Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue” . These dramatic quotes are strong evidence that the process for peer review is defective, the objectivity of scientists as peer reviewers is decayed, and examples are shockingly frequent!
Why are ethical aberrations in peer review tolerated by professional scientists?
What can be done to make peer review more meaningful?
Several factors need to be changed in order to remedy inadequate peer reviewing and the growing corruption in science: (1) graduate school education of scientists must strongly emphasize the necessity for total honesty by all scientific researchers, (2) evidence for cheating and dishonesty must be more vigorously sought and investigated, (3) the penalties for research misconduct must be made much harsher, (4) nondestructive alternatives to the current hyper-competition for research grant funding must be developed, and, (5) the process of peer review must be separated from the distorting influences of career progression, money, and unethical trickery. Whether making these changes are actually possible, and whether they will have the desired beneficial effects for science, remain to be seen. Changing the status quo always is extremely difficult!
Some attempts are underway to make science and peer review be better. Recent establishment of very large philanthropic support for scientific research liberates some small number of lucky scientists from the perverting influence of the research grant system (e.g., see: “Getting Rid of Research Grants: How Paul G. Allen is Doing It!”); of course, that approach cannot extend to the multitude of other scientists. Some new journals avoid the traditional practices for peer review (e.g., openly publishing everything, removing the secrecy of appointed reviewers, having direct discussions between authors/applicants and their reviewers, etc., [1,6]). A critical discussion of corruption in science journals by Piotr Sorokowski and colleagues is published in the March 22 issue of Nature (see: “Predatory Journals Recruit Fake Editor”) ; this convincingly reveals that peer review of manuscripts often is only a fraudulent sham.
Do you wonder how inadequacies in peer review matter to you personally?
Research corruption can immediately hurt innocent people and later cause other researchers to waste time and money when they base new experiments upon false data published in journals. You yourself might become totally convinced about the inadequacies in peer review when some honest physician gives you an approved new medication that is based on published research falsely showing almost no dangerous side effects. Peer review has considerable practical importance to you and to everyone else!
I must emphasize that many research scientists do not surrender to the common job pressures and do sincerely try to participate in peer reviewing with unemotional evaluations of merit. Any distortions of ethical standards by scientists subvert the true aim of science. Much greater effort to avoid all dishonesty in modern science should also help prevent the impending death of scientific research at universities (see: “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?”).
 Baldwin, M., 2017. In Referees We Trust?Physics Today70:44-49. (Available on the internet at: http://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/PT.3.3463 ).
 Angell, M., 2009. Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption.The New York Review of Books, January 15, 2009 issue. (Available on the internet at: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2009/01/15/drug-companies-doctorsa-story-of-corruption/ ).
 Horton, R., 2015. Offline: What is Medicine’s 5 Sigma?The Lancet, April 11, 2015. 385:1380. (Available on the internet at: http://thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)60696-1/fulltext ).
 Sorokowski, P.,Kulczycki, E., Sorokowska, A. & Pisanski, K., 2017. Predatory Journals Recruit Fake Editor.Nature543:481-483. (Available on the internet at: http://www.nature.com/news/predatory-journals-recruit-fake-editor-1.21662 ).
For 2017, I want to work on writing a book or two! To do that I must use all the time I have been spending on this website (i.e., many hours every day!). Therefore, I am taking a leave of absence, and will be issuing only a few new posts very occasionally during 2017!
Traditional careers in academic science increasingly are recognized by many grad students and postdocs as being restrictive and problematic. Rather than drop out of science, many individuals escape the negative features of the traditional faculty job in academia by finding more satisfying positions permitting research and teaching of science to be continued long-term. Since this escape requires thinking new thoughts and a willingness to be unconventional, it is never easy.
Today’s dispatch covers an explicit and inspiring story of how one postdoc overcame these difficulties. A heartfelt biographical note by Dr. Matthew Tuthill describes how he found satisfaction and fun with both research and teaching at a somewhat unusual job position, after being progressively disheartened when pursuing the usual path to get a Ph.D. and advance up the academic ladder. His story emphasizes that hunting for a new science job in science is never hopeless!
A postdoc becomes dissatisfied!
Matthew Tuthill was following the traditional route for young researchers to obtain a job as a university scientist, but after several years researching as a postdoc he began to have serious doubts about his possibilities for landing long-term employment as a faculty scientist and getting research grant awards It was disheartening that the research grind was diminishing his interest for continuing to work at science. Many other postdocs today have exactly the same difficult feelings.
What to do?
He then made the difficult decision to abandon the stock academic path and try to find a new career that would better satisfy his ongoing enthusiasm for being a professional researcher. His choices widened when he looked at the work of his graduate school mentor, who had made important contributions to society by founding a Cord Blood Bank, and of a professor at a local 2-year college, who advanced student training in scientific research by involving them in the lab production of monoclonal antibodies.
He met with that professor, who worked at a 2-year community college, and came to see that the standard view about the limitations of working at such institutions is very wrong. Those realizations opened his mind to recognizing that there are some good science careers with research and teaching outside of big universities and medical schools. These opportunities had not been apparent earlier because they are wrongly considered unworthy for serious researchers; that realization emphasizes that job seekers must consider all possibilities for their job hunt (see: “Other Jobs for Scientists, Part I” , “Part II” , and “Part III” )!
A new job with both research and teaching opens up!
Dr. Tuthill then was appointed to a faculty position at the same “quiet junior college in the middle of the Pacific” (i.e., in Honolulu) . His employment involves both teaching science and scientific research, and provides the opportunity to help the young science students to develop personally and learn to conduct research. He states that “many of my research mentors and peers considered it career suicide” to work at a community college ; however, for certain individuals this unconventional choice really is a dream come true.
After 10 years of working in this small academic institution, Dr. Tuthill concludes that his job there has helped him grow as a dedicated academic and as a science mentor. His earlier dissatisfaction has been replaced by renewed enthusiasm for science and growing self-satisfaction for being an unconventional academic. Thus, there is a very happy ending to this story!
Lessons to be learned from Dr.Tuthill!
This true story nicely illustrates several directives that young scientists often overlook! (1) There are many jobs outside universities and medical schools that are open to Ph.D.s in science; some involve research and/or teaching, while others do not involve direct research (e.g., in advertising, finances, industries, law, media, sales, software, etc.). (2) The more you talk with other working scientists, the more you will learn about which unconventional job possibilities are available. (3) Always be open minded and think creatively when seeking a new job; sometimes you even can create your own new position. (4) Never give up your hunt, and, be open to unexpected and unconventional options. (5) Your final goal is to find a position that suits your abilities, your ambitions, your interests, and your skills; all individuals are different, so concentrate on finding a position that .will be good just for you!
I enthusiastically encourage all graduate students and postdocs to read Matthew Tuthill’s fascinating biographical story for themselves. “Making a difference, differently” is in a recent issue of Science (December 2, 2016, volume 354, page 1194), and is available on the internet at: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/354/6316/1194 . Good luck!
Postdoctoral training is intended to provide new Ph.D.s in science with advanced research experience under the guidance of a successful senior scientist. This typically lasts from 1-5 years, and results in an independent researcher with several research publications as first author. In response to the current difficulties with finding a job as a faculty scientist in academia [e.g., 1], questions are arising about whether this advanced research training as a Postdoc is necessary. The intriguing possibility that the years of postdoctoral research training are not needed is nicely described by Erika Check Hayden with a new article in Nature, “Young Scientists Ditch Postdocs for Biotech Start-ups” . Today’s dispatch looks critically at the pros and cons of skipping postdoctoral training by starting a small business where the new Ph.D. is the owner and chief researcher.
Is postdoctoral training in research absolutely necessary to be a good scientist?
Postdoctoral training has been regarded for a long time as an essential prerequisite to hold a faculty position in academia. However, many doctoral scientists working in industry have been hired without postdoctoral training, and went on to produce good research results; this is made practical by the facts that: (1) new research staff in industry usually receive a special intensive training period upon starting their new job, and (2) industrial research often involves working within a small or large team of co-researchers. If one looks only at doctoral scientists working in universities, some science faculty also can be found who were hired having no postdoctoral training (e.g., in departments of anatomy or computer science). Thus, the answer to this question clearly is ‘no’!
Why is postdoctoral training still deemed so essential for faculty scientists?
Postdoctoral research training is required in academia because new Ph.D. scientists need several qualities not provided by their graduate school education: (1) full independence as a researcher, (2) experienced judgment for designing and evaluating research experiments, (3) wide practical knowledge and experience with conducting research projects, getting results published, obtaining research grants, presenting reports at science meetings, dealing with bureaucrats and the public, (4) in depth knowledge in a science specialty, so teaching can be done with confidence, and, (5) understanding the business aspects of being a faculty scientist. New Ph.D. scientists generally only have limited expertise with a few research methods and approaches; being a postdoc greatly expands their hands-on experience, expertise, and critical judgment.
How will this new arrangement operate, and what will it lead to?
New Ph.D. scientists now can found a small business where they are the owner, chief executive officer, and principal researcher . First and foremost, this new career pathway requires one very determined individual with total commitment to making this unconventional activity succeed. Support funds for early stage financing must be found, and are available from start-up organizations, venture capitalists, and biotech incubators . Those associates not only provide money to get a lab furnished and staffed, but also give valuable advice about handling business concerns; that is particularly important since new science Ph.D.s usually have zero experience about business and financing. Lab space is available for rent or at some university-based incubator facility. Research technicians, managers, accountants, lawyers, etc., all can be hired as needed, and as funding permits. Some individuals already are doing this, thereby avoiding the need to spend more years as a postdoc before starting independent research .
The original aims of this new career path are to skip the postdoctoral period, yet immediately start doing research, receiving a good paycheck, and being an active part of science. After early stage financing is obtained, continuation of research depends on success of the business (i.e., generating profits, persuading investors to buy stock of the new company, outdoing commercial competitors, and having good luck). Ideally, some large industrial company will buy the promising small business and then take care of all financial matters. Note that being successful at research is not enough; one must also be successful at business! Industrial research is different from academic research, and industry accepts that business must direct their research activities!
What problems will this new career path face?
Many non-science problems can arise in any small business, particularly with development of new commercial products, marketing and advertising, and increasing sales. I know of one young doctoral physicist who formed a small service business with several colleagues over 30 years ago; his venture collapsed when alternative methods developed that were less expensive. At some large industrial labs, there are quite a few graphic stories where company administrators suddenly cancelled an entire large research project for business reasons; if this arises within small research companies, then everything stops.
Thoughts about business and science!
Businesses exist to make financial profits. Scientific research exists to find new knowledge and to test the truth. These 2 are fundamentally different! Although science at universities conducts basic and applied research as part of its traditional mission, today academic research increasingly is just amother business entity where money is everything, and faculty scientists are hired to increase their academic employer’s profits by getting research grants. Hence, many faculty scientists researching in academic institutions already have merged their science with a business! The destructive problems in academic research will recur within new small research businesses!
A fusion of business with scientific research seems to me to be full of difficult problems. Success will not be easy! The new article by Hayden explicitly states, “Most young biotech firms fail” , but does not identify the causes. I feel that the chief cause is the inherent conflict between science and business. Ex-Postdocs can either seek the truth or they can seek money!
Some brief discussion!
In my opinion, deserting the postdoctoral experience altogether is not a good answer to solving current problems for postdocs. I suggest and urge young postdoctoral scientists who are dissatisfied or feel trapped to: (1) devote much more attention to seeking good science-related openings outside academia (see: “Postdocs in 2016 Need to be More Clever, Not More Angry!” ), (2) recognize the basic purposes of science and of business, and, (3) closely inspect what is displayed in the incredible photo in Hayden’s article , showing the courageous young and eager biotech scientist, Dr. Ethan Perlstein, standing alone inside his empty business “laboratory”!
Fusion of scientific research with a small business might work for certain new science Ph.D.s, but that is not a general possibility. The result could be exchanging one problem for others!
Are you a raw beginner? It is hard for beginners to understand science, research, and scientists, so most just ignore them! In this dispatch I explain some points so you will be able to understand more on what science and research are all about!
Why is scientific research needed?
We need to know more about ourselves, our world, and our universe in order to be able to do more (e.g., treat and cure more diseases, rescue everyone from pollution, produce healthier food, make cheaper gasoline, etc.).
How does science differ from engineering?
Scientists work to discover new knowledge. They evaluate the truth by observing, measuring, and experimenting. Engineers work to develop or improve some commercial product (e.g., better batteries, steam-powered autos, more sensitive and safer machines, faster trains, etc.). Both are very useful to society!
Are inventors the same as scientists?
Inventors make some new object or device. Anyone can be an inventor, even you! Some scientists also are inventors (i.e., by making a new attachment for one of their research instruments). Inventors generally are not scientists (i.e., they do not have graduate degrees or teach at universities).
Why are salaries for scientists so much more than I get?
The average doctoral biomedical scientist working as an Assistant Professsor at U.S. academic institutions in 2015 received a salary of about $91,000 per year . The average salary for senior biomedical scientists working as a Full Professor was around $152,000 per year . Please note that these are averaged figures that ignore regional locations, science subspecialties, years of employment, etc. Salary levels for faculty scientists are based primarily their highly specialized expertise, ability to do both teaching and research, and very extensive education taking over 10 years (i.e., after 4 years in a college, they typically spend 3-8 years in graduate school, plus 2-5 more years as a postdoctoral trainee).
Why is modern research so expensive?
Research to make discoveries of new knowledge requires obtaining accurate results from measurements and experimental tests by salaried research workers (e.g., professional scientists, postdoctoral fellows, technicians). Most experiments use special supplies, expensive instruments, and special facilities within a laboratory. Since the experiments in a typical research project last from weeks to years, the total costs are substantial.
Who pays for scientific research? Do you pay?
Payment for research expenses primarily comes from 2 separate sources: taxes paid by the public, and business profits in industrial companies. Yes, you pay for research!
Why is money so important in modern science?
Everything costs and someone must pay! No research gets done unless expenses are paid for! Awards of taxpayer dollars are given by governmental science agencies to support worthy research studies by scientists. These awards are termed research grants, and all scientists at universities, medical schools, and technology institutes compete for them so they can conduct research investigations.
Why do some scientists kill animals for their research project?
Research on diseases, nutrition, and toxic chemicals often is impossible to conduct directly on humans, so the needed studies must use experiments with laboratory mice, rats, or other suitable animals. Since humans are not mice (and only certain humans are rats!), the results from animal-based studies must be extended by clinical researchers onto humans. Computer models can be used for some research, but those results later must be verified by tests on animals and humans. Scientists I know feel bad about using animals for their research, but accept that such is necessary to get the needed new knowledge.
Scientists on TV always are either weird or maniacs; why are all scientists like that?
They are not like that! The phony Hollywood model for scientists is only aimed to be entertaining! Unlike in TV and movies, real scientists are strongly individualistic, very dedicated to their research work, want to make important discoveries, like to laugh, and work very hard. A real scientist might be one of your neighbors (if so, see if you can chat with them or visit their lab)!
Why are scientist so evil (e.g., nuclear bombs, genetically modified organisms (GMO), fraudulent drug studies, hidden poisons, etc.)?
Your view of scientists confuses what they actually discover from research studies, with what practical outcomes develop later. The instances that you cite were developed in response to making advances in agriculture, developing new chemicals for specific purposes, producing the needs for warfare, etc. What you view as evil, other people see as being useful and even good! Never forget that scientists are people, and they do make mistakes and have some faults. I join you in damning cheaters who hide or change test results and market new drugs that actually harm patients, hiders of labeling GMO foods, and, commercial vendors of disguised poisons.
Why can’t all research be focused only on making the next really big discovery?
Research discoveries depend upon scientists who work best as individuals or in small groups. Forcing all scientists to work only on one super-project and giving them unlimited money for research, is not likely to reach the desired goal because that condition limits freedom of individuals to think, explore, and ask questions. Those characteristics are basically required in scientific research! Consider the analogy where everyone is forced to drive a Chevy, and no other cars are permitted on the roads!
I don’t understand the Nobel Prizes! Wasn’t Nobel a destructive monster?
Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) was a scientist in chemistry, and also a builder, businessman, engineer, industrialist, inventor, traveller, and writer. He made lots of money from inventing dynamite after years of work, and willed his fortune to establish several ongoing big prizes for scientists whose research provided the greatest benefit to all humans (see: “The 2016 Nobel Prizes in Science are Announced” ). Dynamite remains very useful for construction, levelling mountains, and mining. Regarding your question, you should know that his brother was killed by an unplanned explosion during the development of dynamite, Nobel lived and workedk on several continents, and he wanted to benefit humanity. His very eventful life is nicely described in 2 illustrated pieces (see: “Alfred Nobel – St. Petersburg, 1842-1863”, and, “Alfred Nobel – His Life and Work” ).
What does science and research mean to me, a raw beginner?
Please see my earlier article: “What Does Science Matter to Me, an Ordinary Person?” ! You will be surprised to learn that scientific research impacts everything you do and are (e.g., aging, dreams, health, internet, personality, sex, success at sports, travel, your job, etc.).
What does modern science need to produce more important research discoveries?
In my opinion, modern science needs the addition of more freedom, more curiosity, asking many more questions, longer research grants, better honesty, lots of patience, plus its separation from commercialism, government, and political correctness!
I hope the above has given you a better understanding about science and research! Once your curiosity is stimulated, you can have lots of fun looking at many videos, articles, and stories about science on the internet!
Seven scientists from the many thousands worldwide have just been announced to share the 2016 Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine, Chemistry, and, Physics. Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) had a very eventful life in addition to discovering dynamite; fascinating details about his adventures are well worthwhile for you to read (see: “Alfred Nobel – St. Petersburg, 1842-1863” and, “Alfred Nobel – His Life and Work” )! Nobel conducted scientific research in chemistry, and also was active as an engineer, industrialist, and inventor. His will bequeathed his fortune to set up ongoing global prizes for scientific work providing the greatest benefit to all humans. Details about all the Nobel Prizes in science and in non-science are described at: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes .
All scientists would dearly love to win a Nobel Prize, but only a very few ever attain this most prestigious honor in science! The new awards will be bestowed at ceremonies and events during the special Nobel Week festivities at Stockholm, Sweden (December 5-10, 2016). The latest Nobel Laureates should be much appreciated by the general public, and congratulated by other scientists for the excellence in their experimental research! A brief summary of the 2016 Laureates and their honored research achievements follows.
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine [1,2]!
The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi, Ph.D. (Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan), for his research determining the detailed molecular mechanisms for the functioning of autophagy (autophagocytosis) in cellular health and disease. Autophagy provides the controlled destruction of old or damaged subcellular organelles (e.g., mitochondria) or other objects inside eukaryotic cells; after cytoplasmic membranes rearrange to surround the targets, those bodies merge with lysosomes (small packages of hydrolytic enzymes) so the targets are completely broken down without exposing the rest of the cell to that destruction. Most eukaryotic cells use autophagy as the primary means to keep everything renewed, fresh, and functionally active. Autophagy complements heterophagy (phagocytosis), where cells internalize external targets (e.g., bacteria) and subsequently destroy them by lysosomal hydrolysis.
Ohsumi’s breakthrough research using molecular genetics discovered how autophagy is activated and regulated, how mutations in proteins controlling autophagocytosis can cause disease states in humans, and how the functioning of autophagy has a wide importance for cell biology and cell pathology. His discoveries with basic research have solved longstanding questions in cell biology and have led to new investigations with applied research by numerous other scientists.
Nobel Prize in Physics [3,4]!
The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded to 3 scientists for theoretical investigations about unusual states of matter: David J. Thouless, Ph.D. (University of Washington, Seattle, WA, U.S.), F. Duncan M. Haldane, Ph.D. (Princeton Univ ersity, Princeton, NJ, U.S., and J. Michael Kosterlitz, Ph.D. (Brown University, Providence, RI, U.S.). They fundamentally advanced condensed matter physics by studying the topological organization of atoms kept in highly unusual states (i.e., by extreme heating or cooling). Under such conditions, matter can have different states of organization than the usual gases, liquids, and solids. Using mathematical analyses, they were able to explain their findings and make detailed theoretical proposals that were later validated by further experimental studies.
This new understanding about matter is anticipated to provide a good basis for future research and engineering development of new superconductors and quantum computers. The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics nicely exemplifies the importance of theoretical research studies for stimulating advances in experimental investigations (see “Towards Understanding Theoretical Research in Science” ).
Nobel Prize in Chemistry [5,6]!
The 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to 3 pioneering chemists who designed and produced controllable machines made from molecules: Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Ph.D. (University of Strasbourg, France), J. Fraser Stoddart, Ph.D. (Northwestern University, Evanston, IL., U.S.), and Bernard L. Feringa, Ph.D. (University of Groningen, The Netherlands). Using experimental formations by different types of newly synthesized chemical molecules, they showed that their designed molecular interactions could repeatedly produce lifting, moving, or rotation in response to provision of energy; these new constructs can form molecular machines, motors, and even a “nanocar”.
Miniaturization to the level of molecules gives chemistry an innovative new dimension. Many researchers and engineers now are working to develop new applications of the technology established during decades of investigations by the 2016 Nobel Laureates in chemistry. Anticipated developments include new materials, sensors, systems for energy storage, and even computers.
Brief discussion and comments about the 2016 Nobel Prize winners!
The Nobel Prizes in science continue to bring forth excellent researchers and outstanding experimental studies to the attention of the public worldwide. Several of the latest Nobel Prizes follow from earlier Nobel Prizes awarded for outstanding research in related subject areas. Most discoveries by Nobel Laureates began with studies in basic research, which opened the door for later applied research, engineering developments, and industrial productions. The individual Nobel Laureates in 2016 have some features that commonly characterize winners of all the big honors in science (see: “What Does It Take to Win the Big Prizes in Science?“ ).
The 2016 award to Prof. Ohsumi is notable because most Nobel Prizes in Medicine or Physiology have been awarded to multiple scientists, rather than to only one person. He deserves lots of credit for his dedication to long investigations and innovative research leadership!
A frequent criticism of the Nobel Prizes in science is that they do not usually give credit to the research workers associated with the Laureates. The Breakthrough Prizes, which compete with the Nobel Prizes for being very important honors in scientific research, awarded their 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics to 3 scientists, plus to 1012 other individual workers who travailed on a very large and long research effort in big science !
Check out further information about the 2016 Nobel Prizes in Science!
All readers, whether scientists or non-scientists, are encouraged to explore more information about the winning researchers! Many good written and video presentations soon will be found on the internet!
Theories play a big role in science! I recently presented a short introduction for beginners about science theories (see “Towards Understanding Theoretical Research in Science!” ). Here, we will look at some current research developments in Astronomy that illustrate examples of theories within space research.
A brief background for beginners on the science of Astronomy!
Knowledge in ancient times about our planet, Earth, our Moon, our Sun, and the stars came from direct observations with the naked eyes. The early development of telescopes, photography, and other ways to record positions of celestial objects permitted measurements to be made; that was the real start of astronomy as part of physical science.
Astronomy today has the tools and technology to examine everything from the other planets circling our Sun, to distant galaxies and energy emissions in outer space. Modern research in astronomy has been expanded by the development of space science with its explorations using robotic labs sent on distant travels, space telescopes and new large terrestrial telescopes, and, numerous advanced spectroscopes. These tools and methods gather quantitative data that go far beyond what could be done by researchers only a few decades ago. The new availability of direct measurements means that theories in astronomy now can be tested against real data.
Do exoplanets exist!
Humans have long wondered if we are alone, or if there are other planets with life somewhere out in the universe. A theory that exoplanets (i.e., planets circling other stars) do exist is mirrored by a theory that there are no others! The validity of any theory must be tested by evidence from research results. Due to their limited size and great distance away from Earth, exoplanets cannot yet be directly imaged by any terrestrial telescopes; space telescopes should be able to do that, if exoplanets actually exist. Instead of using light waves to form images, telescopes and radiotelescopes now can detect other wavelengths and types of radiation, and record spectra rather than images; much development in this research methodology has resulted in good confidence for interpretating spectroscopic data, although confirmation from adjunctive results always also is sought. Recent discoveries of hundreds of planets orbiting many other stars [e.g., 1] establishes validity of the theory that exoplanets do exist.
Proxima b is discovered!
One exoplanet, Proxima b, has just been reported by an international team of scientists, after analyzing research data back to 2000 ! It is slightly larger than Earth, and encircles our neighboring star, Proxima Centauri, with a periodicity of 11.2 days; its equilibrium temperature permits liquid water to be present. There is much excitement in astronomy over this new research finding, because its relative closeness to Earth means that it will be a prime target for future fly-by missions. A new article for general readers about the discovery of this exoplanet, written for CNN by Ashley Strickland , now is available (see: “Proxima b: Closest potentially habitable planet to our solar system found” ).
Does water exist on any exoplanet?
Liquid water is a key component of all forms of life on Earth. Any theory that life exists on exoplanets generally requires the presence of water there; this links one theory to another theory! Space scientists are already defining the width of a zone around some stars as being habitable if its temperature range includes that required for liquid water to be present; however, such an estimation does not establish that water actually is present. Much more direct research data is needed to be able to resolve this important question.
Does life exist on any exoplanets?
The enormous distance of exoplanets from Earth makes any theory that life is present there extremely difficult to test. The distant locations make it impractical to send scientists or robots out to any exoplanet via a spaceship. Several innovative ideas for how to obtain direct images of exoplanets now are being developed and activated (e.g., see “Can Research Travel Out to the Stars? Yuri Milner Says “Yes, Let’s Go!” ). Advanced spectroscopy perhaps is the only currently available means to detect life forms on exoplanets, since direct imaging is not yet possible.
How to interpret images from exoplanets?
Direct imaging of exoplanets is eagerly awaited! All images in science must be interpreted, but the interpretation of future direct images from exoplanets is guaranteed to be a major controversy since images showing either creatures resembling those we all know on Earth, or something wildly different, will provoke vigorous doubts by other scientists and the public! Life might exist that utilizes other means for energy mobilization, and does not need either water or oxygen; thus, exotic life forms imaged on exoplanets might not be recognizable as such! Objective interpretation of those images might be nearly impossible!
Nothing is written in stone, and everything can be questioned by scientists! Theories are particularly useful in science as targets for new research experiments. All theories must be evaluated on the basis of their ability to explain direct observations and measurements. Theories can be proven or disproven by evidence from research results; valid theories have a predictive ability. Even proven theories can be modified as more research data becomes available. Speculative ideas and imaginative proposals differ from science theories because they are judged largely on the basis of popularity and subjective promise, rather than by direct evidence.
Theories in science always are controversial and hard to prove. In space science, new research results now permit the validity of some theories to be tested directly. These indeed are very exciting times for space scientists!
Despite the efforts of education and media, most people still do not know or understand much about science and scientific research. The understanding I am referring to does not involve facts and figures so much as activities, aims, and rationales. Research in theoretical science is particularly viewed and rejected as being a total waste of money and time. Those mistaken viewpoints are largely due to an absence of knowledge about the usefulness of theories in science. This article tries to illuminate the value of theoretical research so you will understand how it plays an important role in the advancement of science.
Theories in science!
Science wants to know more about everything! Most research in biomedicine, chemistry, or physics deals with subjects and activities that can be examined directly or indirectly (e.g., animals or cells, polymers or monomers, and, minerals or atoms). Theories in all branches of science deal with subjects that are not able to be examined directly or indirectly, but can be investigated at the level of what is known already, what could be possible, what can explain something that is not understood, what would happen if and when, and, how can some valid estimate be made for something that cannot be measured directly. Theories in science basically use what is known to try to investigate or explain something that is unknown and unavailable for direct studies; their validity is judged on the basis of evidence from research experiments.
Theory versus practice!
Scientists usually are very specialized, but all can be divided into being either theorists or experimentalists. The boundaries of this division can be changed with time, when more new knowledge by experimentalists is discovered. A good example of this dynamic occurred recently when research probes and very special research instruments began to be sent far out into space (e.g., see: “The New James Webb Space Telescope!” ); all of a sudden, astrophysicists working only at the level of theoretical physics had to confront their theories with real data! Some of their theories about planets, stars, galaxies, and dark holes were validated, others had to be modified, and some were disproved. Note that even established theories that are later shown to be invalid still had been helpful for temporarily filling gaps within scientific knowledge about outer space; by proving or disproving a theory, the newly acquired experimental data advances the scientific search for truth.
My own thesis advisor was an experimentalist in cell biology, and once told me that he had seen a certain senior professor walking along a walkway on campus with his head bent forward looking only down at the pavement. That individual was a pioneering theoretical biologist who analyzed subjects with mathematics; anyone could readily imagine all kinds of equations bouncing around his head as he walked along! My advisor said all that was very well so long as the theories agreed with practice (i.e., with direct experimental data). I then asked him what he meant. He answered that this theoretician had developed a mathematical study of eukaryotic cell division, and had come up with an extensive conclusion about how that activity operated, including that the entire process took place in 24.3 seconds; this number does not match actual direct observations with microscopy showing that it takes some hours!
What is the value of theories for science?
Theories are good for science because they provide discrete points of study for new research, can give estimates where direct measurements cannot be made, and, help understand complex activities and relationships which are impossible to examine directly. For science, theories are useful as targets for research questions and for designing new experiments.
Scientific theories are more than just fanciful ideas. They are somewhat similar to large conclusions from direct research studies in that they: (1) always are subject to revision (i.e., due to new research results), (2) often last a long time, but some vanish when they are completely disproved, and, (3) stimulate new directions for experimental researchers to work on.
A classical example of the value of theories for science is the heliocentric theory of Copernicus, proposing that the Earth revolves around the Sun, unlike the older standard theory that the Sun circles around the Earth. As time passed, more and more experimental research data provided evidence that the standard theory is wrong and the heliocentric theory is correct. Many modern researchers in astronomy and space science now follow what has developed from the ancient theory of Copernicus.
Another good example is Darwin‘s theory of evolution. That complex proposal cannot be directly examined today because the eons of time during which it operated are unavailable. This extensive theory can explain very many observable details about similarities, differences, and specializations in animals, plants, microbes, and fossils. The large amount of solid evidence from research for the validity of this classical theory does not prevent ongoing questions and criticisms from being raised. That is good and is essential for science’s mission to find the truth based upon evidence from research results!
Everything can and should be questioned, even well-known theories, dogmas, or popular sacred cows! Science always seeks to evaluate and test accepted conclusions, concepts, and theories when new research experiments make additional data available. Theories and research in science are complementary, and both are very useful!
TED is a very successful information and education business originally formed to foster the spread of ‘great ideas in Technology, Entertainment, and Design’. It now has greatly expanded to include ideas and issues in science, culture, education, and philosophy. The video output by TED features short talks by experts, thinkers, and doers at the annual TED Conferences; these video presentations are freely available to a global audience on the web. Videos showing TED Talks now have been viewed by billions and have achieved prominence in bringing science to the public, and bringing the public to science. This success has led other organizations and distant countries to get licensed by TED to sponsor their own TED-like projects.
TED videos dealing with science are high-quality productions with direct relevance both to ordinary people having interest and curiosity about science and research, and to working research scientists. In this article, I describe the organization of TED, summarize its many activities, explain how TED is financed, and discuss how a few TED videos with controversial ideas have been banned.
The organization of TED!
TED as a business has been sold several times and now is a private nonprofit organization (see “Our organization” ). The Sapling Foundation (New York, NY.), has been sponsoring the activities of TED since 2001 and offering free internet viewing of the Conference presentations since 2006 (see: “History of TED” ). The Chief Curator of TED activities since 2001, and owner of the Sapling Foundation, is Chris Anderson. This media and publishing entrepreneur has considerably expanded the topics and activities of TED, resulting in greatly raising the number of viewers of TED videos and of attendees at its many different events. The TED organization is global with major branches in Europe and Asia, and employs over 100 staff workers within the U.S.
The TED Conference and TED Talks!
The annual TED conferences continue their long tradition of enthusiastic gatherings. Prospective attendees at the TED conferences must first be approved (see “Conferences” at: https://www.ted.com/attend/conferences ), and then must pay an admission fee for the week-long event (see “TED Conference Standard membership” at: https://www.ted.com/attend/conferences/ted-conference#h3–ted-conference-standard-membership ). Invited speakers are selected by TED, and are not paid for their presentation. Each 18-minute presentation is professionally recorded and subsequently published on the internet; videos of over 2,000 TED Talks now are available gratis to the public (see listings of TED Talks on science at: https://www.ted.com/topics/science ). New videos are published each week. This huge collection of talks and performances now generates more activity than the main conference itself; the TED videos are seen as amplifiers of the conferences. TED videos are thought to be watched by over a million people every single day!
Other TED activities!
A growing number of other programs and activities now are organized by TED (see: http://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives ). TED Global organizes international conferences with the TED format. The TED Open Translation Project started in 2009 and aims to enable the billions of people not speaking the English language to watch TED videos. Thousands of volunteer translators thus far have made numerous TED videos available in over 100 languages, thereby vastly increasing the outreach of the TED video collection. The TEDx Program is focused on licensed TED-like events organized by local independent non-profit sponsors. Some live presentations of music performances are included in the TEDxMusic project. The very successful organizational concept for presentations at TED Conferences now has been expanded to include events for TEDxYouth, TEDxCorporate, and TEDxWomen. Other newer official or independently licensed TED activities include TED Fellows (young persons who attend and later organize TED events in their native country), and TEDMED (sessions for health professionals). Recordings from these other activities are added to the TED video catalog.
Newer TED activities (see: http://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives ) include TED Books, which publishes shorter volumes in hard copy that can be read in one sitting. TED-Ed presents conferences by teachers and students about new ideas to improve youthful education (see: http://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives/ted-ed ); its output includes videos with lessons and pathways for many different levels of education in science and non-science. TED sponsors the TED Prize for the developer of the most outstanding new idea for improving our modern world; the winner’s award currently is set at $1,000,000.
Financing to support all the TED activities and programs!
In 2017, each approved regular attendee at the TED Conference must pay $8,500 (see: https://www.ted.com/attend/conferences/ted-conference#h3–ted-conference-standard-membership ). Several levels of higher fees also exist. With over 1,000 attendees at each annual Conference, this provides a very solid financial foundation for TED. Corporate supporters of TED generally are very large companies; these are not involved in organizing the events or choosing the presenters. Speakers at a TED Conference or other event receive no money for their participation.
Critical discussion about TED!
My opinion is that TED is very good for science and science education! Its videos furnish a giant opportunity for the public to see science and scientists as being something other than a Hollywood-type amusement, and to learn about how the truth is sought by research activities in science. The scientists presenting at TED conferences mostly overcome the difficult problems with bringing science to the poorly-educated adult public.
Certain TED video presentations feature ideas that are so provocative that they have been withheld from the TED catalog. To view some actual examples, see listing by Ravindranath Shrivastava at: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2Y8qeLGzzd_P_5xxwDesKuyrAemRfxUk . This kind of censorship is both unnecessary and worrisome, particularly with regard to science. Controversy and questioning are inherent parts of scientific research, and are both expected and welcomed by scientists; these disputes serve a good purpose for science and society!
I believe that the controversies generated by a few TED speakers would be better understood and valued if pairs of opposing speakers, or panels of presenters and critical discussants, could hold forth at the TED conferences. Opposing positions both should be given side-by-side instead of having only one individual presenting his/her viewpoint.
Several of the ‘banned TED videos’ still can be viewed, and those provide evidence suggesting that some things just are not seen rightly at TED. It is good to note that the banned presenters and their critics sometimes subsequently offer non-TED videos with rebuttals, explanations, and discussions; these are freely available at Shrivastava’s listing (see above)!
The TED videos are indeed useful and very special! TED makes a very good contribution to all of adult education in the modern world by enabling the public to obtain a much better awareness of new ideas, alternative solutions, and unconventional beliefs. That is very beneficial both within science and outside science. TED obviously should be highly praised for making all their videos available to the public without charge.
The internet makes numerous videos about famous scientists available to all. I have already recommended some as part of a group of biographical dispatches about the life of several renowned scientists (e.g., see: “Scientists Tell Us About Their Life and Work, Part 8” ). Many good videos showing interviews with awarded researchers are contained in the websites for the Nobel Prize and the Kavli Prize ; these feature both their modern and older prizewinning scientists working in many different fields of science. Here, I recommend a few fascinating videos about research scientists to get you started!
ANCIENT RESEARCH:“How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8UFGu2M2gM ) is nicely presented by Adam Savage and features several amazing examples of excellent scientific research in ancient times. Very informative and interesting!
RADIOACTIVITY AND FINDING NEW ELEMENTS:“Marie and Pierre Curie (50 – Video special)” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82Oj5qyY1F0 ) explains how these 2 European research scientists overcame many difficult problems in life and career to conduct investigations about the nature of radioactivity and to discover 2 new elements. Modern scientists clearly are usually less dedicated and determined to working at research than were the Curie’s! A delightful and inspiring video presentation!
DNA: “(RARE) Interview with James Watson and Francis Crick” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGBDFq5Kaw0 ) shows a 1993 interview with the co-discoverers of DNA structure, Watson and Crick. Both these extremely famous scientists speak with candor about their lives, careers, personalities, and science, including their current views about controversies and misunderstandings of events. Bravo!
MATERIALS SCIENCE:“Being a materials scientist at NASA Ames Research Center – Dr. Bin Chen Interview” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFOpYnRvsBE ) presents the life and research work of Dr. Bin Chen, a Principal Scientist at a NASA Center in California. She presents very forthright answers about her education and earlier life in China, being a postdoc in the U.S., and finding a good job; her understanding of what it takes to be a research scientist is very similar to mine, and will be valuable watching for youngsters wondering about going into science. Terrific!
NANOTECHNOLOGY AND MOLECULAR ENGINEERING: “Bionanotechnology – New frontiers in molecular engineering: Andreas Mershin at TEDxAthens” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjV7NNwm1GU) shows a young research scientist dramatically describing what he does in research and how he does it (2013). This is an excellent exposition for non-scientists and deals with a very current research approach, but unfortunately many slides are not enlarged for the video; viewers might want to interrupt the video to enlarge each of those.
These videos vividly illustrate how: (1) even the most renowned scientists really are just people, (2) ancient scientists successfully conducted important research investigations without having modern instruments and laboratory facilities, (3) all scientists are stimulated by curiosity and imagination, and, (4) persistent determination and dedication are extremely significant to achieve good results with scientific research.
These 5 recommended videos are just a small sample of what is available! Please go ahead and find some other internet videos about scientists that deal with whatever interests you! Have much fun exploring and learning!
Earning a doctoral degree in science is required in order to become a professional research scientist. Typically, the long period of learning about science and research in graduate school takes 3-10 years, and is followed by intensive research experience as a semi-independent postdoctoral fellow for several more years. Much of what is learned is not in textbooks, but instead comes from personal observations, disagreements, trying to solve problems, and work experience. Brief stories by scientists about their individual experiences in graduate school often appear in the “Working Life” section of Science, and nicely illustrate some important unspoken lessons for graduate students; here, I discuss several stressful issues raised in 2 informative essays recently published by young scientists [1,2].
Realizations about science by a new Assistant Professor!
“Three lessons rarely taught” by Dr. Piotr Wasylczyk  describes important concepts about research work and the traditional academic career, that he learned during his extensive education. His mentors advised him to have fun doing research and even to regard research instruments as special toys for adults to play with. That philosophy is increasingly hard to maintain due to the demanding pressures generated by the business aspects of trying to be successful as a university scientist. Dr. Wasylczyk states with sincerity, “Talking to other scientists, both young and mature, I see how difficult it can be to enjoy research.” This shocking realization is true, but contradicts the advice given by his mentors about having fun doing science; I predict he might later join many other university scientists who are dismayed and distressed with their disgusting job problems (see: “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with Their Job? Part II.” ).
A third piece of advice Dr. Wasylczyk received is very fundamental, and he is determined to pass this insight on to his own graduate students: “Taking risks is the essence of research.” Most non-scientists and beginning scientists do not understand that research always is chancy, experiments sometimes do not produce the data expected, and results in the lab cannot be guaranteed. By taking chances, research still is able to advance and produce important new knowledge; this reality is very different from the gospel that research success always comes to those who follow ‘the scientific method’, as taught to all students in secondary schools and colleges.
Realizations about money in science by a current graduate student!
“Show us the money” is an article by Andy Tay  describing his mental and emotional responses to suddenly being notified by his thesis advisor in graduate school that cessation of a research grant means he must make some major changes. While trying to overcome this unexpected interruption in his research training he discovered several new realizations about becoming a research scientist: (1) he had previously received little instruction about the very strong role of money in scientific research (see: “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” ), (2) any changes in research grant status can negatively affect many persons besides the grant-holder (i.e., graduate students, post-docs, and research technicians), and (3) when research grant sponsorship of graduate students is disrupted, this unanticipated crisis event often forces making big changes in career paths and plans. To his credit, Tay talked to other graduate students and found that “I’m not the only student whose training has faced potential disruption because of an adviser’s changing funding situation.” That is very true, but is rarely recognized or discussed until this problem suddenly happens!
By going down the traditional pathway to becoming a faculty scientist, Tay will later encounter even larger problems with money. Almost everything in a university science career now depends upon money, and the scientist with the most money from research grants is labeled to be the best. Finding the truth or making a truly breakthrough discovery now matters much less than getting many research grant dollars. Thus, research grants are both good and bad (see: “Research Grants Cause Both Joy and Despair for University Scientists!” )! My own belief is that the conversion of university science into a business where profits are the true end necessarily distorts science, perverts research, and encourages corruption; this atmosphere of degeneration is literally destroying scientific research in modern universities (see: “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ).
I encourage all current and future graduate students to read and study these 2 short dispatches [1,2]! Graduate students must be made much more aware of the challenges they will face in their careers, and of the fact that scientific research at universities has changed from what it is supposed to be. Andy Tay should be given much praise for organizing local meetings with other graduate students to discuss these issues. Postdoctoral research associates, who are a few years further along this career pathway, now are organizing discussions and proposals for dealing with several large problems in their education and status as young professional scientists . Graduate students and postdocs can see that scientists researching in universities now are trapped into being business people chasing money, and good research is increasingly difficult within the destructive atmosphere now prevailing in many educational institutions.
The essays by a new faculty member, Dr. Piotr Wasylczyk, and a beginning graduate student, Andy Tay, will help stimulate the badly needed revisions in graduate school education for scientists. I hope that they will continue spreading the word about these issues, and wish both of them much good luck in their further research efforts!
For those people who feel that simply visiting a research lab is not enough to satisfy their wish to actually do some science work (see: “Can I Volunteer in Science? Can I Visit a Research Lab? How Do I Do That?” ), there are opportunities to work on research in what is termed citizen science, people-powered research, or crowd-sourced research. This article describes this science activity for the public, discusses its difference from traditional lab-based investigations, and summarizes its value for science and society.
What is people-powered scientific research?
This consists of many non-scientists using their personal computer (PC) and individual abilities to work on specific research tasks under the supervision of professional research scientists. A multitude of volunteer workers is needed because huge amounts of data are generated by some modern Big Science projects; those data must be processed before further analysis by the scientists, but no-one is able to hire some hundreds or thousands of research techs to do that work. Without this input by very many helpers, the same tasks would take an individual scientist years or decades to complete.
This participation in research by groups of volunteer collaborators does not involve previous experience, swirling millions of test tubes, synthesizing exotic new organic chemicals, use of special research instruments, or wearing a white lab coat! Rather, it involves donation of time and directed effort by individual participants at their convenience. Typical activities involve use of a PC for specified research tasks in data processing, interactive discussions with other participants and supervising scientists, and, subsequent use of the processed data by the directing researchers. The people-powered results and their derived conclusions are published as regular research reports in science journals.
What is Zooniverse?
Zooniverse is the largest and most popular PC platform for people-based scientific research (see: https://www.zooniverse.org/about ). Many thousands of people around the world already have worked on wide-ranging research projects with Zooniverse. Some new projects are added each year, and the number of volunteer workers continues to grow.
Zooniverse makes notable efforts in both scientific research and science education (see: https://www.zooniverse.org/about/education ). It has a number of good associated activities for the public: several discussion boards for conversations and discussions (e.g., Zooniverse Blog, Zooniverse Talk (i.e., covering all aspects of Zooniverse, and a good place to ask questions), Zooteach (i.e., lessons and resources for teachers of science, mathematics, humanities, and arts), Galaxy Zoo (i.e., research in astronomy by class groups of students), and, several others). A gratis newsletter, Daily Zooniverse, about its activities is available at: https:// dailyzooniverse.org/ . Zooniverse involves people around the world, and some programs are made in collaboration with external science or educational institutions, such as the Adler Planetarium in Chicago (see: http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/citizen-science/ ).
How can I join to work on scientific research with Zooniverse?
Research with Zooniverse can involve youngsters or oldsters, and includes projects for all 3 main branches of science (biomedicine, chemistry, and physics). Registration and sign-in boxes are located on home pages of Zooniverse and the Citizen Science Alliance (see earlier listings!). After you choose from the many available projects, you can begin right away!
What does people-powered research do for science and society?
Several distinctive outcomes can result from citizen-based research. These collaborative efforts provide: (1) a practical means for data processing where it is necessary to utilize some huge number of research workers, (2) an excellent way to introduce more adults and young students to research and science, and (3) an effective approach to counter the utterly false depiction by Hollywood and TV of scientists as weird creatures from some other planet, and of scientific research as only an entertaining amusement. All of these outcomes make Zooniverse and other people-based research activities very valuable for both science and society!
How does people-powered research differ from lab-based research?
It is important for everyone to recognize that doing research work in a university or industrial laboratory is extremely different from participating as a research volunteer in a citizen science project. Employment to work in a science lab often involves hands-on data production, use scientific instruments, and Q&A sessions about the results obtained; individual skill, judgment, productivity, and previous experience by the research worker all are prominent. Working in a citizen science project involves handling recorded data (e.g., videos, images, historical records), interactive quality control, and further digital processing, all done with a PC while being supervised by scientists; individual dedication for time spent and adherence to research protocols are prominent.
Both types of participation in research provide valuable contributions to science. Both involve real research, provide many opportunities to learn about science, and make it evident how research investigations are designed and conducted. In my personal opinion, the volunteers working on people-powered research are analogous to part-time research technicians employed in a science lab; that is, design of the project, ongoing critical evaluation of its progress, using the results obtained to derive conclusions, and writing reports for publication all are provided by the scientist(s) directing the project, and do not directly involve any lab technician or volunteer worker.
People-powered research is a terrific way for serious individuals to learn more about science, research, and scientists. Zooniverse and other programs make this opportunity readily available, and you can easily try it out!
Let us say that you have some interest and curiosity for science, and want to actually do a little research work in a laboratory, just to see what this is like. You are wondering, how can I do that? One of the best opportunities for students in high school or college is to join a research project run by your science teachers. For others, since you have no training or previous experience, there is almost no way you can work in a lab for pay; thus, your question becomes, can I work in a lab as a volunteer? This article will explain why your quest for a volunteer position is generally very difficult, and discusses alternatives which are much more doable.
What work could a volunteer do in a research lab?
Scientific research is a practical activity and is very specialized. Since you have no training or previous experience, you cannot do much in a lab. Research demands that operations be done accurately and completely in a specified manner; even learning how to clean research glassware according to the lab protocol is quite different from washing the dishes at home. In addition, I am guessing that cleaning lab glassware probably is not what you are looking to do as a volunteer.
To aid your understanding about volunteering, let’s look at the analogy of building houses. Assume you have curiosity and interest in that, so you are seeking to be a volunteer at orker for a local construction company. The foreman will ask you what construction work you have done before; your honest reply will be “none”. After you state that you do know how to hammer nails into wooden planks, the foreman then will ask you questions about details: what kind and what size nails are used for the frame or for panels, have you ever used a power nail driver, and, do you also know how to install doors and windows? After your negative answers, it is obvious that you cannot do anything in construction until you have received much instruction. Doing research in a science lab is very similar, and cannot be done without specialized training and experience!
One exception to the above is researching in the field, where serious volunteers might be used where a large group of workers is needed (e.g., for research projects involving agriculture, archeology, botany, environmental chemistry, microbiology, mineralogy, zoology, etc.). Volunteer activity can be done during your vacation time or even during the entire Summer.
Are there any alternatives? What could I do instead of being a volunteer?
I suspect that what you really are looking for is to spend a few hours or days as a visitor observing lab staff running experiments, analyzing data, operating research instruments, meeting with the lab director, observing participants in journal clubs, etc. This brief watching activity should satisfy most general curiosity about science labs. If you are trying to decide whether you want to become a research tech or a graduate student in science, briefly watching will tell you much about what goes on in a research lab, and will help you decide what to do next.
Visiting a research lab requires that you find a professor in a university or a group research leader in industry, and gain their approval. First and foremost, you will need to explain exactly what you are after and why. Secondly, leave the question of time up to your host or hostess; one or 2 half days in a single week should be quite sufficient. From my own background, I believe many professional researchers would be pleased to provide this opportunity to serious visitors!
How can I find out what possibilities are available?
It is up to you to make personal inquiries to find where you might be a visitor! Don’t hesitate to ask your science teachers, parents, and friends for help in deciding who to approach about visiting. First, find out what local industries, universities, and hospitals have active research projects. Then, see if you know anyone working there, and talk to them about what might be available; if you don’t know anyone, make an appointment to see a departmental chair or the director of an industrial research group to ask what could be available for you. When you find someone suitable, make an appointment to explain to them what you are after and why; you must prepare carefully for this interaction (i.e., know everything about their research work, reveal your own interests and future hopes, etc.). Even by itself, talking to any professional scientist almost always is an eye-opening experience for most people!
Are there any organized programs that could give me a taste of research work?
Quite a few universities and colleges offer “Science Exhibition Day” for the public. There, all can learn about their active research projects, see many exhibits about research, attend lecture presentations and demonstrations, and, meet science workers. Attending one or 2 of these should greatly help you find a suitable scientist to contact about visiting their lab. In addition, various Science Fairs take place every year; these illustrate how beginners can do good research, and might be useful in your search for which lab to visit.
The major question almost everyone will ask you is why you want to volunteer or visit a research lab instead of going to graduate school? In my view, most people who strongly need to get a sample of real research should consider enrolling in a community college or graduate school for an associate’s or master’s degree program in science. There, you will get a good background, learn some hands-on skills with using research instruments, and conduct research in an actual project. Probably you should expect to use 1-2 years for that degree; if this is not good for you, then simply withdraw.
New kinds of opportunities to actually work in research projects!
Some research projects seeking crowd-funding give donors new opportunities to participate in various aspects of these investigations. Check out the experiences of participants for crowd-funding described at internet websites; just ask your browser for “crowd funding for science”.
Another modern possibility arises if you are really good with computers and software. That expertise provides an opportunity for employment with piecework, since those skills could be useful for some research scientists with large labs. By finding such work, you also will get to observe a lot about the daily research activities in that lab.
Most of what is considered to be true is evidenced by results from scientific research. We all like to think of science as being factual, objective, and resulting from systematic examination of all possibilities. Problems do arise when some ‘scientific facts’ contradict others, and, when common sense or practical experience tells us the supposed facts cannot be true. This essay examines what factors can distort our usual assumption that science and research always tell us the truth; 3 different sources of falsity are noted.
Intermediates commonly cause problems by falsifying the issues!
Most people do not read research reports by scientists, and so they look at articles and videos composed by non-scientists. Problems regarding scientific research are frequently caused because the actual data and clear conclusions are interpreted by the non-scientist presenter; that often results in changes and additions or subtractions from what scientists actually give out. Accurate and faithful presentation of research findings demands careful attention to details, what is not included, and what is simplified in the report; some of these presentations are good, but others are misleading or even draw unwarranted conclusions.
The public cannot readily determine whether a science report is good or bad, and does not have access to the scientists authoring the new research findings. Hence, supposed ‘new facts from science’ are either blindly accepted or not believed on the basis of non-science factors (e.g., what person or program is giving the description). What is needed to solve this type of problem with unintended falsification is for one of the scientists conducting the research to critically review the presentation before it is given out to the public.
When the results of industrial research are being presented in public media, a different kind of problem commonly arises. Industrial research and development usually is targeted at some commercial product or activity; negative features or contradictory findings often are eliminated or minimized, thereby giving a one-sided view. This can even go so far that a ‘science report’ really is an advertisement or a sales pitch that throws objectivity out the window in favor of growing sales and profits. The best solution for this type of situation unfortunately is farfetched and unrealistic: everyone in the public is educated to have a much better understanding about scientific research, so that they can evaluate the announced claims by themselves. Most people at present cannot do that since they received a limited education about science in schools, and are completely estranged from science and research as adults; this situation is very widespread in today’s world.
Research scientists often are used as actors in public disputes!
Science is about finding what is the truth and asking questions about anything and everything. Disagreements between researchers about new research findings and their meaning are a healthy part of science. With more time and additional experimental data, disputes between scientists often are resolved. Any remaining controversy about what is true mostly is due to the involvement of governments, politicians, regulators, and administrators. They typically inject non-science agendas into the arguments and simply are using scientists to win their political battles; (see: “What Happens when Scientists Disagree? Part V: Lessons to be Learned About Arguments Between Scientists” ).
A good example of how scientists are used in public disputes is found in the prolonged current controversy about “global warming” and its subordinate issue about “humans cause climate change” (see: “What Happens when Scientists Disagree? Part II: Why is There Such a Long Controversy About Global Warming and Climate Change?” ). Both sides claim to have scientific evidence and renowned experts supporting their position. In fact, scientists have rather few disagreements about actual research results in this area; the ongoing arguments actually concern economics and politics! Politicians, administrators, lawyers, and officials continue to hotly dispute and legislate what should be done (if anything!). This type of public controversy often remains disputed for a long time and could even go on forever!
Some supposed factual accounts could be a gross deception!
Most people agree that not everything heard or seen can be believed. Nevertheless, it is especially difficult to decide what is true or false when something is presented as an official announcement by a government or an expert panel. I will give one example here which is so extremely shocking that almost all adults do accept the ‘presented facts’ as being absolutely true. To look at this critically, put aside your feelings of loyalty, patriotism, and pride just for a moment, so you can think critically about the possibility that U.S. astronauts never set foot on the Moon.
The best way to handle this question about the most widely known claim by the U.S. for its excellence in science and technology is to use the number one question asked by all scientists in their experimental research: what is the evidence? Firstly, there are direct queries. (1) Were samples brought back from the lunar surface, and what did these show? Yes, samples of moon rocks were brought back, and, these were both similar and different from natural materials found here on Earth. (2) Did video cameras show NASA astronauts on the surface of the Moon? Yes, videos showing astronauts walking on some strange landscape were taken and made available for public viewing, but these also could have been recorded somewhere on Earth. (3) Have any of the numerous NASA technicians claimed this is a big fake? I am not aware of any such statements.
Secondly, there are quite a few indirect questions. (1) Why has the Russian space program not duplicated the Moon visit? The Russians claim to have measurements showing that the intensity of cosmic radiation somewhere between Earth and Moon is so very high that no human could survive such an exposure. (2) Why have further Moon visits not been conducted by NASA? The usual answer given is the huge funds necessary to do that were used for other projects with a higher priority. (3) Why did one of the main Moon astronauts refuse to give any interviews for the remainder of his life? This is explained as his personal choice (e.g., modesty); alternatively, the silent astronaut was so embarrassed by his role in this deception that he refused to ever talk about his experiences.
In this example there are alternative possible answers for all the above questions. The available evidence is unable to prove either truthfulness or falsity, and hence is inconclusive. It is painful for me to describe this, but I am presenting it only as a prominent example showing that it is necessary to question even what high officials proclaim as being the truth.
Although finding the truth is done by expert scientists conducting research investigations, this only reaches the public through a fog of opinionated distortions, selective omissions, and outright deceit. Advertising and agenda-driven presentations often are commonly accepted as being true because the other side is not revealed. Solving this situation requires that people need to be much more educated about scientific research, so they are better able to decide for themselves what is true and what is false.
Who is Judy Stone? She is a medical doctor specializing in infectious diseases, and also has personal experience in research; she has authored several books, including one giving guidance for clinical research studies. Her interests focus on tropical diseases, advocating about ethical issues in medicine, and writing for the general public. Her vivid dispatches currently appear as contributions to Forbes. For her brief autobiography in 2012, see: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/molecules-to-medicine/welcome-to-molecules-to-medicine/ .
Trust in science, research, and scientists!
The great majority of scientists are honest! Unethical conduct by research scientists involves a small number of individuals, but this figure seems to be on the increase (see: “Introduction to Cheating and Corruption in Science” ). Dishonesty in science breaks the enormous trust in research and scientists, and, has negative effects on many unsuspecting people.
The general public continues to have very high trust in the research findings and published conclusions of professional scientists. That is good, except that they are deceived and unaware that some dishonest individuals have broken their trust.
All levels of science teachers and other educators have a high trust in whatever is published in science textbooks and references. The entire existence of fraudulent professionals is not accepted by most teachers because that realization undermines all education.
All types of research scientists have very limitless trust in the published findings of other scientists. When planning a new experiment, scientists typically assume previously published results are really true; they do this of necessity, since it is impractical to have to verify all earlier results from other labs by repeating those investigations.
People who are clinical patients of good doctors assume that their caregivers are fully cognizant of all new results about their treatments, and act only for their well-being. Most patients are not sufficiently aware that pharmaceutical companies are first and foremost businesses dedicated to pursuing profits. A whole spectrum of dishonesty in clinical and preclinical research studies is stimulated by “powerful financial incentives to do unethical things” ; that means researchers can “pressure vulnerable subjects to enroll in studies, fudge diagnoses to recruit otherwise ineligible subjects and keep subjects in studies even when they are doing poorly” .
Effects of dishonesty in research!
When ‘false facts’ are taught in classes to children or adults, what is learned or naively accepted as being true is actually wrong. If that falsity is used for some practical purpose, something will not work as expected. People working in many different jobs encounter this general problem.
Scientists believing some deceitful research report find that their own lab work gives negative or unexpected results. Upon redoing the reported experiments, they unexpectedly see that the published results cannot be repeated. This means that time and effort are wasted by scientists, lab workers, and administrators.
Think how much extra time and effort must be spent checking and rechecking everything for such huge and important activities as research probes sent into outer space, new prescription drugs finally approved for sale to patients with widespread diseases (e.g., arthritis, cancer, diabetes, mental health), design and construction of battery-powered self-driving automobiles, etc. Much of this time and money must be used to try to make certain that everything works as planned and nothing is based on false assumptions.
Any of us can be badly affected by inadequate testing of safety for new drugs!
Pharmaceutical drug trials certainly are very prominent for problems with ethics, corruption, and truth vs. falsity. Judy Stone explains vividly how clinical drug trials are misleading and deceitful if they are conducted fraudulently or actually are marketing studies; they need to be done “honestly and ethically” , so patients and their physicians can realistically have confidence in the intended effects. This admonition is not only directed to research scientists, but also extends to drug companies, to review bodies, and to government regulatory agencies (i.e., U.S. Food and Drug Administration).
The spectrum for research misconduct during development of new medical drugs is indeed very large. Any or many of us can be affected negatively by any dishonesty in the testing and evaluation process. When some professional researcher observes unethical behavior by other researchers they are obliged to report that and investigate what is going on ; in some cases, it is even necessary to become a whistleblower in order to prevent future patients from being harmed or killed (see: “Whistleblowers in Science are Necessary to Keep Research and Science-based Industries Honest!” ).
Any falsification of research or corruption of clinical investigations testing new medical drugs affects a very large number of people! Unfortunately, recent history teaches us that we must always be suspicious about clinical trials since there are so many known instances of blatant deceit [1,3-4]. As Judy Stone says, “It is well known that industry-funded trials get more positive outcomes than those that are neutrally sponsored” ; why is that so? Any innocent patient (e.g., you!) can have bad outcomes due to this problem with ethics in some scientists and some companies. Lying, cheating, and fraud have no place in research!
Curiosity is a common term meaning to have a desire to know more about something. It is an innate character for humans, and is well-expressed in all children. The classical example of childhood curiosity is taking a clock or toy apart to see what is inside and what makes it work. Unfortunately, curiosity tends to decrease or disappear in adults due to the many restrictions on exploring and wondering imposed by education, laws, and society. Curiosity arises naturally without conscious intention; amazingly, it simply happens!
What about scientists? Do they have or need curiosity?
Curiosity is prominent in almost all scientists! When asked why they have so much research interest in whatever they work on, many younger scientists will answer, “I just am curious about that!” Their older counterparts might give various different answers, but often will designate curiosity as what drove them when they were much younger. Many faculty scientists I know, whether they conduct research on chemistry, physics, or bioscience, were fascinated by various forms of life in nature when they were children (e.g., birds, chipmunks, insects, snakes, tadpoles, etc.).
Scientific research is not so easy, since it always is risky, expensive, and takes lots of time to complete. Hence, curiosity as a motivation for doing research must be quite strong in scientists. For most individual scientists, curiosity is always expanding and changing, since answering one research question generates other related questions. Scientists must learn to focus their extensive curiosity, or else they would never get anything done!
Is curiosity alone enough to make a scientist become successful and renowned? No, because much more is needed in addition to an ongoing curiosity. Scientists also must have good abilities for business and finance, communication, creativity, dedication, determination, hard work and sweat, imagination, patience, resistance to distractions, technical skills, understanding at levels of both trees and forests, writing, etc. Nevertheless, curiosity in scientists also must always be there!
Can curiosity be taught? Can curiosity be bought?
I believe that curiosity is not able to be taught because it is an inborn attribute. However, it can be increased by encouragement and intention. Thus, children usually have oodles of natural curiosity, and will happily share that with parents, teachers, and other children. Even for adults who left their curiosity far behind after starting to work, curiosity can be re-awakened and encouraged. Curiosity often is associated with exploration, fascination, imagination, personal interests. and wondering; it usually is a strong part of daydreaming.
Some adults are so busy with their job, family, sports, social activities, church, etc., that they feel they have no time for curiosity or exploring (i.e., “I did that when I was little, but not now!”, and “I just don’t have time for that!”). Sometimes even professional scientists will become so short of time that their research becomes mechanical and routine. In such cases, scientists can buy curiosity in the form of having students, collaborators and visitors, postdocs, research technicians, etc., in their lab; with any sort of luck, the questions, ridiculous proposals, and new ideas based on the curiosity of those workers will stimulate and help the overly busy scientist.
What does curiosity lead to? What good is curiosity?
Curiosity typically leads to such personal actions as closer examination, reading, asking questions, wondering “what if?”, seeking more detailed knowledge, and developing a wider understanding. These explorations all are wonderful ways to use our large cranial computer to find out and know more about something. But, sometimes curiosity can be problematic (e.g., persons are labelled as troublemakers because they always are asking too many questions) or even dangerous (e.g., a child innocently investigates what an electrical socket is).
For children, curiosity directly leads to increased understanding of the world around them. For adults in the public, curiosity will make their life much more interesting and stimulate development of their mental capabilities. For scientists, curiosity furthers fascination with their research subject(s), and, helps create new ideas and new research questions. For everyone, curiosity creates wonderment, and can be much fun! Thus, curiosity is quite good and useful for all people!
Curiosity is a large part of most scientist’s specific approaches to whatever they are researching. Just as curiosity helps children to know and wonder about the big world, and aids adults to develop more interesting personal lives, so also is it invaluable to scientists in their search for new knowledge and the truth.
Winning contestants for the annual Science Talent Search, a large competition for high school students in the United States (US), have just been announced. Following a description of this activity sponsored by the Intel Corporation and conducted by the Society for Science & the Public, I will give a few comments about this program.
A brief history of the Science Talent Search and its sponsors [1-3]!
This contest was originated in 1942 by the precursor of the Society for Science & the Public (see: https://www.societyforscience.org/mission-and-history ). Its chief aim is to promote education and interest in science. This Society also runs 2 well-known websites devoted to public education about science: (1) Science News is for all the public (see: https://www.sciencenews.org ), and, (2) Science News for Students serves many youths (see: https://student.societyforscience.org/sciencenews-students ).
With financial sponsorship for many years by the Westinghouse Corporation, the participation by US students, their teachers, and others grew over the years. In 1998, the Intel Corporation took over financial sponsorship, and initiated a second science competition for international youths, termed the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair; that involves many affiliated science fairs in over 75 countries. A number of other businesses add to the total financial sponsorship.
The importance and success of these annual events are widely recognized by the public and all media. For the latest 75th Intel Science Talent Search, awardees won prizes totaling over $1,600,000! After 2017, a new major sponsor must be found to replace Intel .
How is the Science Talent Search organized and conducted [1-4]?
This large competition is for students in US high schools and home schools. The ideas, plans, and conduct of the research project must come from the individual student. In addition to the experimental work, each contestant must compose a document about their project, using a format similar to research reports published in professional science journals. All contestants are judged by scientists working in the same area of research as the teenagers.
For the latest competition (2016), there were around 1,750 applicants. From these, the reviewers selected 300 semi-finalists. Further expert reviews looked for creativity, good design and conduct, valid conclusions, and evidence of innovation, resulting in 40 finalists. For 2016, 3 levels of awards are given in 3 categories of science and research: (1) basic research, (2) (research for) global good, and (3) innovation. The 3 first level awardees received $150,000 each, the 3 second level awardees received $75,000, and the 3 third level awardees received $25.000. These substantial awards were presented at a banquet and celebration held in honor of all the finalists.
All these teen awardees from many different schools in many different states show energetic work with creativity, individualism, and innovation on research projects involving diverse aspects of science. Their success in researching is very commendable, and, it is easy to predict that each can help advance science and improve the world!
Do Science Talent Search prizewinners later enter science and do well at researching [1-4]?
Many winners in this science contest go on to become professional scientists. Some have become presidents of universities or big bosses of large corporations. Several even have received a Nobel Prize for their later outstanding research accomplishments. Obviously, the many Nobel Laureates who did not win a Science Talent Search award indicate that the qualities and capabilities needed to excel with scientific research also can be found in non-winners and non-entrants.
What does the Intel Science Talent Search do that is very good?
This annual competition, under dedicated organization by the Society for Science and the Public, produces several results that are most valuable for modern US society. It (1) very effectively counters the false portrayal by Hollywood that scientists are weird or mad creatures who are only good for laughs, (2) gives all teen contestants a chance to learn to think for themselves and to move ideas into concrete objects and activities, (3) builds general enthusiasm among teens that science is interesting and is not just dry facts and figures, (4) encourages young people to find out more about careers in science, and (5) focuses attention of the public on research activities. All of these are immensely important and so very wonderful!
Some critical comments about the Science Talent Search!
Considering the usual overemphasis on sports and entertainment in schools, substitution of memory for understanding in classrooms, and, general ignorance of what scientific research is all about, it is amazing that so many teens commit to working on a research project for this contest. The enthusiasm demonstrated for science by these young people strikingly contradicts the reluctance of many recent college graduates to enter a graduate school for training to become a professional scientist.
The current job environment for university scientists is extremely different from the pleasant experiences these teens have by working on high school research projects. I predict that many contestants going on to become professional researchers will choose to find satisfying work in industries or science-related jobs, instead of in academia.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not note that someone badly mis-categorized the excellent software project in “Basic Science” conducted by the First Place winner, Amol Punjabi; it is not basic research, and clearly is applied research!
It seems very obvious to me that the real winners of the annual Intel Science Talent Search competitions are all people in the public! That includes you!
We commonly think about languages as arising in different nations or cultures, and serving as the basis for communication. A vocabulary of science has developed within each of the many small branches of biomedicine, chemistry, and physics; each terminology constitutes a distinctly different language. Thus, a doctoral plant scientist and a PhD astrophysicist in the same country will find it almost impossible to converse with each other about their research work because each is not able to understand the other’s terminology. This situation creates all kinds of difficulties for scientists to communicate with other researchers and scholars, and with persons in the public.
In this dispatch I first briefly discuss the role of language and terminology for science, and then I will introduce the standardized system of units used for scientific measurements. This international system is used universally amongst different languages and all the different subdivisions of modern science, thereby greatly helping to overcome difficulties for communication.
Do different tongues cause problems for communication between scientists?
Several factors fortunately make the presence of different national languages be only a minor practical impediment for communication between scientists. First, scientists in most countries have learned to read, write, and speak the English language; thus, English now is the common language for modern science. Second, the special terms in each subdivision of science usually are well-understood by scientists within different lands working on that discipline. Third, standardized units for measurements have been defined, and now are universally understood by scientists.
However, when speaking with each other, scientists in different fields of research often will find a big lack of mutual understanding. Use of English as the universal language of science helps, but problems still remain; these can be due to usage of new or very old terms, established local terms, non-standard units or symbols, etc.
Can scientists communicate readily with non-scientists?
Even when both parties use the same national language, communication by scientists with the public remains limited due to the absence of understanding by non-scientists of all the special terms of science and research. To get around this very general obstacle, scientists must give definitions of all special terms or translate those into other words or phrases that will be understood. Use of images or diagrams often helps increase understanding of science terms by the public. The task of communicating about science with non-scientists is widely recognized as being important, but any research scientist trying to do that rapidly finds that it is not so easy!
Making quantitative measurements is a major research activity by scientists!
Scientists love to make measurements! Making precise measurements is the basis of many, if not most, research experiments. There are several common units existing for measuring temperature (oC versus oF), length (inches, feet, and miles versus centimeters, meters, and kilometers), volumes (teaspoons and quarts versus milliliters and liters), etc. How does one measure different atoms, and what units of length are used (i.e., inches and centimeters are much too large!)? How is distance between our Sun and other stars measured, and what units of length are used (i.e., miles and kilometers are much too small!)? How is blood pressure measured, and what units are used? How can radioactivity in the Pacific Ocean due to the disaster at Fukushima be measured, and what units are used? How can the strength of binding of an antibody to its antigen be measured, and what units are used? What is the price per liter of gasoline in Europe, and how does that compare to the price per gallon in the US?
Adoption of a convention to standardize measurements answers such questions and greatly facilitates communication between scientists. This convention results in a uniform system of international units for measurements in science, technology, and commerce. Metrology is the study of measurements.
The International System of Units (SI) greatly aids communications [1,2]!
The International System of Units (SI) for scientific measurements [1,2] arose around the time of the French Revolution as a derivative of the Metric System for weights and measures. It now is used by all scientists and engineers, and continues to be updated and extended. Its symbols are recognized by all, its units can readily be subdivided or multiplied in a uniform simple manner, and it is good for all national languages. Modern researchers anywhere in science find the SI to be essential for their work.
The SI utilizes 7 base units of measurement: (1) the meter (m) is used to measure length, (2) the kilogram (kg) is used to measure mass, (3) the second (s) is used to measure time, (4) the ampere (A) is used to measure electric current, (5) the candela (cd) is used to measure luminous intensity, (6) the kelvin (K) is used to measure thermodynamic temperature, and (7) the mole (mol) is used to measure the amount of a substance. These base units are nicely presented at: http://physics.nist.gov/cuu/Units/current.html . This convention for base units is then utilized to define many derived units of measurement; one example is speed, which is defined in terms of the base units as length per unit time (i.e., meters per second, miles per hour, etc.). This System is self-consistent and allows SI measures to be readily converted into other units by simple formulas. This international convention of standardized units effectively solves most of the problems for communication between research scientists.
Ultimate authority for the SI is held by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, located in France. That body works with the International Committee for Weights and Measures, which coordinates many national and regional organizations. In the US, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has a primary role (see: “International Aspects of the SI” ).
Communication is a very important part of being a good research scientist! Scientists in the US benefit both from English being accepted as the universal language of science, and from the standardized International System of Units now used by scientists in all countries. These conventions are a great help for communicating research results both to other scientists and to non-scientists in the public.
Many people of all ages find it really hard to comprehend science and research! Others even are afraid of science! In this essay I will first present the causes and unfortunate consequences of this problem; then I will offer some ideas for countering its bad effects.
What causes the problem many adults have with reading and learning about science?
This very widespread difficulty chiefly involves at least 4 different causes.
(1) POOR EDUCATION! Most early instruction about science in schools only involves learning to regurgitate standard answers to standard questions. Science courses in primary and secondary schools are largely superficial, descriptive, and mainly involve memorization. Memory takes the place of learning and understanding, so interrelationships and reasoning are never presented. Hence, schoolchildren don’t learn about research as the basis for knowledge, and mostly forget about science as soon as classes are over.
(2) THE STRANGE LANGUAGE OF SCIENCE! Most people are separated from research and scientists by the vocabulary of science. All 3 main branches of science (biology, chemistry, and physics) and each of their subdisciplines use specialized terms. Scientists do speak strange languages!
(3) SCIENCE AND RESEARCH ARE ENTERTAINMENTS! “Science news” is presented by most TV media as “gee-whiz entertainment”. Research is seen as being amusing, and scientists are considered by Hollywood to be weird and funny creatures.
(4) SCIENCE IS MUCH TOO DIFFICULT FOR ME TO EVER UNDERSTAND! Understanding science topics is viewed by many people as being beyond their capabilities. Science has nothing to do with their personal lives, so why waste any time trying to understand it!
Effects of these problems with understanding science!
Each of the foregoing causes directly creates some bad consequences.
(1) POOR EDUCATION! Students soon conclude that science has no role in their personal life. Definitions of key science terms are de-emphasized in school classes, and concepts often remain fuzzy; this readily leads to mistaken beliefs and wrong assumptions.
(2) THE STRANGE LANGUAGE OF SCIENCE! Only a handful of special terms needs to be learned for understanding any aspect of science, but this task often makes adults give up even trying to read an article about modern science. This effort is essential, just as one cannot read a story written in a foreign language until some vocabulary first is acquired!
(3) SCIENCE AND RESEARCH ARE ENTERTAINMENTS! This is a very common belief, but nothing could be further from the truth! The fundamental reason why scientific research is so important is usually not explained. Today’s media are badly misleading people!
(4) SCIENCE IS MUCH TOO DIFFICULT FOR ME TO EVER UNDERSTAND! This false belief probably is part of the “dumbing down” of the US public, and serves to intimidate many adults. Even simplified materials on the internet will give a general understanding about science; dealing with math equations and learning lots of new terms are not necessary!
Is there any good analogy to this very general problem for science?
The answer to this question is, “yes”! All the difficulties described above also are found with learning a foreign language! Modern methods and tools for learning languages now are widely available, using recordings, educational media, computer programs for independent study, visits by native speakers, immersion experiences, etc. Some of these will be beneficial for adults trying to read and learn about science. Vocabulary is the first basis for learning any language, including the strange terms in science. Without learning some new words, the languages of science cannot be understood.
If children would be better educated about science, then adults will not see it as being incomprehensible. I have addressed defects in current science education for children earlier (see: “What is Wrong with Science Education for Children?” ). For science classes in primary and secondary schools, a short (30 minutes) illustrated guest presentation by a real live scientist (i.e., a “foreign speaker”) will add much interest and give a more realistic picture of science and research than can any textbook.
Other ideas for dealing with this common problem!
I offer 3 additional recommendations to individuals trying to deal with their problem of being afraid of science and technology. (1) Read first about small aspects and topics. It is not necessary to master some textbook for you to be able to understand brief media reports about science! (2) When starting to read a newspaper article, look up a few definitions and diagrams on the internet; that is very easy and will aid your efforts to understand! (3) Focus your efforts on current events in science, so you can jump beyond all the famous dead scientists and dry facts given in your earlier school textbooks and classes. (4) Seek information about some topic in science and research that concerns you personally (e.g., your health, your wealth, your community (e.g., purity of water supply), your forthcoming vacation (e.g., ecology, plants and animals, local food, etc.), your shoes (e.g., nature of the improved materials used), your nutrition (e.g., good or bad, quantity, hidden chemical poisons), your automobile (e.g., electric cars, driverless vehicles, production of gasoline from oil), etc.
I believe the general problem that it is difficult to teach adults who find science too difficult can be made easier by copying some of the educational practices used to teach foreign languages. Interactive teaching of both children and adults about how science is related to everyday life will help make the learning much easier. Individuals must be encouraged to be courageous and overcome their fear of science; after success, most will agree that understanding science is not impossible, and even can be fun!
In conclusion, you are indeed capable of understanding science, and your life will become more interesting! Give it a try! Don’t put it off until later! Try it today! The very first step often can be the hardest (see: “How Can I Take the First Step to Learn About Science?” )!
NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and its many partners now are building a giant new space telescope, with launch scheduled for October, 2018 (see: “James Webb Space Telescope” at the NASA website). The construction phase of the Webb space telescope involves efforts by over 1,000 special workers in 14 nations, a total cost of 80 billion dollars, and, many industrial and academic organizations. This huge science project is being conducted during about 10 years of time; it involves use of new technologies and building several special new research instruments. Once the complex assembly is completed and fully tested, it will be transported by ship to the rocket launch site in South America, where it will be sent far into space. This new mission for science will provide important new research data for astronomy, astrophysics, and space science; its research results will go far beyond the amazing images and data obtained by the orbiting Hubble space telescope launched in 1990.
What is the Webb space telescope [1-3]?
The new space telescope will be as large as a moving van and will be placed into a specific region of space located about one million miles away from Earth. It contains small rockets to provide for final adjustment of its position. Data collected from its newly constructed high-tech mirror systems provide very high sensitivity, increased optical resolution, and longer wavelength coverage. This space instrument is specialized to detect and measure near- and mid-infrared wavelengths, since those come from the oldest stars. Data will be transmitted back to the Webb Science and Operations Center at the NASA Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, for analysis and distribution to research scientists and groups. The new Webb space telescope is planned to operate in the cold vacuum of space for 5-10 years, starting in 2018.
What will the new space telescope do for scientific research [1-3]?
At present, the Webb mission has 4 goals: (1) search for the first galaxies or luminous objects formed after the Big Bang, (2) determine how galaxies evolved from their formation until now, (3) observe the formation of stars and their planetary systems, and (4) examine the physical and chemical properties of extraterrestrial planetary systems, including investigations of their potential for life. The Webb extends the capabilities of the Hubble space telescope by having much better detection sensitivity (10-100x), optical resolution, and telescopic spectroscopy. By being able to look out to the far edges of the universe, the Webb can view and measure the very oldest stars and galaxies.
What are the chief worries about the new space telescope [1-3]?
As with any very complex and multiyear building project, unforeseen problems can arise later. The Hubble space telescope had an unanticipated problem that fortunately was able to be nicely repaired by visiting astronauts. Since the new Webb telescope will be much further away from Earth than is Hubble, it will be impossible for astronauts to fix problems. Thus, the preflight testing must be much more rigorous and extensive. However, it is never certain that everything will work and last exactly as expected; extremely unusual events could occur (e.g., collision with a large meteorite, very high bursts of different radiations from our Sun, malfunction of communication systems, etc.) and might be beyond the capabilities of adjustments during its operation in space.
Many people will ask a very natural question, “Why do we humans need a new space telescope?”. Technical answers that it will give results beyond those provided by the Hubble space telescope, will have a hollow ring to non-scientists asking this question. A better answer is that all of us, whether scientists or ordinary people, deserve to have extended knowledge and understanding about our universe; dramatic new data provided by the Webb space telescope will do just that.
Will the new findings of this space telescope justify its immense cost [1-3]?
This huge research project raises an interesting general question about scientific research. Although the 80 billion dollar budget for the Webb is cut back from the initial plans, just about everyone must admit that this cost figure is gigantic. It is reasonable to expect that the research by space scientists using data from the Webb will produce significant advances in understanding the formation and evolution of the oldest stars in our universe, the life cycles of stars, the environmental composition of different exoplanets, and possibilities for living systems on planets circling other stars.
Although accepting that answer, some scientists will ask the logical question, “How many research grants of ordinary cost and size could be made with the same 80 billion dollars?”. Their follow-up question will be, “What would be the value of the new research results collected by all those numerous small projects?”. Clearly, such questions are simply the latest in the ongoing controversy about the value of Big Science versus Small Science. Answers cannot be provided at present because so much is unknown or theoretical.
Where can good information be found about the new Webb space telescope?
There is an abundance of information available about the design, construction, and objectives of the Webb space telescope! For starters, see websites about the Webb by NASA , the Canadian Space Agency , and, the European Space Agency . These have loads of information, diagrams, videos, and the latest news about this giant research project; they are designed to be suitable and understandable for adults, students, teachers, children, and parents, as well as for scientists.
For those curious about the efforts of all the numerous engineers, scientists, and technologists working with this space project, I recommend the truly outstanding article by Daniel Clery, “The Next Big Eye”, within the February 19, 2016, issue of the journal, Science. This well-illustrated piece includes a very good discussion about how these individuals are subject to increasingly large pressures as the assembly and testing advances.
The work of designing, fabricating, assembly, and testing the different components used for the Webb space telescope is an utterly fascinating story showing what humans are capable of doing! After the final assembly is completed, its testing under conditions of space while still here on Earth also will be a wondrous story. Much credit must go to the managers who coordinate all the different small and large groups working on this complex assembly project at diverse locations; they must ensure that everything fits together and functions reliably just as planned. The Webb mission should produce much exciting new understanding about our Sun, our universe, and conditions on the planets of other stars!
I have previously written about such great inventors as Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Edwin H. Land (see: “Inventors & Scientists”, and, “Curiosity, Creativity, Inventiveness, and Individualism in Science”). Inventors generally are seen as being separate from scientific researchers or engineering developers, but all these people often have some of the same personal features, such as creativity, curiosity, drive to overcome difficulties, problem solving ability, and, recognition of causes and effects.
A prominent lifelong inventor in Germany, Artur Fischer, just passed away at age 96 and was the holder of over 1,100 patents [1-3]. That number is even greater than the giant number of patents held by Edison! Although every person reading this is using his inventions, almost nobody can name their discoverer! I will briefly describe his inventions and career below, so all of you can appreciate his wonderful human spirit.
Life activities of a great inventor! [1-3]
Born in a small town within Germany in 1919, Artur Fischer was educated in primary school followed by entrance into a vocational school. He stopped that and then began an apprenticeship with a locksmith at age 13. He never acquired a high school diploma, and it now is very obvious that he certainly did not need one!. Following military service in WW2, he returned home in 1946 and worked on small devices for an engineering company. At age 29 the young entrepreneur started his own company (see: http://www.fischer.de/en/Company/About-fischer ). Today, the resulting Fischer Group of companies is a very innovative, successful, and large German business employing over 4,000 people, having many subsidiaries and factories in Germany and other countries, and, marketing thousands of products around the world (see: http://www.fischer.de/en/Company ).
Throughout his life, Artur Fischer liked to think and do in a workshop, which served as his laboratory for experimentation. His mother had helped him set up a small workbench, thereby encouraging his early efforts. His father was a tailor. Typically, Fischer began his inventions by recognizing some practical or technical need or problem, and then visualizing what changes would accomplish the desired functional solution.
His first big invention involved something every photographer today takes for granted: the burst of light from a camera flash is timed to coincide with the opening of the camera shutter. In the earlier days of photography that was not the case. He invented a new method enabling this flash synchronization, and thereby finally obtained a flash photo of his infant daughter, and acquired his first patent (1949); that effort brought him much business success. He went on to apply this inventive approach to making improvements in a very wide variety of different objects (e.g., a universal holder for boiled chicken eggs that can accommodate a wide range of sizes, edible building blocks for use by very young children, educational toys, etc.).
His best known invention answered a very common question: how to attach screws into drywall or masonry? He came up with a new kind of compressible non-rotating plastic plug that was inserted into a small hole drilled in the wall; a screw then was worked into the inserted plug, causing that to expand so the screw became very firmly anchored. This revolutionary development in 1958, officially known as a Fischer screw anchor, is also called a wall plug, S-plug, dowel, or wall anchor. These fasteners are commonly used in construction and by just about everyone (i.e., to hang a picture or attach a shelf onto a wall). Millions of nylon screw anchors needed for this method now are made by mass production machines every day; they are widely popular everywhere because they are inexpensive and easy to use, work well, and come in a variety of sizes. Wall plugs continue to be developed further and now even can be made from green materials! Artur Fischer also developed modified versions of his wall plug that now are used by orthopedic surgeons to hold broken bones together while they heal (i.e., one really good invention often leads to others!).
Artur Fischer later established Fischertechnik, a new division in his thriving company (see: http://www.fischertechnik.de/en/home.aspx ). Very many children all around the globe know about the special construction toys produced and sold by this business. Although appearing to be similar to toys, these go far beyond that label and require assembly by the child before it can be used; there are various technical components that each young owner can add to their constructed toy. Thus, much hidden education is provided within these distinctive products (e.g., designing, dynamics, electrical engineering, mechanics, robotics, software, solar energy, etc.). They appeal to all modern boys and girls, but also are fascinating for adults to use!
Most recent events! [1-3]
For his long career as a tinkerer and prolific inventor, Artur Fischer recently was honored by the European Patent Office with the 2014 European Inventor Award for his lifetime achievements. The family-owned Fischer Group companies has been headed and expanded since 1980 by his son, Prof. Klaus Fischer; this large enterprise now is headed by the third generation grandson, Joerg Fischer.
Earlier, I recommended some websites with good science materials that are suitable for adults who are not scientists (see: “Websites on Current Science Recommended by Dr.M for Non-Scientists” ). Today’s listing presents some additional recommendations. All are available gratis, so try to ignore the annoying advertisements in some of these sites!
Whether this is your first visit and you are a raw beginner, or you are a regular visitor looking to take the next step forward, these websites will help. Check these out if your personal interests or questions fall within their scope; use their search boxes to look at specific topics. Have fun!
Very extensive good coverage for all branches of science and research, with daily news reports, images, and videos. This website covers just about everything, so use the search box to select topics you want to learn about.
When earlier presenting a very general introduction to science and research (see: here! ), I stated my conviction that scientists and engineers work as partners in creating new advances in products and technologies for all of us. I will briefly explain this viewpoint, and then will direct you to 2 thrilling videos that vividly show this profound collaboration.
What is science for? What do scientists do?
Scientists search for the truth and seek to understand everything. Research investigations by scientists are a major part of their work, and these are aimed at gathering evidence (i.e., data) that answers research questions. Scientific research is conducted in universities and small or large industries, and often utilizes specialized instrumentation and methodologies (see: “Instrumentation” and “Methodology” ). Besides experiments in laboratories, scientific research also takes place in the field, hospitals, computer centers, and large special facilities.
Typical results of this research include determining causes and effects, understanding mechanisms at all levels, defining sequences of changes, determining structure, and, relating structure to functions. After carefully evaluating all the data resulting from investigations, research findings and conclusions often are published within professional journals and presented at annual science meetings.
What is engineering for? What do engineers do?
Engineers of all kinds generally work on practical matters needed for the design, construction, modification, and improvement of discrete objects or processes that ultimately will be produced commercially. Typical goals of engineers are to make some product cheaper to manufacture and operate, more efficient, longer lasting, faster or slower, more attractive, quieter, easier to use, more precise, etc. To accomplish these goals, they must have much knowledge and understanding about materials, manufacturing processes, friction and lubricants, corrosion and coatings, compatibilities, ergonomics, aesthetics, etc. Working experience also is very important here!
Engineers often seek patents rather than publications. After carefully evaluating all aspects of their conclusions for a new or modified commercial product, the manufacturer will select one set of choices for trial production and evaluation. If any of the predicted properties and features of the finished product do not match expectations, then further engineering must be undertaken for refinement of the design. The end point is commercial production and widespread usage.
Relationships between the activities of scientists and engineers.
Engineering mostly depends upon there being some previous scientific research, and basically begins where science leaves off. It also can begin with an amateur invention. Customers of any new or improved product only see the final output of both science and engineering together. This final result clearly is due to a strong partnership between scientists and engineers, even though they do not often work in a side-by-side manner.
Scientific research often constructs models or theories that can determine or explain something that nobody can know for certain (e.g., how small can a transistor be?). Based upon knowledge of physics, engineers determine how small transistors can be made with today’s technology. These different aspects of transistors certainly are related, but also are rather separate.
Nowadays, scientists and engineers both use computers to a prominent extent. Typical usage of computation includes data collection, designing and planning, 3-D and 4-D modeling, theoretical changes and testing, quantitating relationships, and, all analyses of experimental data.
Amazing videos you must see!
Striking examples of the duality between scientists and engineers are shown in both of the 2 following videos. I urge you to watch these twice! You should first watch only for your amusement, and then watch a second timeagain to see how scientists and engineers both played important roles in creating the amazing new devices shown. You might want to show these remarkable stories to your family and recommend them to your friends!
A constructed robot is an artificial bird that flies by flapping its wings!
In the video, “A Robot that Flies Like a Bird”, Markus Fischer shows a fantastic construction made with engineers at the Festo Corporation, a global manufacturer of components and systems for industrial automation and control technology. This is a robot that flies similarly to a living bird, but has no feathers, no heart or brain, and doesn’t eat. Scientific research knowledge first was used to model all the forces and aerodynamics for the flight of real birds by flapping of their wings. Then engineering investigated and decided on the many practical details needed to actually construct the robotic model bird, get it to fly by flapping its wings, and control its flight; those efforts included such engineering details as how long and wide the wings must be, dynamic angles of the flapping wing surfaces, how rapidly must the wings flap, what are the limits for weight to still permit flying by flapping, what role does the tail play, etc., etc. What this new robot will lead to remains to be seen!
A flying human known as the “Jetman”!
Yves Rossy was driven to try to fulfill the ancient human dream of being able to fly, so he used his aeronautical knowledge and sky-diving experience to propose a way to do that. Working with many detailed known parameters for powered flight, he and engineers at Breitling, a Swiss manufacturer of technical watches and chronographs, designed a set of light rigid wings containing 4 high-tech small powerful jet engines; after strapping this onto his back, he can fly with directional control only via movements of body contours (i.e., position of head, arms, and legs, and, torsional shaping of his body). He launches his flight by diving out of a helicopter, and usually lands with a special parachute system. Watch the video, “Flying With Jetman”, to learn about making this new machine, see his amazing flights, listen to stories of his adventures, and laugh at his great sense of humor; he is a most fascinating man and a daring pioneer! Note that a number of other videos about the Jetman also are available on YouTube.
These 2 exciting videos directly illustrate how science and engineering work together as strong partners. Contributions from both professions are vitally important, and can dramatically reveal the human spirit!
I believe that science is everywhere and so should be taught to everyone, starting almost from the beginning of schooling. I have previously written some of my general suggestions for teaching young children about science (see: “What is Wrong with Science Education for Children?” ). Here, a unit for early science education in primary/grade schools (e.g., in grade 2-5) is suggested, and exemplifies that such need not even be labeled as “science”; it can easily be viewed as teaching about “daily life” or “our world”.
Class objectives in teaching and explaining temperature.
This series of early science classes for very young students aims to cover:
(1) how do we detect temperature (i.e., feelings, nerves);
(2) how do we measure temperature (i.e., thermometers);
(3) how do liquid thermometers work; temperatures of hot and cold tap water;
(4) temperatures of children’s skin, what is “room temperature” (= air in classroom), seasons;
(5) how do feelings of being cool or warm correspond to measured temperatures;
(6) very basic explanations for heating and coolingof water;
(7) temperature extremes of water (boiling, evaporating, freezing, and melting);
(8) what happens to temperature when hot and cold tap water are mixed 1:1, and when boiling water is removed from a hot plate and sits at room temp (i.e. measure the temps vs. time);
(9) how quickly does one tablespoon of sugar dissolve in very hot, warm, room temp, or cold tap water?
(10) an illustrated discussion session about temperature (e.g., basic definitions and concepts; what is the temperature of: our classroom, lava from a volcano, a melting ice cube; what are snowflakes, hail, an iceberg; etc.).
Materials needed: skin temperature monitors (one for each child, and they take them home after the class #4; these could be donated by manufacturers or by large drug store chains), red-liquid (no mercury!) inexpensive thermometers (one for each table of students; must have F (or F&C) scales), disposable clear plastic drinking glasses (8-10 ounces), cold and hot tap water, ice cubes or crushed ice, hot plate and glass flask to hold boiling water, granulated sugar.
Scheduling: I estimate needing 5-6 hours of classes (45-55 minutes each) to cover all topics 1-9. Topic 10 is an interactive session reviewing what should have been learned from this unit on temperature, and extending their knowledge to a few new examples. In addition to the class teacher, having one or 2 assistant teachers will be useful. Ideally, some classes should be held in a laboratory-type room (with a table for each 4-6 students); other sessions involve presentations with projected slides or brief videos and directed discussions, and so can be given in either a standard classroom or a lab room.
Please note: (1) Instructions, discussions, questions and answers, are given concurrently with the manipulations and observations by students during the class sessions.
(2) If use of boiling water is considered to be too risky for very young students to handle, then this can be done as a demonstration.
(3) Each class begins with 5-10 minutes of explanation about what is being studied and how the activities will proceed; the last 5-10 minutes are reserved for a brief summary of what should have been learned today.
(4) Even if forbidden, some kids undoubtedly will eat ice cubes and drink the dissolved sugar; so what?
(5) For these early classes, “atoms” are not mentioned, and “energy” can be either ignored or approximated to electricity if questions arise; these topics will be covered later.
(6) If students do not ask questions, then the teacher(s) must ask them questions!
Subsequent classes: In the following months and years at primary school, young students can extend their new knowledge about temperature to related topics. Direct follow-up sessions can include: liquids and solids, solutions and suspensions, oil and water, gasses and liquids, calibrating thermometers, Fahrenheit and Centigrade scales, how do skin temperature thermometers work, what is the temperature in outer space, what warms the Earth, the water cycle in Nature, etc. Related science sessions for later classes can involve chemistry, weather, physics, pressure, energy, what are atoms, what do atoms have to do with temperature, biology, animal and plant habitats and adaptations, fever, etc.
Teachers for these classes have important very active roles here. They must guide the students to do and learn, carefully watch for student safety, and, supervise and maintain focus of students with the active hands-on operations. The more these youngsters can relate what they see and do themselves, the more they will learn; additional examples about temperature will be encountered both in subsequent courses and activities outside schools. Thus, early knowledge about temperature will be ongoing (i.e., teachers will know this is happening when students ask them about something from their life outside school). Later science courses can directly continue from where these initial classes end.
Almost all grade/primary school teachers now should be able to handle the sessions suggested for this early unit on temperature without much special preparation. Teachers should please adapt this suggested program of activities to fit local resources, practical limitations, and scheduling. Please note that atoms and energy are not mentioned for this very early science teaching. Discuss my proposal thoroughly, give it a try, lots of good luck, and have fun!
A unit of classes concerning temperature is described for early science education in primary/grade schools. The suggested series of classes involves active learning and utilizes teaching where the young students will see, touch, and feel what they are learning about; everything relates to their daily activities outside the classroom, yet also prepares them for subsequent science classes in school.
Detailed methods for conducting research experiments play a very fundamental role for all scientists. The term, methodology, includes all the numerous different procedures, protocols, and techniques for acquiring and analyzing research data. This introductory presentation is for general readers! It describes how research methods originate, develop, and mature, explains how methodology differs from instrumentation, and, points out the reasons why methodology has so much importance for modern science.
Basics about methodology for scientific research.
Methods aim to produce research results that are accurate, repeatable, and valid. Detailed protocols are the heart of methodology; these provide step-by-step instructions for how to collect good data (e.g., measure conversion of A into B, record amount of carbon dioxide as a function of ambient temperature, count the number of non-carbon atoms on graphene sheets, etc.). To ensure reproducibility of experiments, methods must be explicitly detailed, utilize a sequential progression of operations, and provide for completion of the data collection; once results start being generated, the scientist or technician then must always follow the protocol exactly, or else unrecognized variables can distort the data. Analysis of research results constitutes a distinct aspect of any methodology, and often is focused on different statistical parameters.
Some scientists have been honored by Nobel Prizes for inventing very significant new research methods (see: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/ ). Why are methods important for science? Methodology is vital because it: (1) permits experiments and data collection to be repeated, (2) details the conditions used to produce results, and (3) explains the reasoning for certain operational choices made for a given experiment or measurement. Without adequate methodology, research results become disorganized, irreproducible, and unreliable.
How does methodology differ from instrumentation?
Methodology and instrumentation (see: “Introduction to instrumentation for scientific research” ) are interrelated, but also differ. Methods tell exactly how to conduct a measurement or record experimental data, while instruments are designed to permit research operations to be carried out. Accordingly, methods always emphasize “how to do it“, and instruments furnish the “tools toget it done“. By analogy, methodology is a road map telling the driver how to travel to a certain destination, but instrumentation is the automobile for doing that travel. Thus, having the latest instrumentation alone is not enough; one also needs good methods to successfully produce valid research results. Most research instruments come with a detailed users manual, but methodology goes beyond that by specifying the exact conditions for usage of the instrument during specific experiments. Modern instrumentation often features highly automatic operations such that everything is done without much intervention by the operator; this uses a standardized methodology that is literally built into the instrument.
Where is methodology found?
Methodology is found all over scientific research! Most research operations have preferred protocols that give good results. These protocols are derived from previous usage by numerous scientists, postdocs, graduate students, and technicians. Some books give a detailed critical examination of research methods (e.g., the long series of volumes, “Methods in Enzymology“). Certain modern professional journals feature only new methods and protocols for some area of experimental science; other more typical journals usually include a few articles about new methods. Almost all research reports published in science journals include a section giving a detailed description of the “Materials and Methods” utilized for producing the experimental findings; this section necessarily is very important since experiments need to give the same results when conducted by other scientists in some other lab or country. Even theoretical research studies need to have some description of the methods utilized.
How do preferred methods develop?
New research instruments often cause new research methods to develop, and those lead to a burst of new results. With enough time and sufficient users, certain methods become established as being accurate, efficient, reliable, and not overly expensive. These are termed standard or preferred methods. For new research projects, the experiments usually start with an established standard protocol, but then some small changes are tried; this process of ongoing development of methodology is practical science, because sometimes the changes give better results, and at other times they do not work. Revised methods arise from established protocols whenever many scientists are using some variant condition that gives better results for their investigations; this revision of methodology goes on during actual research studies.
Detailed methods for conducting research and collecting experimental data are standard components of modern science, and are always undergoing further development. Methods permit experimental measurements to be made in a reproducible manner that gives useful and reliable results. Although often hidden from view, good methodology is necessary for research progress to be made in science.
Research instruments play a big role in enabling the progress of science. The term, instrumentation, includes all the different instruments from the many parts of science. This introductory presentation is for general readers! It describes how research equipment originates and develops, and, points out why science instruments almost always are an expensive budgetary component of modern research projects in science.
Basics about instrumentation for scientific research.
Research instruments are tools used to acquire data (i.e., research results) during experimental investigations. They are fundamental in all branches of science (e.g., cell counters and sorters, microscopes, PCR machines (polymerase chain reaction), sonogram recorders, etc., in biomedical science; chromatographs, spectroscopes, ultrarapid recorders, x-ray diffractometers, etc., in chemistry; and, atomic force microscopes, electron diffractometers, magnetometers, terrestrial and space telescopes, etc., in physics). Some research instruments are huge, but are used to examine very small specimens such as atoms and molecules, while other instruments are small, but are used to examine gigantic specimens such as volcanoes and oceans. Thermometers are simple instruments that continue to be widely used by both scientists and ordinary people.
Science seeks answers to research questions (see: “Fundamentals for beginners: What is science? What is research? What are scientists?” ). Obtaining these answers often uses measurements, images, sonograms, spectra, etc., made by research instruments. Most such output is quantitative, and high precision always is sought. Research instruments directly produce and record data, while accessories and related equipment expand the range of applications and enable processing of the raw results with statistics and analysis; nowadays, most science instruments are used with personal computers for control and operation, storage of output, and, analysis of the research data.
Some science instruments have extremely general usage (e.g., balances, light microscopes, mass analyzers, , pH meters, small ovens and freezers, vacuum chambers, etc.). Other research instruments have only a very specific usage (e.g., cosmic ray detectors, Raman microscopes, space probes, ultra-rapid spectroscopes, etc.); usually these special instruments are much more complex and costly than are general instruments. The cost to purchase a manufactured research instrument generally is high; this is due largely to their complexity, and to the limited number of potential buyers (e.g., some few hundreds). High purchase prices of instrumentation are accepted due to the value of the research results produced (see: “Why is science so very expensive? Why do research experiments cost so much?” ).
Big science commonly uses unique, special, and very expensive research instruments that serve as a research facility for many scientists (e.g., 3-G synchrotrons; free-electron lasers; neutron diffractometers). Two of the 3 new giant terrestrial telescopes now are being constructed in the mountains of northern Chile. Each of the 3 has a total cost of over one billion dollars, and will take 8-10 years to finish their very complex construction (see excellent article: “Behemoth telescopes build towards first light” by Toni Feder in 2015 Physics Today68:24-27)). Because of their fundamental importance for science, these very special research facilities each must be funded by multiple nations and organizations.
General stages in the history of any research instrument.
The total development of research instruments generally passes through a common sequence of stages: (1) invention and first construction, (2) initial usage by the originator and other scientists, (3) commercial development by engineers, industrial scientists, and manufacturers, and, (4) ongoing development of advanced manufactured versions with additional or better capabilities.
Most research instruments available for purchase today originated with the work of one creative individual, known subsequently as the inventor or originator (i.e., often this person is both a scientist and an inventor). The origination of science instruments typically results from a wish to acquire data that is not currently available. The number of research scientists involved in stage 2 is largely determined by current interest in some field and by current attention to the research question(s) involved. The total time needed for stage 3 is quite variable, and can be months to years. Stage 4 features modifications and improvements in the commercialized instrument; it can involve establishment of competing manufacturers, each of which claims that their version produces data faster, more accurately, more efficiently, with finer detail, and/or with lower cost, than do the products of other vendors. Scientist-users often help the manufacturers make significant improvements in instrument capabilities, functioning, and applications.
The fun of using research instruments.
Using modern research instrumentation to produce good data is not always easy. Acquiring the ability to become a skilled user of science equipment usually comes from personal hands-on experience and many failed trials. Once operation of a research instrument is mastered by a scientist or technician, this not only results in production of good data, but also creates personal pride. However, scientists who are very skillful and experienced experts often are surprised to find they only have an incomplete knowledge about the instrument when they first try to teach a new user how to operate it. For some researchers, the trials and tribulations of using complex instruments becomes nothing less than fun! Large, complex, and costly science instruments even can be considered to be wonderful toys by those lucky enough to use them!
Any research instrument, whether used by only a few or by very many scientists, has a history involving the work of engineers, scientist-users, workers at manufacturing companies, and various others, all of whom add to the accomplishment of the initial inventor(s) who built the first one. Although there now is a general tendency to make commercial versions of research equipment more automatic and easier to use, that does not deny the scientist-user’s benefit of working to become very skillful in operating a research instrument.
Asking questions, answering questions, and questioning answers are vital for science education! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Following my recent posts with Q&A for “assistant professors in science” , I now present some interesting questions and answers between you and me!
Dr.M, please tell me why should I care anything about science and research? It just doesn’t matter to me!
Dr.M: It will matter a whole bunch when you run into health problems, when new wars break out using weather as a destructive weapon, when TVs listen to your every spoken word at home, and, when it finally is admitted that you really are poisoning yourself and your children by what you eat and drink! Due to the very deficient public education about science, you and most other adults have no idea what scientists do or how many of your everyday activities involve the products of science and engineering. It will be fun for you to explore science; for starters, look on the internet for “NASA pictures from outer space” and, “3-D printing”!
Dr.M. asks you: What is the thrill of research discovery for a scientist?
Typical soccer mom: It is just the same as finding a $50 bill when you are walking from your car into a supermarket! I guess that research is fun and discovery is pure luck; it looks just like the lottery to me! Discovery by scientists means they then are famous, can write a textbook, and get rich!
I love to watch science on TV for many hours almost every day because it all is so amusing! Dr.M, can you please recommend which are the best science shows?
Dr.M: Most adults see science and research only as being some fantastic amusement. Unfortunately, none of these science-as-entertainment shows deal with real scientists or real research. They are only for mindless amusement, and have much too much emphasis on who is the star researcher of the day, what horrible disease might be cured, and how science could solve some new global calamity. Since I see all of this idiotic garbage as being a total waste of time, I will not recommend any to you!
Dr.M asks an Assistant Professor: If your university employer turns down your application for tenure, what are you going to do?
Assistant Professor: Nobody taught me anything about how to get tenure in grad school. I thought it was almost automatic so long as you were funded by research grants. I know I will never win a Nobel Prize, but I still believe I am a successful research scientist! If I didn’t enjoy lab research so much I would simply quit this nonsense and find a new job in the stock market or selling computers!
My husband and I want our young children to learn about science. What is the best way to help them do that? Do you think we should buy them a chemistry set, Dr.M?
Dr.M: All young children have a strong curiosity, and they often focus that on what they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. For these youngsters, encourage them to explore andexamine nature, and to learn about the world in your backyard or town (e.g., insects, birds, flowers, seeds, leaves, ponds and rivers, stars, beaches and soil, pollution, lightening, snow, garbage dumps, our moon, stars, etc., etc.). Much can be done with little expense! As they grow up they can use a magnifying glass, camera, and personal computer, all of which involve science and engineering. A chemistry set is good for somewhat older children who show a special interest and liking for chemistry; however, for young kids having no affinity for chemistry it will probably only be a potentially dangerous toy (e.g., What does that taste like?). Let your kids decide for themselves what they are interested in!
I looked on the internet for info about nanomaterials after reading one of your posts, Dr.M, but I just do not understand most of what I read. What should I do?
Dr.M: This situation is due to unfortunate general deficiencies in science education. Recognize that you have selected a large topic! I suggest that you will find it easier if you study only a single more specific subject within the world of nanomaterials (e.g., carbon nanotubes, buckyballs, nanomedicine drug carriers, nanomachines, etc.). Even without much background, you should be able to understand some descriptive articles about that subject in any Wikisite on the internet; be sure to also take a look at internet diagrams and videos for whatever subject you choose.
Dr.M. asks you: Do you believe scientists should receive a much smaller paycheck than do star baseball players?
Teenager: What are the salary numbers? Don’t star scientists get several million each year? Postdocs must be equivalent to minor league players in baseball; what do they get? Baseball players deserve millions because they bring in many more millions for their team owner. Good research scientists should be paid at least as much as are professional baseball players!
I haven’t looked at any science since I was in high school. Now I just retired. Tell me, Dr.M, why should I spend any time with science now?
Dr.M: Science is not something you have to do, but it sure makes life more interesting! Have you ever heard of 3-D printers? Do you realize what they can create? Don’t you wonder how they work? Aren’t you curious about why your knees now are causing you pain, or why some new medicine might magically be able to give you full mobility again? Do you realize that your children might not retire until age 80, and could live to be over 100 years old? All of that is science in action! Pick any topic that has some personal interest for you, and see what videos are available about that subject on the internet; I can almost guarantee that you will find something fascinating!
Dr.M. asks you: Do you admire any scientist?
College undergrad: No, because I don’t know any scientists, and have no idea what they have done with their research. I don’t know any Nobel Prizers or local scientists. They all mean nothing to me!
I tried to read about research on new batteries, but I just cannot understand all the special terms and concepts. Are there any translations available just for ordinary folks, Dr.M?
Dr.M: You are totally correct that all the special terminology creates a barrier preventing many people from reading about science. The closest to actual translations are simplified articles found in some science magazines and news websites. Take a look at such internet sites as: “ScienceNews for Students” (https://student.societyforscience.org/sciencenews-students ), and “Popular Science Magazine” ( http://www.popsci.com/tags/science ). Good luck!
Dr.M. asks you: What is the purpose of scientific research?
Hollywood celeb: I really have absolutely no idea, but I do love to watch science on TV! It’s just so funny! Research scientists must be mad! I always laugh my head off and cannot believe these guys and gals are for real!
I appreciate science and would like to help scientific research, but I am not wealthy. Tell me, Dr.M, how can I help out?
Dr.M: Even small financial contributions to promote scientific research always are welcome at science research organizations, universities, high schools, science societies, research workshops, museums, and other special science organizations. Some people like to donate via contributions to crowd-funding organizations (i.e., search with any internet browser for “crowdfunding for science”). Money-free ways to support science and research are to attend public presentations and discussions by professional scientists, or, sign up for a free subscription to specialized science journals, magazines, and websites (e.g., Microscopy Today ( http://www.microscopy-today.com ), “Microscopedia” ( http://www.microscopedia.com ), SciTechDaily ( http://scitechdaily.com/ ), and, “Chemical and Engineering News” ( http://cen.acs.org/magazine/93/09334.html ). You also can volunteer to personally participate in research projects at a nearby field site or laboratory. Last, but definitely not least, encourage your own children and young relatives to have some interest in science!
Dr.M. asks you: Why can’t scientists agree about whether global warming is real?
Aunt Maggie: I guess they just love to argue! Why don’t they do more research and less yapping? Last winter was really cold, so I don’t believe whatever they say! Maybe they are arguing about nothing? It doesn’t matter much to me, anyhow!
Dr.M. asks you: Why do some scientists cheat?
Uncle Joe: Probably they are after more money! There are only small penalties if they do get caught, so why shouldn’t they take a chance on getting rich faster? Everybody else today cheats at their work, so why shouldn’t scientists?
Dr.M, Why won’t you allow any comments and e-mails on your website?
Dr.M: I refuse to waste my valuable time dealing with lonely souls, morons having an empty life, or hungry entrepreneurs, as announced on November 14, 2014 (see: “Special Notice to All from Dr.M!” ). Although It was necessary to do that, if 99.9% of 100,000 comments to you were ads for other websites or duplicate messages disguised as comments, then I believe you also would ban them. It still amazes me that on any one day I used to receive multiple word-for-word identical messages from several different continents! The blogosphere certainly is polluted by spamming on botnets!
By producing new research publications in science journals, postdoctoral fellows try to grow their reputation as active young scientists full of promise (see: “Postdocs, Part 2” ). Postdoctoral researchers also typically solidify their identity with a given field of science. One or more postdoctoral training periods usually are followed by acquisition of professional employment in universities, medical schools, industries, science-related organizations, new small businesses, etc.
This article is only for postdocs! It uses a question and answer format to offer my advice about some common problematic situations faced by postdocs in any area of science. This advice is based upon my own experiences and observations during 2 postdoctoral appointments, and later as a faculty researcher and teacher. I hope all of this will prove interesting and useful to you!
What practical accomplishments should I work for as a Postdoc?
Number one is to make research discoveries of importance, so that you will be first author of publications in major science journals. Number 2 is to expand your technical expertise with research instruments, experimental approaches, and, subjects being investigated (e.g., other minerals, other stars, other life forms, other bases for chemical synthesis, etc.). Number 3 is to make yourself known to leaders in your chosen research field; this often will provide more opportunities later when you are seeking a job opening, a collaborator, or, advice and counsel. All of these will help establish your identity and reputation as a professional scientist.
How can I work on my own special subject of interest as a postdoc?
This common question is misplaced, since you should have settled this before accepting any appointment as a postdoctoral fellow (see “Postdocs, Part 2” ). Once your position starts, your options are limited because you then are obligated to work on the research project(s) of your chosen mentor. Recognize that all the skills and experience you acquire now with any research operations can be used sometime later to examine your own favorite research subjects.
Should I work only on a single research project as a postdoc?
If your mentor approves, you can work on other projects, too, if they do not interfere with your primary research objective. For example, you might contribute your expertise with some research instrument to the project of a fellow postdoc who does not know how to operate that, but needs the data. These internal collaborations are a good way to get some extra publications and to increase your range of research experience. But, remember what your chief effort always must be given to!
How can I, as a young postdoctoral researcher, get noticed by other scientists?
You must take the lead! The number one way to get noticed is to publish important results of your research in good science journals; quality always gets noticed, and speaks for itself. You should present research results every year at science meetings. At meetings, you can invite a few selected scientists to come and look at your poster; if they have given an invited talk, find them and ask one or 2 well-phrased questions about their research. Another good request is to ask for permission to show one of their published figures during your presentation of an abstract at a science meeting.
Should I take a second or third postdoctoral position?
If you are committed to finding employment as a research scientist, but no suitable job openings are available, then the answer is “yes”. With an additional postdoctoral period, you then will be able to continue doing research and will gain additional publications. However, if you have not found a job because you are out-competed by other job seekers, you should look for additional training at another postdoctoral position so that will fill in your weak area(s). There is nothing wrong with working as a postdoc for some longer time, provided you are not used as a technician or a slave. If you can find a suitable mentor who values your work, has research interests like yours, and is well-funded, this can be eminently satisfactory; as a “Research Associate”, your salary will advance, you will publish as first author, and you will not need to worry about getting research grants.
How can I learn about good job openings?
As the saying goes, “Read Science (magazine) backwards!”. Study all their listed jobs every week, so that you can discern who is offering jobs, what types of positions are available, and which job opportunities and requirements are prominent with different fields and different kinds of employers; there also are several other good sites listing science job openings on the web. Annual meetings of science societies often have a job center listing current openings; in some cases, interviews are conducted at these meetings. Let a few of your professional contacts (e.g., scientists familiar with your work, your former thesis advisor, members of your thesis committee, external collaborators, etc.) know that you are actively looking for a position; not all jobs are advertised, and your associates might bring a few of those to your attention.
What is most valuable in a postdoc’s curriculum vitae (c.v.) for landing a good job?
Number one is peer-reviewed publications of your important research results. Number 2 is how many research methods and instruments you have used and mastered. Having given some guest lectures in a course could help in getting a university faculty job. Attending advanced technical workshops can be a plus. Applying for a patent, receiving a postdoctoral grant, or giving invited seminars always is impressive. Customize your c.v. for each open position (i.e., an application for a university job is quite different from an application submitted for a job at an industrial R&D center).
What should I present for my job seminar?
Present something that is interesting, very solid science, and not too controversial. Include some results that are not yet published, and be absolutely certain to leave at least 10 minutes for questions from the audience before your scheduled time limit is over. Remember that your audience must be able to comprehend everything you say, and must see exactly how you and your research will fit into their local activities (i.e., not all employers want to hire a super hot dog researcher!).
How do I find out about the research grant system?
First, ask your postdoctoral mentor and other local research grant holders to advise you about their strategy for meriting an award. If your mentor reviews grant applications, request that you will be allowed to read one of them and then to also read their critique. Second, carefully study the detailed instructions for writing a grant application put out by the several different federal granting agencies. Third, if and when you feel up to it, spend one month to compose a practice grant application; ask your mentor to criticize it, and you then will learn very much that you now do not know! Lastly, study my recent article on “Unasked Questions about Research Grants for Science, and My Answers!” .
Why will I later have to spend so very much time with research grant applications? I want to work on research, not on shuffling papers!
After my first postdoctoral job, I have decided that I will not work in a university. I want a science-related job in business. How should I apply for such?
My best suggestion is for you to seek advice on good approaches from one or more scientists having exactly such a position. Be rigorous in checking out all possible employers, and note who has been hired recently. Before your interview, get facts and figures about each business, and then adapt your c.v. or resume to the specific company or opening. Try to construct a few ideas whereby your science and research training will help them with their business activities and objectives. Be aware that many large companies have an initial training period when the new employee is fully instructed about their business and the employee’s role(s).
For many university scientists, their postdoctoral years were the best and most exciting in their entire career. Work hard and enjoy it!
Although each different graduate school has its own special flavor, they all provide specialized knowledge in a given field of science, and, organized 1:1 instruction about how to conduct research experiments and be a scientist. Typically, graduate students learn a lot from courses and laboratory work, assemble and defend a doctoral thesis, and, produce one or more research publications. Graduate school usually is followed by intensive semi-independent research as a postdoctoral fellow.
This article is only for graduate students in science! It uses a question and answer format to advise you about how to handle some common problematic situations in graduate school. Further information and other opinions certainly should be sought from your fellow students, your official advisor, and any of your course instructors. My advice is based upon my own experiences and observations as a graduate student and later as a faculty researcher and teacher. I hope all of this will prove interesting and useful to you!
Why do I have to take yet more courses in graduate school? I want to learn how to do research!
Graduate school training provides a number of useful features needed by all research scientists: (1) classroom courses instill in-depth knowledge and advanced understanding about one or several areas of science; (2) laboratory courses provide detailed knowledge about research approaches and methods; (3) coursework with library and internet studies, and making oral presentations, give experience in explaining your research and answering questions. These are directly related to what you will do later, no matter where you will be employed. Any advanced course including critical analysis of research investigations will increase your own skills with design of experiments, picking adequate controls, and drawing valid conclusions from a given set of experimental data. You will learn the practice of doing good lab research when you begin work in the lab of your thesis advisor. Being a scientist is more than just performing experiments!
I’m not good with math! Why must I take a statistics course?
I strongly recommend that all graduate students should take a course in applied statistics because it will help deal with experimental design and data analysis. You don’t have to become an expert, but you almost certainly will need to know how to use the basic concepts and procedures.
How should I pick my thesis advisor?
Ideally, you have enrolled in a graduate school because you already picked one or several faculty scientists you want to train you. If your choice is still open, then the following general criteria seem most important. The best thesis advisor has: (1) a successful research career in the special field you are most interested in, (2) an active research grant (and preferably, this has been renewed), (3) a good record for training and placing graduate students (and postdocs), (4) ambition to excel in the special field of interest, and (5) room for you to work in their lab. Discuss any questions or concerns with your selected professor before you begin.
What do research rotations accomplish? It seems like a waste of time to me!
Most of your research experience in grad school comes under the supervision of your thesis advisor. Picking this person is an extremely important task that will follow you for the rest of your career. Most schools require a rotation through the laboratories of at least 3 different professors; to be meaningful, each rotation should extend for 1-2 months. Via these rotations, new grad students will learn what each supervisor is like, what research questions are being attacked in their lab, what instruments and methods are in use, what staff (technicians, postdocs, collaborators, and other students) are working in each lab, and, what each supervisor expects from their graduate student colleagues. After these rotations, the student should be able to decide who they want to study with; the faculty use this experience to evaluate students with regard to interest, level of energy, intelligence, aptitude to learn and acquire skills, and, mentality. The rotations also provide initial entries into your list of methods and instruments you know how to use, so they are valuable even if you already know which professor you will select.
What do I do if there is no professor working on my main subject of interest?
First, admit that you have made a mistake! You should have seen whether there were suitable mentors before you enrolled in any school. Second, decide if you are willing to make some changes in your main interests so that you can work with faculty that are available. Third, if not, then apply to transfer into another department or a different graduate school having one or more faculty scientists working in your area of interest.
What should my doctoral thesis accomplish?
Successfully completing and defending a graduate school thesis is taken as proof that you are qualified to be a scientific investigator, a teacher of science, and an expert on some aspect of modern science. The findings from your experimental studies show what you can do in research, and are the first basis to establish your reputation as a professional scientist. Any good thesis will provide you with one or more publications in professional science journals, and might also result in your obtaining a patent. Successful defense of your thesis entitles you to be hired in a number of different employment situations.
My thesis advisor just had his grant renewal turned down, so I must hurry up to finish my project! But, I only have worked on it for one year! Help!
You indeed have a difficult problem! You must first discuss all possible options with your thesis advisor. In some cases, there might be another professor working in a similar or related area who will let you continue your current research within their lab. In other cases, you might have to move into some other area of interest, and then find a new thesis advisor. Yet other possibilities include moving into a different department at the same graduate school, or transferring into another school. Depending on all the logistics and the time limitations, it might be good to use what you already have done to first acquire a Master’s Degree with your present advisor.
I am half way to completing my doctoral thesis; how soon should I start looking for a postdoctoral position and for a job?
I recommend starting both today! You can never begin too early with these tasks! At science meetings, observe what other scientists are working on, who is researching in your area(s) of interest, and who gives invited presentations. Go up to some and ask a good question; if you have a poster, you can invite them to view it. Take a look at the job openings displayed at science meetings, and, start deciding what kind of employment and which locations appeal to you. Everything you do as a graduate student says what you are; this will be fully inspected when you later apply for a postdoctoral position or a job.
I have been a grad student for 6 years, and my thesis advisor wants me to do still more work. Maybe I will never be able to finish! What can I do?
This is a common problem! Students always want to finish graduate school and start being a Postdoc as soon as possible, but thesis advisors want them to do a very complete and excellent job with their thesis research. The goals of both parties are natural and good. I know several grad students who finished only after 10 years of work!
I offer the following advice. Above all else, try to maintain good relations with your thesis advisor, and recognize that this person knows more than you do about science and careers in science. Discuss all with him or her, and try to get an explicit list of exactly what you still need to accomplish; then, get to work and monitor your own progress every month. If that only produces more problems, then discuss your situation with one or more members of your thesis advisory committee. I cannot say anything further because I do not know if you are wasting time, fully understand what is needed to get a doctoral degree, are getting good results from your experiments, etc.; your thesis committee should know all of this, so ask for advice from them.
Almost all graduate students encounter some perplexing situation(s) in graduate school. Handling those challenges is part of your advanced education! You do not have to take my advice, but you should carefully consider how and why your views disagree with my recommendations. It often is valuable to discuss everything with a trusted faculty scientist or another graduate student (i.e., one attending a different school). Good luck!
Few research instruments are as widely used in science as are microscopes. They are very extensively utilized in universities, industries, hospitals, specialized assay services, forensic labs, mineralogy, crystallography, etc. Microscopes and microscopy recently have become more available and more adapted for science education, beginning in primary (elementary, grade) schools. For those of us working with microscopes, they not only let us do our specialized job in scientific research, but also provide quite a lot of fun.
The fundamental concepts and terms for using microscopes and understanding microscopy in general (see: “Part 1” ), and, light microscopy (see: “Part 2” ) and electron microscopy (see: “Part 3” ) in particular, have been covered previously. This fourth article gives my views about the value of microscopy for teaching science in primary and secondary (middle, high) schools. Beginners reading Part 4 should first study Part 1.
Why is microscopy really, really good for early science education?
I believe that early science education is not only essential for future scientists, but also is badly needed for everyone else. I am especially enthusiastic about using microscopy for science education in primary schools, since it: (1) features hands-on learning, (2) is not selective for any one branch of science, (3) involves doing, seeing, thinking, questioning, and discussing, (4) can be open-ended since the young students will utilize their native curiosity to look at additional specimens of their own choice, and (5) raises early interest in some students for becoming a scientist. Addition of hands-on microscopy to primary and secondary school science classes will make them wonderfully better than the traditional science teaching that emphasizes memorizing facts and figures. That old approach neither elicits student enthusiasm and individual interest in science, nor prepares students to live in a modern world that is dominated by new and changing technology. Education with microscopy is education in science and technology.
Microscopy for science education: what will actually be learned?
In addition to learning how to operate light microscopes, young students will relate this to many other areas of knowledge and activity. Coursework with microscopy teaches at 2 distinct levels: direct knowledge, and indirect knowledge. Direct knowledge covers essentials in optics, design and features of different microscopes, specimen preparation, imaging, and measuring. Microscopy in secondary schools should include introductory instruction about electron microscopes, crystallography and diffraction, and, spectroscopy. Indirect knowledge is given when an image from microscopy is shown to illustrate a didactic subject in some other course (e.g., flowers or minerals, disease bacteria or viruses, the human eye, biofilms, LEDs, solid state computer devices, normal and cancer cells, polymers, etc.). Understanding microscopy thus helps students to learn about many other subjects. Specimens selected for classroom use always should include some objects already familiar to students, and, be coordinated with concurrent other courses.
What does microscopy do for science education that books and videos do not do?
For young students in primary school, looking is not enough!They must learn to see (e.g., substructure which is not visible to the naked eye), to think (e.g., why do we not always look at specimens only with the highest magnification lens?), to discuss (e.g., how can the diameter of human hairs best be measured?), and to ask questions. For learning, classes using microscopes have at least 7 major advantages over reading textbooks:
1. microscopy is a hands-on activity;
2. microscopy simultaneously involves activity by the eyes, hands, and brain;
3. “facts” are not learned; instead, how to use visual information, how to operate this optical instrument, and what exists in unseen worlds, are learned;
4. microscopy is very conducive to classroom discussions and Q&A, and is suitable both for individual efforts and group work;
5. optics of microscopes can be extended to also involve binoculars and telescopes;
6. students will learn both about optics and microscopes and about the different specimens being examined and discussed; and,
7. microscopy is fun! Dr.M. and some other scientists even consider microscopes to really be toys, as well as research tools!
One example of a primary school science class using light microscopy.
This laboratory class uses magnifying glasses (see: “Part 2” ) and dissecting light microscopes to examine a paper towel, a sheet of notebook paper, a bird feather, and skin on the human arm. It is preceded by a full introductory class that defines and explains lenses, magnification, resolution, and the basic design of the dissecting light microscope. Students each will study one specimen at a time; between specimens, their teacher engages them with questions and discussion.
In this primary school science class, the students should learn:
1. the practical aspects of what was presented in the preceding introductory class;
2. differences in magnification and resolution for the naked eye, a magnifying glass, and a dissecting light microscope;
3. that not everything which exists can be seen by our own eyes;
4. that papers are made of small fibers compressed together to varying degrees;
5. that flight feathers of birds are complex structures made of regularly spaced fibers attached to a stiff backbone strut; and,
6. that several sizes of hairs are present on normal human skin.
Duration for this lab session can be from 1-3 hours. If needed (e.g., because class time is limited to 45-60 minutes in length), the session described can be enlarged to become 2-3 consecutive sub-sessions; in that case, the specimens can be divided amongst the different periods. Note that everything listed above is done without imaging; if imaging is available, it certainly should be used and additional time will be needed. Ideally, this class can be followed later by another class working with compound light microscopes.
One example of a set of secondary school science classes involving microscopy.
For secondary schools, science classes using microscopy can be more detailed, and will include: (1) more emphasis upon the specific specimens being examined, (2) making actual calibrated measurements with a light microscope, and, (3) discussions and Q&A at a more advanced level. Electron microscopy also should be included (see next section).
This example uses a set of 3 consecutive sessions. The first class will instruct about the general design of a compound light microscope. A second class either will use compound light microscopes, or will watch projected images of one being used by their teacher, with 4 specimens: (1) a piece of a paper towel, (2) a piece of notebook paper, (3) a stained blood smear, and (3) a drop of pond water containing some protozoa. If available, imaging is performed and copies are distributed for each student’s notebook. The third class will be a Q&A session covering measurements of length; this features how images are calibrated for making size measurements, and an introduction to the standardized science scales for length. The first and third sessions will last for one hour each; the second class might require 2 or more hours.
In this secondary school science class, the students should learn:
1. the concepts for magnification, resolution, and practical usage with magnifying glasses, dissecting light microscopes, and compound light microscopes;
2. what can be visualized in a paper towel and a piece of notebook paper with a magnifying glass, dissecting light microscope, and compound light microscope;
3. what differences can be visualized in a stained smear of blood cells with the naked human eye, a dissecting light microscope, and a compound light microscope;
4. what are the standard scales for linear size;
5. how are accurate length measurements of small sizes made with microscopy; and,
6. how small are red blood cells?
Treatment of electron microscopy for science classes in secondary schools.
Only very few secondary schools have an electron microscope in-house. This important aspect of microscopy thus must be taught by showing images and videos, both of which are readily available on the internet (see “Part 3” ). At the very least, secondary school students should learn (1) the basic design of the transmission and scanning electron microscopes, and (2) their operational capabilities; this instruction can be given in one hour. In addition, a second hour-long class will present discussion of the most fundamental differences between light microscopes and electron microscopes:
1. electrons are charged, but photons are uncharged (i.e., they are neutral); thus, electron microscopes use electromagnetic lenses, while light microscopes use glass lenses;
2. electron microscopes have better resolution and give higher useful magnifications than do light microscopes;
3. electron microscopes can visualize individual atoms, unlike light microscopes;
4. light microscopes can image living cells, unlike electron microscopes;
5. light microscopes easily can produce no radiation damage, unlike electron microscopes;
6. light microscopes can examine wet or hydrated specimens much more easily than can electron microscopes; and,
7. electron microscopes cost much more to purchase and operate than do light microscopes.
Lets go beyond the usual classroom teaching!
One very special approach for teaching about electron microscopy in schools is to invite an electron microscopist from a local university or industry to present a gratis illustrated session describing what they do with electron microscopy in their work. For this teaching activity to succeed in secondary schools, the visitor absolutelymust: (1) simplify their presentation from the usual very detailed coverage, (2) not use more than a few specialized terms, and (3) leave a good 15 minutes (out of 50-60 total) for student questions about electron microscopy. I know that almost all electron microscopists would be pleased to contribute to local science education of schoolchildren (or adults!) in this way; the Microscopy Society of America provides instructions on “Locating a Microscopist-Volunteer” , which offers helpful advice for finding a suitable presenter.
Resources for science teachers about using microscopy in their classes.
There is an amazing amount of help available! Science teachers need not fear the fact that they have never before operated a microscope, because there are good instructional programs for their learning to do that. These include workshops on “how to do it” for light microscopes. Very much guidance, instruction, and practical help is available on the internet, including articles by teachers about their experiences with using microscopy in a school classroom. For example:
(1) Commercial manufacturers of light and electron microscopes, digital cameras, and microscopy accessories often offer extensive instructional material on their websites.
(2) Some light microscopes now are specifically manufactured for use in school classrooms, and cost much less than any used or new research instrument. Look up “light microscopes for schools” or “teaching light microscopy” in any Web Browser, and you will see prices and descriptions about what is available. For extensive guidance on the essential tasks of selecting what to buy and finding funds for purchasing, see: https://www.microscopy.org/education/projectmicro/buying.cfm .
(3) Some well-designed classes and needed materials for light microscopy are available commercially. These include complete kits with teaching guides and student manuals, raw specimens and prepared slides, and, all needed small equipment.
(4) Useful advice from teachers who already are using microscopy in their science classes is presented on quite a few websites (i.e., search for “Microscopy in the classroom” or “Teaching microscopy in schools”).
(5) “Microscopic Explorations” is a much acclaimed guidebook by GEMS (Great Explorations in Math and Science) that is targeted to Grades 4-8 in primary schools ( http://lhsgems.org/GEMmicro.html ).
Both light and electron microscopy are used extensively in industry and in all 3 branches of science. Microscopes can play a significant role for science education in primary and secondary schools. Use of microscopy in the classroom is distinctive because it: (1) involves eyes, hands, and the brain; (2) emphasizes learning for doing and understanding, rather than just acquiring another bunch of facts; and, (3) is directly related to learning about other topics in science and non-science. Teachers of science should seek to become more aware of what class modules already are available, and of the opportunities that teaching microscopy will provide to elevate the effectiveness of their classes.
Recommended by Dr.M for science teachers: further good internet resources.
Few research instruments are as widely used in science as are microscopes. I will present a very brief description of microscopy and the many different types of microscopes by this series of articles. These are not in-depth discussions, but rather are designed to provide an understandable background about microscopy for teachers, technicians, students, parents, and other beginning users. Since I want to keep everything concise and suitable for non-experts, I will not give the usual optical equations and mathematics, ray path diagrams, or standard instructions about how to use these microscopes!
The fundamental concepts and general terms for using microscopes and understanding microscopy were covered by “Part 1” , and light microscopy was presented by “Part 2” . Part 3 now presents electron microscopy; all beginners should first study Part 1.
Waves and optics: electrons and photons.
Electron waves/particles have several differences from light waves and photons: (1) electron waves are much smaller, meaning that resolution in electron microscopes is better than in light microscopes; (2) electrons are negatively charged, while photons are neutral, meaning that electron microscopes must utilize electromagnetic lenses rather than the glass lenses used for light microscopes; (3) electrons can be transmitted through only very thin specimens (e.g., 50-100 nanometers in thickness), meaning that the usual 5-10 micrometer thickness of slices used for light microscopy are not usable for electron microscopy because far too few electrons will be transmitted to reach the detector; and, (4) unlike photons, electrons interact very strongly with all atoms and molecules, therefore necessitating keeping their pathway inside electron microscopes at a high vacuum level. Beyond these prominent distinctions, the optics of electrons in electron microscopy have counterparts with the optics of photons in light microscopy; however, a multitude of controls for the vacuum system, high voltage generation, coordinated electronics and monitors, cameras, and associated accessories make electron microscopes much more complex than any light microscope.
General design of electron microscopes.
The chief components in electron microscopes are shown in the highly schematic diagram given above under the title. Many other parts are not depicted (see text for details!). This diagram can be readily compared to that given for compound light microscopes in the previous article (see: “Part 2”). Electron microscopes commonly are divided into 2 fundamental types depending upon how the specimen is irradiated by the beam of electrons (i.e., all at once, or point by point).
Different kinds of electron microscopes: common transmission electron microscopes.
For these instruments. an entire area of a specimen is irradiated by the electron beam all at once. Major components are kept in a high vacuum inside the column. Electrons are generated at high voltage (e.g., 50-1,000kV) from the electron gun (electron source) by emission induced from a hairpin or a pointed filament. An anode in the gun then draws the stream of electrons down the column into the several condenser lenses; these focus the beam onto the specimen. After transmission through a very thin specimen, the beam then passes into the objective lens. This strong lens contains an objective aperture (i.e., a sheet or disk of metal with a precise very small hole centered on the optical axis); this intercepts those transmitted electrons which have been strongly scattered by atoms in the specimen and prevents them from reaching the plane of detection, thereby creating image contrast. A series of several other electromagnetic lenses follows and acts to increase the magnification of the transmitted image; magnifications can range from 100X up to 1,000,000X. The transmitted electrons finally are received by an electron detector in a photographic or digital camera which records the image (i.e., an electron micrograph). In addition to images, electron diffraction patterns from crystalline specimens also can be recorded. Special attachments to transmission electron microscopes extend the capabilities of these instruments for diverse samples (e.g., frozen-hydrated specimens with cryomicroscopy, special specimen chambers for chemical reactions with in-situ microscopy and analysis, etc.).
Different kinds of electron microscopes: scanning electron microscopes.
These electron microscopes are functionally analogous to dissecting light microscopes, in that the natural or sliced surface of specimens is imaged. The beam of electrons is focused to a fine point by condenser lenses, and then is directed onto a specimen with a raster pattern, similarly to the way a television image is formed. Unlike transmission electron microscopes, minute parts of the specimen area to be examined are irradiated consecutively rather than all at once. Scanned imaging uses different electron detectors to capture one of several available signals (e.g., secondary electrons emitted by the specimen surface in response to being hit by the incoming primary electrons, backscattered electrons reflected from the specimen surface, etc.); these electron signals are received by a detector located above the specimen (i.e., the electrons forming an image are not transmitted through the specimen). Magnifications generally range from 10X to 30,000X.
Contrast in scanned images is mainly due to differences in topography and atomic composition of the specimen. These mechanisms produce different numbers of detected electrons, thus providing image contrast. Images from secondary electrons in scanning electron microscopes often have a 3-dimensional character due to shadowing by neighboring parts of the specimen. Image resolution levels usually are influenced by the characteristics of each specimen. Scanning electron microscopes mostly are used to image much finer details in surface structures than are given by a dissecting light microscope; however, resolution is poorer than that produced by transmission electron microscopes.
Different kinds of electron microscopes: scanning-transmission electron microscopes.
A third version of electron microscopes also exists, and is a hybrid of the two described above. Scanning-transmission electron microscopes irradiate the sample in a sequential raster pattern like scanning electron microscopes, but still form images from those electrons that are transmitted through the specimen (i.e., the electron detector is on the far side of the specimen, unlike the case for scanning electron microscopes). This optical arrangement can achieve atomic resolution and is utilized particularly for compositional mapping and for very high resolution imaging.
A number of specialized and experimental electron microscopes also are available for research usage, but will not be covered in this introductory presentation.
Specimen preparation for electron microscopy.
For study by transmission electron microscopy, good preparation of samples is vital in order to achieve high quality, reproducible, and artifact-free results. Samples most frequently are mounted onto a very thin film of carbon or plastic; this support film is held upon a metallic grid (i.e., similar to a window screen, but much thinner and smaller). Rocks and minerals, tissues, organs, and industrial products all must be prepared by slicing, thinning, or polishing into a thin enough state to permit the electron beam to penetrate through the specimen. In biology, specimens are chemically (i.e., buffered cross-linkers) or physically (i.e., very rapid freezing) fixed, then are dehydrated and embedded, and finally are sliced into ultrathin sections using an ultramicrotome (i.e., a special finely controlled cutting machine); these slices commonly are stained by heavy metal solutions in order to increase the image contrast. Electron microscope immunocytochemistry with specific antibodies is used to locate various protein components in ultrathin sections. Rapid freezing is used to prepare macromolecules and cells for electron cryomicroscopy; the frozen-hydrated unstained specimens are kept at liquid nitrogen or liquid helium temperature inside the electron microscope, thereby maintaining their native structure.
For scanning electron microscopy, non-conductive specimens must be treated by coating them with a conductor so they become conductive. Sample preparation aims to produce specimens that are (1) dry (i.e., simply putting a moist specimen into the high vacuum of an electron microscope will cause its collapse and other structural changes), (2) conductive (i.e., non-conducting samples give bad images due to their becoming charged under the beam), (3) producing a high level of signal (i.e., coating with a thin layer of metal produces increased numbers of secondary electrons, thus giving a brighter image), (4) compatible with higher resolution imaging, and, (5) free from artifacts.
What are electron microscopes actually used for?
The several different kinds of electron microscopes are used very extensively for imaging, diffraction, and analysis in all 3 branches of science, and also in industry. For research, they are utilized to examine normal, abnormal, and experimental structure, along with the amount and distribution of compositional elements. Other major uses include atomic level imaging, spectroscopy, and experimental electron optics. For crystallography in bioscience and materials science, electron diffraction patterns are essential for structural characterization; electron crystallography is an important special branch of applied electron optics. Enormous efforts have been devoted to producing better specimen preparation, since that has such a clear importance for determining exactly what can be imaged, detected, and meaningfully studied.
Correlative microscopy uses electron microscopes to obtain higher resolution details for specimens that first were imaged at moderate resolution and magnifications (e.g., by light microscopy). Their enormous range of magnifications can permit correlative microscopy to be conducted by a single transmission or scanning-transmission instrument. As one real example, defects and inclusions in semiconductor devices are first characterized by scanning electron microscopy and then analysis of their elemental distribution is mapped with a scanning-transmission electron microscope.
For those of us using electron microscopes in our daily work, they also provide quite a lot of fun! Electron microscopists are analogous to airline pilots looking down at a landscape!
The chief advantages and the chief problems of electron microscopes.
All electron microscopes stand out for their ability to image structure at higher resolution levels than can be achieved by light microscopy. Atomic-level structure now can be directly imaged; this capability is usable for many kinds of specimens, and excels for nanomaterials and materials science.
Electron microscopes are quite costly and purchase often can be justified only when made for a group of multiple users. Routine and special specimen preparations frequently are expensive, hazardous (due to exposure to toxic chemicals and nanoparticles), and give good results only with much training and experience of the technician or microscopist. The biggest problems for electron microscopy of biosamples, polymers, and wet materials are that: (1) they must be either frozen or dried, both of which easily can cause undesired changes in their native structure, and, (2) the same illuminating electrons that enable imaging also cause radiation damage to the specimen, thereby changing their native structure. Good images of artifacts are commonplace.
Recent developments in electron microscope instrumentation.
Modern electron microscopes have become increasingly sophisticated and specialized in their capabilities. The recent commercial production of correctors for electron optical lens aberrations now permits the measured level of resolution to be equal to the calculated theoretical resolution limit; this permits better atomic imaging and better compositional analysis to be achieved. New experimental approaches for the electron source, camera, and optical design are progressing nicely; new instrumentation accessories and new software are being developed every year.
Electron microscopy in science education.
Electron microscopy is very widely used in science education at secondary schools and colleges, but all that is almost completely hidden from students by their teachers! The source and nature of the many images from electron microscopy shown in classrooms are only rarely indicated! Examples of this silent treatment include cells and tissues, organelles and macromolecules, bacteria and viruses, solid state devices, polymers, fibers, minerals, metals and alloys, nanomaterials, etc.
Courses on electron microscopy mostly are found only in larger universities and specialized educational institutions. Recently, some manufacturers and certain institutions are offering opportunities for students and classes to use scanning or transmission electron microscopes having computerized control systems, either via the internet or by visiting a working facility.
The different kinds of electron microscopes have a high practical importance for enabling diagnosis of kidney diseases by examination of renal biopsies, reliable detection of causes for manufacturing defects and malfunctions in semi-conductors, advancement of understanding of normal and pathological cell substructure, detection and identification of disease microbes, development of nanomaterials and nanomachines, etc., etc. Technology developments for electron microscopes and for advanced specimen preparation are progressing vigorously in the modern world.
Let us now take a look at some images from electron microscopes!
Examples of images produced from all 3 kinds of electron microscopes are easily available on the internet. The following are recommended to you by Dr.M.
(1) A GOOD PLACE TO START: The semi-popular monthly journal, Microscopy Today, will give a good taste about what is going on currently (see: http://microscopy-today.com/jsp/common/home.jsf ). Most manufacturers of electron microscopes and related accessories have full-page advertisements in each issue. Articles about microscopy in education are a regular feature of this publication.
(2) A GALAXY OF IMAGES: For galleries with a multitude of images and diagrams, look up each of the 3 kinds of instruments (“transmission electron microscope”, “scanning electron microscope”, and “scanning-transmission electron microscope”) in the image section of your favorite internet browser. When you find something of personal interest among the many hundreds of panels shown, click on its thumbnail and you will be taken to the explanatory details directly provided by its source.
(3) ELECTRON MICROSCOPY OF NANOPARTICLES: Electron microscopy excels with specimens from nanoscience! Go to the website of the Nanoparticle Information Library at http://www.nanoparticlelibrary.net/results.asp and enter a search for “electron microscopy”; you will receive electron micrographs for 24 quite different nanoparticles, along with a brief report for each.
Very few research instruments have as widespread a usage in science as do microscopes. I will present a very brief and readily understandable description of microscopy and the many different types of microscopes in this short series of articles. These are not in-depth discussions, but rather are designed to provide a good introductory background about microscopy for teachers, technicians, students, parents, and other beginning users. Since I want to keep everything concise and suitable for non-experts, I will not utilize any of the usual optical equations and mathematics, ray path diagrams, or standard instructions about using microscopes!
The initial article in this series gave an overview of the most fundamental concepts and terms for using microscopes and understanding microscopy (see: “Part 1: Fundamentals for Beginners” ). This second Part examines light microscopes and light microscopy; all beginners are urged to first study Part 1. The fun of microscopy is pointed out throughout the entire series!
Different kinds of light microscopes: the dissecting light microscope.
The dissecting light microscope uses white light reflected from the surface of solid specimens to achieve a more moderate level of magnification and resolution than are obtained with compound light microscopes. The light source can be a ring lamp along the optical axis, giving illumination from all directions, or, a single focused light (i.e., a spotlight) that can be moved to shine onto soecimens at different angles and orientations. For examination of whole mounts or cut surfaces with a dissecting light microscope, the natural specimen thickness often is good. Only natural colors are observed (i.e., biological samples usually are not stained). The dissecting light microscope is valuable for showing finer details on natural surfaces or those produced by grinding or cutting. It provides higher magnifications and better resolution than are given by magnifying glasses, but gives lower magnifications and poorer resolution than are produced by compound light microscopes. It is always valuable for scientists to look at whole specimens with a dissecting light microscope before examining thin slices or polished specimens from the same sample at higher magnifications with a compound light micoscope.
Different kinds of light microscopes: the common compound light microscope.
The major parts of standard compound light microscopes are shown in the schematic diagram given above under the title. The mixture of many different colored waves within white light is used for the most common light microscopes. Better resolution is obtained if only a single wavelength of light is used (i.e., monochromatic waves, such as only green or only blue); the light waves with the smallest wavelength (e.g., ultraviolet waves) give the best optical resolution. Unlike the single lens in a magnifying glass, the common light microscopes have several compound lenses, each of which includes a group of several different single lenses arranged to function coordinately. This design with grouped lenses serves to increase useful magnifications, decrease optical aberrations, and provide ready resolution of small details in specimens.
The lenses in compound light microscopes are constructed from special glasses by industrial lensmakers. Typically, waves from a light source (e.g., a lamp bulb or LED) are focused onto the specimen by a condenser lens (assembly). Focus for all compound lenses is adjusted by moving either the assembly or the specimen up or down the optical axis; this is the same action used to focus a magnifying glass. Specimens commonly are mounted onto thin glass slides, which are held over a hole in the stage. Lateral movements of the slides are produced by the stage controls. After passing through a thin or transparent specimen where some absorption takes place, the transmitted waves then are focused by the objective lens (assembly) onto either the eyepiece lenses (monocular or binocular), or a viewing screen. The focused images are recorded by a detector using either photography or a digital camera. Magnifications typically run up to around 1,000 times natural size; the several objective lens assemblies mounted on a turret provide different amounts of magnification.
Preparation of specimens for light microscopy
Samples for a compound light microscope must be sufficiently thin to allow light waves to be transmitted through them (i.e., several micrometers thick). Typical specimens are several micrometers thick. Biological samples from organs typically are chemically fixed (e.g., buffered formalin), dehydrated to dryness, embedded into paraffin or a polymer, sectioned with a microtome (i.e., a special cutting machine), mounted onto glass slides, and finally stained with a general or specific chemical procedure; the added coloration enhances recognition of different tissues, cell types, and substructural elements. Physical materials often are ground into a thin layer or crushed into small particles; these then are mounted onto glass slides.
Specimen preparation is particularly important for determining what kinds of information can be produced by light microscopes. Thin samples usually are either whole mounts of very small objects (e.g., microbes, pollen, blood cells, microparticles produced by crushing, strands of polymers, etc.), or sections/slices through larger objects (e.g., slices 7 micrometers thick from larger fixed and embedded pieces of organs or other soft biomaterials; thin discs or wedges prepared from mineral or metallurgical samples). Various types of chemical treatments for specimens enable selective information to be acquired (e.g., precipitants, stains, immuno-cytochemistry, etc.). Recorded images of serial sections can be processed to show the third dimension of the specimen being examined.
Different kinds of light microscopes: more specialized light microscopes.
Phase contrast light microscopes contain objective and condenser lens groups with special optics so that changes in the phase of light waves passing through specimens are detected as a difference in contrast. By doing this, otherwise invisible parts of transparent objects (e.g., living cells, polymeric sheets, unstained sections of biomaterials, etc.) can be made visible and studied. The mounting of several different objective lenses upon a turret makes it easy to examine the same specimen alternatively with phase contrast or standard imaging. These microscopes are used widely with optically transparent specimens (e.g., cultured cells, protozoa, glasses, fibers, and polymers); staining usually is not utilized.
Polarizing light microscopes illuminate specimens with polarized light and have special lens systems that can detect smaller regions within larger specimens that have a different degree or orientation of ordering. With ordinary (i.e., unpolarized) white light, these differences are not visible. Polarizing light microscopes can observe ordered components within natural materials, sliced specimens, or thinned samples.
Fluorescence light microscopes image specimens treated wuth special dyes (e.g., stains) emitting fluorescence when illuminated by certain wavelengths. These compound light microscopes feature several optical filters designed to remove background intensity; the resultant images show one or several brilliant colors coming from the dyes utilized.
Confocal light microscopes utilize illumination from laser light source(s) with digital recording and computer processing to provide good images of small details within thicker volumes or slices.
Several other types of light microscopes use more optical arrangements to provide specialized detection of various properties in specimens, but will not be discussed here. An extensive range of accessories now are available for research use with light microscope instruments; these include chambers that keep living cells warm and well-fed during observation, and other chambers that enable catalyst particles to be observed within a monitored gaseous or wet environment.
Practical steps for using light microscopes.
A common sequence of operational steps is used with the several different kinds of light microscopes.
1. Preliminary preparation of the microscope. All compound lenses must be cleaned and aligned upon the optical axis.
2. Preparation of specimens to be examined. Specimen preparation aims to produce samples with the required small size or thinness, having a surface revealing the desired information, and retaining the structural properties found naturally.
3. Mounting of dried or wet specimens for study. Samples for light microscopy most commonly are mounted upon a clean glass slide. Some wet samples are dried by evaporation directly onto slides; others go through special procedures for dehydration and drying so as to avoid damage to fragile specimens. Addition of a mounting medium and a very thin cover glass provides a good stable environment for most samples.
4. Imaging. Images of samples are recorded at both low and higher magnifications.
5. Analysis of recorded images. The recorded image is a light micrograph; this is not simply a snapshot, but rather is a package of experimental data that can be analyzed qualitatively (e.g., condition of structural features) and/or quantitatively (e.g., numerical measurements of various features).
Recent advances in light microscopy.
Light microscope technology continues to advance! Light microscopes until recently were able to resolve very fine details only to a limit of around 0.2 micrometers, as first determined with optics by Ernst K. Abbe in classical times; after all the many following decades of light microscopy, new special approaches recently succeeded in surpassing that limit. Special optical arrangements recently developed for light microscopy now allow super-resolution to be obtained (see: “Press Release – 2014 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry” , and, “Explanatory Notes for 2014 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience” ). New types of illumination and new optical arrangements now are exciting brain researchers because they can allow individual nerve cells (neurons) to be imaged deep within the brain. Advances and new protocols for specimen preparation also continue to be developed, and serve to enlarge the types of information that can be retrieved by light microscopy.
The most general advantages of light microscopy.
Light microscopes usually are rather easy to use, applicable to an enormously wide variety of samples, and involve only a moderate cost. Sample preparation and preservation are well worked out in detail. Compound light microscopes can be readily adapted to image dynamic changes in samples (e.g., video or time lapse recordings of living cells) and to analyze the third dimension of structure. The extensive range of specimens that can be examined by light microscopy means that there are a gigantic number of ways for scientists to have fun applying these tools for their research studies.
Light microscopes in education.
More and more primary and secondary schools are adding light microscopy to their activities for science education. Light microscopes can be somewhat costly for schools to acquire, but they last a long time and each one can serve at least 3-6 students in a laboratory class; acquiring a viewing screen or a projection device permits much larger groups to observe results from only a single microscope. Working with light microscopes and studying their images can be used not only to teach students about optics, measurements, and scientific research, but additionally to instruct about the biology, chemistry, and physics of those specimens being examined.
Most students are inherently interested in observing a stained blood smear, first with a magnifying glass, then with a dissecting light microscope, and finally with a compound light microscope at increasing magnifications. Watching living protozoa (e.g., from local pond water) with a compound light microscope will be an amazing experience for all sudents, even those maintaining zero interest in science; for these samples, phase contrast microscopes are not needed, since defocusing usually will provide sufficient contrast to see the transparent unicellular creatures.
Many classroom exercises with light microscopy have been developed by Caroline Schooley and her colleagues working with Project MICRO at the Microscopy Society of America (see: http://www.microscopy.org/education/ProjectMicro/index.cfm ). Special sessions about Project MICRO are held during the annual meetings of this national science society (see: https://www.microscopy.org ); the same meetings usually also have special presentations about microscopy aimed at teachers and the general public.
Light microscopes continue to be very vital research tools for all 3 branches of science. Their large importance for research applications is matched by its importance for industrial uses in failure analysis and fabrication fidelity. One of its most special capabilities is the observation of living cells. In conjunction with old and newly developed methods for specimen preparation, light microscopy in 2015 is utilized extensively for the identification and localization of different components within larger specimens; this is true for pathology, minerology, metallurgy, materials science, and cell biology. Today, organized programs for teaching and using light microscopy in the classroom form a successful hands-on part of modern science education in primary and secondary schools.
Recommended for further information about light microscope images and videos.
After reading about light microscopy you now are ready to look at images! The internet provides an extensive variety of images from light microscopy; Dr.M recommends that you start by inspecting the following sources.
1.IMAGES: For galleries with a multitude of images and diagrams from light microscopy, look up “light microscope” or “light microscopy” in the image section of your favorite web browser. When you find something of interest among the many hundreds of collected panels displayed, click on its thumbnail and you will be taken to the explanatory details provided by its source.
2. WEBSITE ABOUT MICROSCOPY: A large variety of images, knowledge, and explanations is available at: http://microscopyu.com . Some commercial companies selling light microscopes also have a portion of their website devoted to explaining how these instruments work and what they can accomplish (e.g., Leica, Nikon, Olympus, Zeiss, etc.).
4. LATEST NEWS:The specialist monthly journal, Microscopy Today, features all aspects of modern microscopy (i.e., news, methods, commercial offerings, meetings, teaching using microscopes, web Q & A, history, optics, etc.). Free subscriptions are available at: http://www.microscopy-today.com/jsp/common/home.jsf .
5.SCIENCE IS ART: For those either agreeing or disagreeing with me that science and art can be almost interchanged, please see “Small World Photomicroscopy Gallery” at: http://www.nikonsmallworld.com/galleries .
Microscopy gives a wealth of information! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Very few research instruments have as widespread a usage in science as do microscopes. They also are a very useful tool for industries (e.g., failure analysis and monitoring fidelity at a fabrication and production facility), hospitals (e.g., pathology diagnosis, identification of microbial infections, determining hematology status, etc.), minerology, metallurgy, crystallography, etc. In recent years, microscopes have become more available and more utilized for science education in primary and secondary schools. For those of us using microscopes for our work, they additionally provide quite a lot of fun!
In this short series of articles, I will present a very brief and readily understandable description of microscopy and the different types of microscopes. These are not in-depth discussions, but are designed to give an introductory background about microscopy for teachers, technicians, parents, students, and beginning users. I have tried to make everything concise and good for non-experts. Although simplified explanations will be given, some recommended resources for deeper coverage also are provided.
The initial article gives an overview of the most fundamental concepts for microscopes and microscopy. These topics precede actual usage of any microscopes. The following articles will briefly explain the main kinds of microscopes used in 2015. A final article outlines utilization of microscopes for education in primary and secondary schools.
How do microscopes actually work?
Microscopes permit observation of structure, function, and composition that cannot be seen with the naked eye. All the common kinds of microscopes are governed by the branch of physical science known as optics; this describes exactly how microscopes use lenses to form images. A common example of a single lens is the magnifying glass; one need not know anything at all about optics to have fun using one! Compound lenses have multiple single lenses working together to give higher magnification of specimens. As magnification is increased, good compound lenses will reveal smaller and smaller details. Magnifications for typical ordinary uses range from 3 times (3X) to several hundred times (300X) larger than the natural size; for special microscopes, magnifications can go all the way up to a million times their natural size (1,000,000X).
The size of small details that can be visualized with sufficient magnification is limited by the level of resolution. Resolution can range from detection of specimen details that cannot quite be seen with the naked eye (i.e., low resolution), up to visualizing individual atoms (i.e., very high resolution). The resolution level for microscopes is determined by optics, and varies with the kind of lenses and microscope being used.
The functioning of microscopes is generally analogous to the production of images by our eyes. That involves light waves bouncing off some object, passing through our pupils and ocular lenses, and then being detected by our retinas. Most imaging in microscopy uses shining waves onto or through a specimen, then passing them through lenses, and finally registering them on a detector; detectors for microscopy record the waves hitting them via cameras that use either photographic film or digital memory. For microscopy, lenses first focus waves onto the specimen, and then onto the detector. Imaging requires contrast (i.e., relative amount of lighter vs. darker components); this is produced in most microscopes when the specimen causes some portion of the waves to not be transmitted to the detector, due to being absorbed or scattered.
The several compound lens sysytems in microscopes provide enough magnification and sufficient resolution to resolve some small details in specimens. Recorded images give a permanent record of what was observed, and also can be used to make measurements and counts of the small details. Basically, resolution determines the information content of images made with any microscope. In some cases, the smallest details known to be present in a specimen are not able to be imaged because the lenses lack enough resolution even at high magnifications; this is empty magnification.
Information about chemical composition of a specimen also is available from some types of microscopes. Analytical microscopy detects the amount of some element or compound, and/or their location, within the specimen being examined. Resolution here corresponds to the ability to accurately measure amounts for several elements or compounds that differ only slightly. Compositional information is usually displayed as a spectral histogram, with the vertical axis denoting quantity and the horizontal axis showing a scale differentiating the elements or compounds. The compositional data also can be displayed superimposed upon a regular image of the specimen; this mapping shows exactly where some element or chemical component is located.
The different kinds of microscopes.
The most general way of characterizing microscopes is by the type of waves used to view the specimen. Our own eyes produce images using light waves coming from (e.g., stars, neon signs, etc.) or reflected off different specimens (e.g., birds, leaves, other people, etc.). Different portions of the electromagnetic spectrum are used by the 2 main kinds of microscopes: (1) light waves, ranging from ultraviolet, through all the visible colors, and on into infrared, are used in light microscopes, and, (2) electron waves, which are very much smaller than light waves, are used in electron microscopes.
The wavelengths utilized, and the quality of the lenses present, determine the level of resolution given by each microscope. Smaller wavelength and higher quality lenses give higher resolution (i.e., the ability to see and image finer details in a specimen). Bacteria are too small to be observed with the naked eye or with a magnifying glass, but can be seen with a good light microscope; electron microscopes use wavelengths very much smaller than those found in visible light, and so are able to not only easily image bacteria and viruses, but also can show very small details within those objects (i.e., substructure).
There are several other important special types of microscopes, but they will not be included here since this article presents only an introductory coverage.
How is microscopy important for ordinary people?
Microscopes are used for very many different purposes, including usage for research. Images from microscopy show enough details to permit detection, identification, and authentification of many different objects and conditions. The discipline of pathology in clinical medicine uses microscopy extensively for the diagnosis of disease states and the identification of microbes causing infections. Microscopy provides an ideal tool for making size measurements of small objects and smaller details within them; thus, it is fundamental for analysis of all levels of structure. Microscopy often is used to evaluate quality (e.g., perfection of small crystals to be used for x-ray diffraction; status of solid-state semi-conducting components). Developing new high technology directly depends upon microscopy. Dynamic imaging of specimens that are changing with time reveals the course of changes and positions of constituent parts; this capability is a major feature of microscopy at both low and high magnifications. All these capabilities make microscopy very widely used, meaning that microscopes are very important for everyone!
The “simplest microscope” of all is fun and can be useful for science education!
The very simplest microscope often is not recognized as such! A magnifying glass (e.g., a single plastic or glass lens within a holder, provides a magnification of 2-5X) uses white light waves in the visible spectrum to show us some smaller details that cannot be discerned with the naked eye. A magnifying glass is a single lens; light and electron microscopes use compound lenses made from several single lenses working together. Just as you focus images with a magnifying glass by moving either the lens or the specimen along a line towards your eyes, so do light microscopes focus by moving either compound lenses up and down from a specimen, or by moving the specimen relative to stationary lenses.
Teachers should recognize that magnifying glasses are inexpensive, difficult to break, and easy to use by all students. The concepts of a lens, magnification, resolution, and focusing become rapidly understood from hands-on usage, and some unexpected small details often are discovered by young students. Easy specimens for examination with a magnifying glass are table salt or granular sugar, a leaf from a plant, a piece of Kleenex tissue, a cut piece of any fruit, and, skin hairs and scratches on the student’s own forearm.
Even though we have not yet looked at any actual microscope or images, you now should have a good very basic understanding about microscopy, what are the different types of microscopes, and how is microscopy so very important in the modern world. In the next article of this series, we will take a closer look at light microscopy.
Libraries are undergoing many large changes due to the rise of digital technology, the ready availability of the internet and of multimedia recordings, and, the changes in modern society. As the main repositories for information, large libraries have been instrumental for scientific research, other areas of scholarship, and education; they are changing along with the neighborhood libraries in cities and the small libraries in schools. This essay examines how these changes in science libraries affect research scientists.
Science books now are being published both in traditional printed versions and in digital formats. For science journals, most now are published both in printed form and as digital editions; a number of new professional journals covering scientific research are only digital. Media play an increasingly important role for science education, research reports, and presentations at science meetings; all of these now are mostly in digital form. Instead of a book of printed abstracts, scientists attending annual science meetings frequently now receive a portable digitized recording. Many libraries, including both local public libraries and large scholarly libraries at universities, now contain many digital volumes and digitized materials in their collection.
This extensive shift into digitized formats means that students and scientists now can: (1) access almost everything traditionally found in libraries without a physical visit; (2) interlibrary loans are increasingly unnecessary; (3) searching for information on personal computers, as compared to spending several days or weeks camped out within a library, seems quick, efficient, and comprehensive; and, (4) even course textbooks now are being sold for use on the personal computers of students. I believe that many of these changes are good for science and society, but some also have unrecognized side effects (e.g., if anything is stated to be “fully known”, then there is no point to studying it further!).
What do research scientists need books and libraries for?
Common uses of library materials by research scientists include: (1) reading or viewing new books, new or old issues of science journals, new documents related to science, new or old science textbooks, and, new media, and, (2) searching for answers to certain questions, historic materials, published opinions and pronoucements about science, deposited research data, or, presentations at science meetings. Although almost all of these retrievals now can be accompished via the internet, some care is needed to ensure that such searches truly are extensive, complete, highly detailed, and include all related topics.
Most scientists and almost all students now rarely or never visit a library! Scientists doing research in universities, industries, hospitals, and technology institutes find the internet much easier to use from their office or residence. Internet search engines quickly display numerous websites in response to any search on a browser. Absolutely everything that a scientist could need soon will be readily available on the internet. Except for very special science libraries containing collections of rare and ancient materials, science libraries now are underutilized and increasingly seem unnecessary; since maintaining traditional libraries necessitates spending quite a lot of money every year, it is easy to predict that they will be converted into much less costly fully digitized libraries.
Why are internet searches about science often incomplete or superficial?
Internet search engines operate mechanically, unlike the human mind. Although searching on the internet is quite rapid, the information retrieved often can be limited in scope, one-sided or biased, and, includes only limited and highly-selected details. There are accounts that some internet materials have been truncated or express quite tilted views. If any data, materials, statements, or divergent opinions are not displayed, then the results of an internet search are incomplete; many persons using an internet search engine usually are not aware of those limitations. Living scientists are much better able than search engines to interrelate separate items and topics, judge relevancy, create a sequence of connected operations, and, proceed logically into new directions.
To state this in a different way, searching with search engines is not the same as doing research. In the good old days, searching in a library to find needed materials resembled going on a treasure hunt; different hunters even could find different treasures! Many youngsters and college students today believe that a classroom assignment to “do research” about something means to use a search engine on the internet. That mistaken viewpoint undoubtedly reflects the general lack of understanding about what is research and what scientists and other scholars do (see: “What Do University Scientists really Do in Their Daily Work?” ). For scientists, the internet is a very useful tool for research, but is best seen as only part of a longer and more complex mental activity.
Looking at the future of books and libraries.
Things are changing in libraries so quickly that it is now possible to visualize what will happen to them in the near future. The number of science libraries will decrease dramatically as most materials on science are moved into “The Cloud”. Library functions then will be taken over by special national or regional websites providing access to very large databases of digitized materials. These truly gigantic collections will be designated as digital megalibraries, and are based upon a super-database that combines several other huge databases.
In answer to emotional outcries that old and antique printed books are still good and useful, a worldwide effort will be undertaken to create digitized versions of the entirety of all previously published volumes. Practical problems with the numerous different languages in our world will be remedied by new software programs that rapidly translate anything published or audio-recorded into whatever language is needed. When all of these predicted developments happen, scientists and everyone else will have access to everything on their personal computer!
For research scientists, these changes mostly will be good, although the information available might at first seem overwhelming. New strategies for dealing with this glut of retrieved information will be invented and developed. This galaxy of total information also will stimulate new commercial software that objectively lists new and old publications that are important for any science topic or research question. Reviewers of manuscripts, grant applications, educational materials, and books then will use related special new software to ensure that authoring scientists have dealt with all the necessary information. Research reports will then need to provide a special listing of “non-cited references” in order to keep the actual article readable and its length reasonable.
Are science libraries going to vanish? No, but they will be completely transformed into digitized operations. The new digital libraries will continue to be vital for science and research.
Having spent many years looking at dusty old volumes in university libraries and then finding that the one for my particular interest was missing, I believe that the forthcoming availability of absolutely everything in digital form will be welcomed by all scientists and other scholars. Nevertheless, at a strictly emotional level, a discolored old book with a wonderful smell to it can never be equated to its digitized counterpart!
The first part of this essay (see: “Part I” ) described the growing number of foreign graduate students now immigrating into the United States (U.S.). They first study for a doctoral degree in science, followed by postdoctoral training, and then obtain a professional science job in U.S. universities and industries. Part II will (1) examine what this situation means for U.S. science now and in the future, (2) identify the ultimate cause of this worrisome development, and, (3) explain how this problematic condition can best be resolved.
What does this situation mean for the future of science in the U.S.?
Judgments of the balance between the positive and negative aspects of this new situation (see: “Part I” ) are quite uncertain. Discussions about the quality and results of these immigrants always are difficult. Nevertheless, important questions must be discussed! My views here will be given about the following prominent questions. (1) How does this situation affect the quality of science and scientists in the U.S.? (2) To what extent does this situation decrease the number of graduates from U.S. colleges choosing to pursue advanced studies in science? (3) What does this mean for the future of science in the U.S.?
Regarding the effects upon science of the numerous foreign graduate students immigrating into the U.S., problems with intellectual maturity, skills with independent design of experiments and research manipulations, and, misguided practices in professional ethics, all seem to me to be rather equivalent between the foreign and domestic populations. Thus, there is not much negative influence on the quality of scientists resulting from the added population of foreign students studying science in U.S. graduate schools.
The question about whether the many foreign graduate students now here is influencing the decision of native-born college graduates not to enter a career in science is paralleled by another open question about whether the entrance of new foreign doctoral scientists into faculty positions in U.S. universities and high positions in U.S. industries makes native college graduates less likely to want to work with their foreign-born associates in science. I feel that the answer to both these questions is “probably not yet”, because this situation is still at a fairly early stage of development. Such questions currently are more a worry for the future, and are not so acute at present. However, when there will be more research positions and science jobs having mostly or even exclusively foreign-born U.S.-trained scientists, then these questions will rise to the top of the pile.
The future of science in the U.S. seems likely to be badly impacted as soon as the present situation matures and evolves with even greater numbers of foreign graduate students. Many unpleasant questions about hidden policies and confused practices then will arise for the 2 populations of young scientists (e.g., should either population ever be favored, who is in charge, should some number of research grants be reserved for awarding to either population, is there really equal opportunity for acquiring research grants, is there really equal opportunity for advancement in industry, who exactly is foreign, how do foreigners differ from native citizens, should members of any ethnic group be forbidden to review research grant applications submitted by others in the same group, do all university faculty have to give lectures and to teach in undergraduate and graduate courses, etc.). All of these queries deserve to be fully discussed.
In my opinion, the very biggest and most important problem with the enlarging population of young foreign graduate students is are they now causing a decrease in the already weak interest of young Americans to enter a career in science? If carried to extreme, some aspects of science in the U.S. then could become the exclusive domain of certain foreigners. Nobody knows to what extent this already is happening now, due to the lack of surveys and data. However, I believe that if such an imbalanced arrangement causes fewer American college students to want to study science, then that will have really bad effects upon the future of U.S. science
What exactly might happen?
Part I only indicated in a rather gentle way the present degree to which this worrisome new trend has taken hold within the U.S. Let us now look more closely at just how this peculiar situation could enlarge and mature in the near future. I have seen some science labs in U.S. universities where there were outstanding graduate students and Postdocs, originating both from abroad and from the U.S. I also actually have observed with my own eyes an active faculty laboratory with numerous foreign graduate students and postdocs, where there was not even one individual science worker born in the U.S. These young foreign workers all were from the same country, and were working under a full professor originating from that same land. This scenario is a notable situation that could become more frequent in the U.S.; I regard this to be both unhealthy and inappropriate. All readers should be able to perceive that U.S.-born college graduates might not feel very comfortable working within such a research laboratory; that feeling is not due to racism, but comes from normal human nature for not wanting to be the “odd man out”.
The most extreme extent for this worrisome development is best illustrated by the amazing story of a certain School of Engineering and Technology in the U.S. which I myself have personally observed. I was told that over 75% of their graduate students are from the same foreign country, and that this School is much better known inside that country than is the very prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology! Everyone suspects that before any doctoral candidate graduates, they must make arrangements for a new young student from their foreign undergraduate school or home town to send in an application for admission to this graduate program. This unofficial policy is the basis for an especially successful business operation! It results in that institution always getting lots of tuition since it never has the problem with decreasing enrollments now found in many other U.S. university schools, and always is able to produce many theses, patents, and professional research publications. The level of success and its momentum in this very real example are so great that there would be no bad effects stemming from any future changes in economic or political conditions.
I do not doubt that this special mechanism for ensuring the continuing success of a graduate school will be emulated and adopted by other universities. This same educational institution now has been publicly noted to have over 90% of its graduate students in Electrical Engineering coming from foreign lands in 2013 ! Even more shocking is the fact that there were 6 other universities and technology institutes in the U.S. with a similar very high percentage for this discipline ! Thus, the prediction given in the first sentence of this paragraph now has come true! Yes, the future already is here!
Who or what should be blamed for this problematic situation?
Foreign graduate students are not to be blamed for this new situation, since they are simply taking advantage of the available opportunity to get educated and find a good job in science here. Foreign postdocs appointed to new a professional position in U.S. universities or industries also are not to be blamed, since they are winning an open competition for these jobs. Foreign governments should not be blamed for facilitating the movement of their young students into U.S. graduate schools and jobs, since that helps young scientists from their country gain valuable education and income not otherwise available.
Some feel that blame should be given to the federal and state governments in the U.S., because these are approving the expenditure of money collected from American taxpayers to support the education of foreign graduate students. It is not clear to me why these government offices award money to support foreign graduate students in science. I have no doubt that many US taxpayers disapprove of any such use of their contributions. Why don’t foreign governments pay for their students to come here for advanced education?
Who then should be blamed? To determine that we must look back to find the primary cause of this entire situation. It is very clear to me that the ultimate cause of this condition is the rejection of entering a career in science by current American college students. In turn, that creates the gap in graduate school enrollments. The numerous unfilled slots for training domestic graduate students in science then are filled by eager young foreign college-level students because Nature abhors a vacuum! We must blame whatever is inducing American college students to reject a career in science.
Many undergraduates now choose not to enter graduate schools for advanced training in science. Students indeed are clever, and many now in U.S. colleges are easily able to perceive some of the serious reasons why so many university science faculty are very upset with their current job condition. That stems from the misguided policies of U.S. universities and the research grant system. Hence, I believe that it is those 2 entities, (1) modern universities, and (2) agencies in the research grant system, which must be blamed for the secondary problems arising from there being so many new foreign graduate students studying and doing science in the U.S..
What is the best approach to solve this problem?
Identification of the primary cause means that the best solution to this entire problem now is obvious: American students need to be much better attracted to enter a career in science. The best way to accomplish that is to reform the several major job problems making many faculty scientists conducting research in U.S. universities being so distressed, dissatisfied, and dismayed (see: “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with their Job, Part I” , and also “Part II” ). If science and universities in the U.S. can be repaired and renewed from their present degenerated and decayed condition (see: “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ), then many college undergraduates in the US will no longer be so repulsed from entering a career in science. In turn, with more domestic college graduates entering graduate schools to study science, there then will result in many fewer openings needing to be filled by foreign graduate students.
Concluding remarks for Parts I and II.
The population of numerous foreign graduate students now immigrating into the U.S. has both positive and negative effects on American science. Much more attention must be given to fully understanding all the different aspects of this modern situation.
Foreign graduate students studying in the U.S. for a doctoral degree in science now function very usefully to maintain ongoing university operations by substituting for the decreasing numbers of American students entering science studies. Of course, these immigrants later compete directly with their domestic counterparts for science jobs in U.S. universities and industries.
The ultimate cause of the large increase in foreign graduate students moving into the U.S. to study for a Ph.D. in science is the decreasing number of U.S. undergraduates now choosing not to enter graduate school for starting a career in science. The best and most effective solution to this problematic situation will be to make careers in scientific research much more attractive to young American college students.
Modern science certainly is a very international activity. The worldwide interactions of scientists, science educators, and science students produce many beneficial outcomes for everyone, but some recent aspects must be considered problematic. Let’s now take a closer look at those.
Many foreign students now are studying here at graduate schools to earn their Ph.D. in science. They are following a very long global tradition in science and education. Most of them are not able to get good research training for a science Ph.D. in their native land, so they undertake to do that in other countries having strong activity in scientific research, such as Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, U.K., and the United States (U.S.). Postdoctoral research associates also frequently come to these countries for advanced training in scientific research. Through these educational programs, the U.S. or other host countries have been seen to substantially help other nations to expand and develop their own activities for science. Previously, these foreign students and postdocs were either expected or required to return to their native land for subsequent employment. The young foreign scientists returning to their native country usually found good jobs at universities, research institutes, industries, or government; this arrangement helped the home countries greatly, and even has led some of them to set up scholarship programs to sponsor and facilitate such studies abroad.
The traditional situation with foreign graduate students in science recently has changed in the U.S. There now is a general pattern that after young foreign graduate scientists earn their Ph.D. in science here, they then stay on for postdoctoral training and subsequently work in a good science job in the U.S. for the remainder of their life. Currently, most foreign-born graduate students and postdocs now come here with little intention to ever return to their native country, except for vacations. Instead, they aim to stay here and have access to more and better jobs, along with more and bigger research grants supporting their scientific investigations; both of these are not so available in their native country. Many foreign students entering with some sort of student visa now openly are immigrants, since they strive to elevate their visa status or to change their citizenship very soon after arriving here.
In 2013, there were reported to be 71,418 foreign graduate students enrolled in U.S. graduate schools . That represents a 10% increase in this population over the previous academic year . Of course, not all of these graduate students are studying science, and some are only working for a Masters Degree.
Although there is no question at all that most of these science students and researchers from abroad work hard and do good work here, this modern change raises several disturbing questions. I purposely will ignore some common complaints about foreigners not speaking English very well, and not understanding how to design good experiments, since those qualities vary greatly among the many different individuals. Instead, I will deal here with important questions about whole populations (i.e., we will mostly be looking at forests, and not so much at individual trees); these important questions are not frequently discussed in terms of general trends.
Part I of this essay describes this new condition with numerous foreign science students immigrating into the U.S., examines its consequences, and discusses questions that are not asked openly. Part II then will take a closer look at what this new situation could lead to, what it means for American science, what is its ultimate cause, and how this modern problem can best be resolved. Readers should note that both Parts focus on graduate students, and not on undergraduate students.
What are the consequences of having so many foreign graduate students in the U.S.?
The situation just described certainly has both good and bad consequences. Most foreign graduate students are successful with their pre-doctoral research work, thereby helping their mentor, their host institution, and science in the U.S. The large inflow of foreign graduate students into universities in the U.S. fills a vacuum created by the diminishing number of young Americans now choosing to study for a career in science; modern universities now have become very dependent upon the growing population of entering foreign graduate students to maintain their full enrollments. The vigor of the grant-supported research enterprise in the U.S. strongly needs more foreign postdoctoral research associates, since the supply of new domestic Ph.D.s in science is not large enough for the demand; the research success of foreign postdocs greatly contributes to U.S. science, and prepares them for subsequent productive employment. These immigrants later gain employment here, and many continue as successful professional researchers in universities and industries. Some achieve such exemplary success with doing high quality innovative scientific research that they even very deservedly win a Nobel Prize (e.g., Prof. Ahmed H. Zewail (California Institute of Technology), Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (1999) ; also see: “Scientists Tell us About their Life and Work, Part 3, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar” ).
For science in the U.S., this modern situation is very positive since it increases both the number of practicing professional researchers and the total output of published research works. In addition, it ensures full enrollments for most graduate schools in the U.S. However, certain other consequences of this condition seem to be both negative and worrisome. The effects of this situation upon native-born graduate students and holders of science faculty jobs in U.S. universities are quite controversial. Discussions already have debated whether foreign-born graduate students crowd out and displace their native-born counterparts when seeking a postdoctoral position or a full-time science job. In the future, the effects of the growing large immigrant population probably will become increasingly negative. Since a greater number of foreigners now competes with their domestic counterparts for the same job openings, the foreign population of applicants thereby will have some advantage if all else is equal. When applying for a faculty job opening in a university science department where there already are many foreign-born members of the science faculty, the new graduates from certain lands undoubtedly will be favored over those born in the U.S. It also is likely that some American college students now are less enthusiastic about entering certain university graduate schools because they feel they would not fit in readily with all the foreign professors and foreign students there.
Questions that need to be discussed.
Asking polite or impolite questions about the policies, problems, and peculiarities involving young foreign scientists in U.S. university graduate schools is made very difficult by 3 different factors. (1) Faculty scientists at some very prestigious U.S. universities now openly visit certain other countries every year to recruit new graduate students; thus, this new system is being promoted and progressively locked into the status quo, just as has been done already for undergraduate students in colleges. (2) Cheating on applications for admission to graduate schools, and during long-distance telephone interviews, not only occurs, but is well-accepted in some foreign cultures; this corruption is not always uncovered, and then increases the level of dishonesty within American science (see: “Why would Any Scientist ever Cheat?” ). (3) Modern precepts for political correctness try to preclude any discussion of different characteristics for national origin and intelligence, such that any and all questions now are deemed to be very impolite and improper; I believe everything needs to be discussed more, and do not recognize any such restrictions.
The most important key questions about this entire situation can be phrased as follows. Are young American students being denied participation in U.S. graduate schools and postdoctoral positions because the slots for admission already are filled by their foreign counterparts? Are new American doctoral scientists being denied employment at universities because faculty job openings already are filled by newly-degreed and newly-hired young foreign scientists? Are funds from US taxpayers collected and issued by the federal and state governments being used to support foreign graduate students and postdocs for their education and research training here?
I regret that I cannot answer the first 2 questions because there appears to be no adequate data or surveys with which to analyze all possibilities for this situation. For the third question, I know that some private and public schools do provide financial support for graduate students in science, regardless of their national origin; it is likely that some or even all of these funds come from American taxpayers and donors. That ongoing practice seems very questionable.
Why am I addressing these questions now?
Many readers undoubtedly will jump to the conclusion that I must be very prejudiced against all foreigners and especially against young foreign scientists in training. That just ain’t so! Two of my own postdoctoral associates were born in foreign countries (Japan, and Italy). They both worked hard and produced outstanding research work in my laboratory; it was very satisfying to see them succeed at research, and was fun to work with them. Both returned to their native land to start professional employment with a new job opportunity in science. My actual general prejudice always is to seek higher quality regardless of national origin or irrelevant individual characteristics. Some foreign-born students and postdocs most certainly have a very high quality; since I know that some American students and young scientists also have a very high quality, I am looking at the questions given above only to make certain that the domestic young scientists are not being put at some disadvantage by this new situation.
I raise these questions because they are very important. The large number of foreign graduate students now moving into the U.S. is rarely discussed, clearly is increasing, and needs to have its negative implications challenged. If no questions are asked, then this situation will only expand to become more troubling. The best place to start getting the negative effects of this situation analyzed will be in collecting numerical data for each branch of science in the entire U.S.; to the best of my knowledge adequate data are not yet available. Nobody can hope to draw solid conclusions or recommendations until the extent of this situation and its effects are much better known.
The cause, consequences, and best solution for this problematic new situation in U.S. science will be further examined in the forthcoming second portion of this essay.
Science is everywhere! Everyone uses science! Everybody needs science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
The general public is estranged from science and is afraid of scientific research (see: “On the Public Disregard for Science and Research” ). This sad state is due to several interrelated causes: (1) very defective education of people about what science is and what research does, (2) a general decrease in the educational status, such that most adults feel they cannot possibly understand anything having to do with science or research, (3) the issuance of science news on TV and the internet as gee-whiz stories that are strictly for amusement, (4) scientists are viewed as some weird creatures wearing white coats in labs with lots of strange machines and computers, and, (5) almost nobody has ever met and talked to a real living research scientist.
Basic research, applied science, and engineering: what does each do?
The research work resulting in some new commercial product or an amazing new medical development typically arose through the work of quite a few different scientists and engineers. Basic research starts this process by investigating the whys and wherefores of something; this seeks new knowledge for its own sake, irrespective of practical uses. Applied research takes some basic findings and seeks to develop their practical usage by improving their qualities and capabilities; this seeks to expand knowledge so that some potential practical use (i.e., a product or process) can be derived. Engineering development then pushes the progression of development further by making it economically feasible to produce, and commercially effective to sell, something that is new or better; this seeks to enable a new or improved commercial product to be manufactured and marketed. The 3 phases of this process can take place within the laboratory setting of a university or an industrial research and development (R&D) center. The entire process often takes years or decades to be completed.
Why does scientific research matter to everyone?
Ordinary people should feel emotionally attached to the progress of science and research, for several reasons. First, the public pays taxes for the research enterprise, and therefore everyone has some interest in the success of these studies. The basic research by scientists requires time, money, and good luck to be successful; the money from commercial profits or tax collections pays for all the salaries, supplies, and other essential research expenses. Second, the applied research and engineering R&D efforts are entirely devoted to satisfying the expectation of some future usage by the public. This anticipation is based upon the self-interest of numerous people in the public concerning practical matters in their daily life (e.g., better communication, better treatments for medical ailments, cheaper transportation, cleaner environment, less work and time needed to do something, more widespread good nutrition, etc.).
All people visit commercial stores, food markets, gasoline stations, sites for laundry and cleaning, etc. During all these transactions, they are using the results of research and development by scientists and engineers, whether they realize this fact or not. Naturally, devices and tools for daily life need to be modified, thus giving rise to development of improved commercial offerings; the wishes of the public, as well as the financial hopes of marketers, serve to encourage progress in technology. When people realize that scientific research impacts literally everything in their daily life, then they will begin to understand what scientists do and to be more enthusiastic about science and research. Modern science not only builds spaceships and manipulates atoms, but it also helps people to live and work in a more satisfying and healthy manner.
Can better education solve the estrangement of people from science?
Education must be remodelled so that all adults can comprehend the organization of the branches of science, what researchers and engineers actually do in their daily work, and, how science is a vital part of life that has importance for everyone. The divisions and subdivisions of science should be taught early, and should be explained with everyday examples. If the public saw scientists as being fellow people, instead of as some bizarre creatures from another planet, they would be much better able to learn about real science rather than pseudoscience. The stories about how some key discoveries actually were made by “famous scientists” should be taught in middle school. Selected laboratory exercises in science classes should be given in middle schools and colleges, but with much more background so that students will see these as concrete examples of how science and research lead to some important practical event(s); this cannot be accomplished by meaningless exercises to memorize as quickly as possible before all is forgotten forever. To see, touch, and hear scientific research in the real world, all students should have the opportunity in high (middle) school to visit a university or commercial research lab, along with the chance to ask questions and meet some actual doctoral scientists, graduate students, and research technicians working there.
Instituting these changes could remove many of the problems the general public now has in understanding and appreciating scientific research. However, I do recognize that this approach is made difficult or even impossible because most teachers of science working today in high schools have themselves been maleducated. If these teachers first will learn to be more fully knowledgeable and will develop the needed good understanding of their subject, then they will be able to show their students how science is involved with daily life and how interesting it is. Some recent programs on the internet are aiming to improve the regard of the public for science, but because they are using an entertainment medium to present a serious subject they will continue to achieve only very limited success.
Scientific research is everywhere in our daily life! All that we consider to be facts originated through the activities of scientists and other research scholars. It is not only prersent when a doctor prescribes a new medicine to alleviate some disease, but also is there when we eat a piece of dried pineapple or ride in a modern bus. People must be better educated so they can recognize the giant role science and research have in our daily lives, and see the activities of scientists and engineers as contributing much to progress in all aspects of our activities as individuals.
The main message is that science is for everyone, everybody uses science, and everyone needs science! Science is both fascinating and mysterious, but it should not be feared. It is time that ordinary people more easily recognize the very large roles scientific research and engineering developments play in their daily life!
If general readers want to keep up with research progress and current science events, there are numerous websites available on the internet. Some even are updated daily with new material, but this is not what general readers require. Non-scientists need articles, illustrations, and videos that are readily comprehensible, and present a brief overview rather than a long comprehensive review. That audience is looking for brief illustrated explanations and summaries that serve as background or starting points for seeking further information.
I have recently discussed “How Can I Take the First Step to Learn About Science?” (see: http://dr-monsrs.net/2014/12/05/how-can-i-take-the-first-step-to-learn-about-science/ ). Here, I give my selection of just a few recommended websites covering almost everything in modern scientific research, along with my comments for each. I believe these sources for information and learning stand out from many others. Later, I will try to gather some recommendations for more specialized areas of science.
If you are looking for information that is about techniques, amusing, detailed, highly specific, promising some speculative bonanza, theoretical, unbelievable, or, unsupported by research results, then please look elsewhere!
Covering all of science is particularly difficult since the number of smaller branches in each major division (biology/medicine, chemistry, physics) is indeed very large. However, it is easy to recommend your first attention to the prominent weekly science journals, Science (http://www.sciencemag.org ), and Nature ( http://www.nature.com/news/index.html ). Both report on all parts of global science, as well as its interactions with society, governments, and industry. Coverages in these prestigious journals are somewhat similar, but each has a different flavor. You need not read both, so initially try each one to see which you prefer. Many scientists read them every week to try to keep up with progress, controversies, and problems, or to learn about new job openings. Readers who are not doctoral scientists should start by looking at their News sections, whose reports are comprehensible to all. Their search boxes are easy to use, and typically yield many informative materials.
Two long-standing magazines do a good job in presenting a large variety of reports about important current experimental research and the development of new technology: Popular Science ( http://www.popsci.com ), and Scientific American (http://www.scientificamerican.com ). Most articles in both are designed to be fully understood by anyone in the public, and cover many different aspects of science. They are widely read and studied by young people interested to learn about science and research. The reports in Popular Science are more numerous and shorter, while those in Scientific American are fewer and longer. Both present many explanatory illustrations, and are recommended for general readers.
Major Branches of Science: Physics
The American Institute of Physics has several excellent websites, including one for their outstanding monthly journal, Physics Today (http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/issues ). This journal wonderfully covers all parts of modern physics, including research advances, controversies, policy issues, funding, and education. I recommend Physics Today for readers with a general interest directed towards the physical sciences.
Major Branches of Science: Biology and Medicine
Biological Science is so extremely diverse and spread out that it is completely unthinkable that any one source could even try to cover everything. Accordingly, at present I am not able to recommend any single source for general readers; I will make a few recommendations for some of the larger specialized areas in biology and medicine at a later time.
Major Branches of Science: Chemistry
News and materials about chemistry suited for general readers are readily available on several different websites. For non-scientists, I recommend the long-standing weekly journal from the American Chemical Society, Chemical and Engineering News ( http://cen.acs.org/index.html ). This presents important news about research, technology, controversies, and chemists. It covers all the different aspects of chemistry with some emphasis on applied research, and is recommended for general readers whose interest is focused on chemistry.
It is my hope that these recommendations will be useful for all non-scientists interested in starting to learn about new developments in modern science. My intention here is that these will serve as entry points for your interests and curiosity. Use of my recommended sources should save much time for those who have been simply entering some term into the search box of any browser, and then are overwhelmed by being confronted with many dozens of different internet sites to check out.
Let’s say that you are 34 years old and a perfectly good adult who draws a complete blank when wondering what science and research are all about. Even though you passed all the required science courses in school, you view scientific research as something of no concern to you, and scientists as weird creatures from another planet.
Right now, you are.fascinated hy the idea that asteroids might be harvested for their contents by some sort of rocket ship. Many different questions pop into your mind, including: what are asteroids, how big are they, what do they weigh, what are they made of, do they contain gold and silver, are they radioactive, where are they found, do they have orbits, how fast do they move, do they ever crash into our Earth, are they dangerous to humans, etc.? You have read Dr.M’s basic introduction to science and research (see “Fundamentals for Beginners: What is Science? What is Research? What are Scientists?” ), but you just do not see how this fits into asteroids.
These are all good questions, and scientific research already has discovered the answers to most of them! You want to find answers to your questions, but do not know where to look. This short dispatch is just for you! I will describe below a simple general sequence of first steps for you to find out about science studies on asteroids, or about any other subject of your personal interest. All that is required is that you have curiosity, access to the internet, and a little time; if you do not have your own computer, you can use one at the nearest public library.
A general sequence to find out about science for some subject of interest
(1) First, identify only one subject, topic, question, or controversy that has your personal interest (e.g., asteroids, global warming, gravity, nanostructures, some disease that had killed your brother when he was 29 years old, etc., etc.). This serves to focus your initial search onto a single subject.
(2) Second, search on the internet for your subject on one of the Wiki’s (i.e., direct your browser to Wikipedia, Metapedia, or any other large encyclopedia-type site); then enter the name of your subject in their search box and press return. This will display some sites covering general information for your designated subject (e.g., basic definitions, occurrence, origin, activities and effects, relationships, etc.), along with a few pictures and diagrams). Pick only 2 or 3 of these listed sites for your reading and study. This step furnishes you with an overview of the nature of your selected subject, and usually will be a good introduction.
(3) Third, identify which branches of science investigate your subject (e.g., asteroids fit into both astronomy and minerology; global warming fits into meteorology, oceanography, and physics; gravity fits into physics; nanostructures fits into chemistry and materials science; human diseases fit into medicine and pathology; etc.). Now, search either on a Wiki or on the internet for only one or 2 additional articles dealing in a general way with scientific studies of your subject (i.e., search for “astronomy +asteroids” or “minerology +asteroids”; for global warming, search for “meteorology +global-warming” or “oceanography +global-warming”; etc.). Try to find something showing and explaining what scientists have investigated about your subject and how they did their work. Now you have broken through your barrier! This third step lets you begin to learn as much as you wish to know about how scientists have worked to answer your questions through their research studies.
Go one step further for additional understanding
Although you now should have a good background, you still are missing knowledge about the individual scientists researching your subject of interest. Your understanding will be increased if you know a little about these persons. Good places to start looking are in: (1) the extensive videos and science-related materials on the website for the Nobel Prize ( http://www.nobelprize.org ), (2) the diverse topics covered by Popular Science magazine ( http://www.popsci.com ), and (3) the “News” sections of the weekly journals, Science ( http://sciencemag.org ) and Nature ( http://www.nature.com/news/index.html ). At any of these websites, you can enter your subject into the site-search box and a list of available materials will be displayed; some of these will include coverage about the activities of specific scientists. With luck, you will spot something that is quite new and interesting. Once you find a few names, you can look on the internet to see if those scientists have a website of their own; many modern university scientists do this, and include public information about all their research activities and projects.
A required postscript about Wiki’s
In my opinion, Wiki websites are a very useful starting point when utilized as outlined above. They certainly are quick and easy, but they do not always present a complete account, are known sometimes to give only approved or politically correct information, and occasionally deliver a biased or truncated coverage. Hence, you must be aware that you can be given info that is incomplete or less than totally true. If you ever need to quote something from a Wiki report, then it is necessary that you find and check the original source(s) listed and cite only those. Once, I found a most unexpected statement in a Wiki presented as a fact about a public figure I know, so I checked their referenced source and found that it said nothing at all about this peculiar statement; thus, the citation was either a mistake or a false reference, and this statement probably is not true.
November 14, 2014: No More Comments Means No More Spam! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
My website now has been active for one year! It is pleasing to note that there have been over 75,000 visitors, and that number still goes up at an increasing rate every week. I hope that all visitors have found something here that is either new, unusual, disconcerting, surprising, provocative, important, or interesting. There is a lot more to come!
I have received over 30,000 comments, but at least 99% obviously are spam. There are always many dozens of identical and very similar comments every single day, coming from several different continents and many different countries; since some messages arrrive within seconds of their duplicates from other addresses, this sounds like a botnet to me.
To solve this problem, I AM HEREBY DISCONTINUING ALL FURTHER COMMENTS. I do regret the necessity for doing this, but I have no other choice.
In 2011-12, there were about 67,200 new doctoral degree’s awarded by universities in the USA . Many of these are for studies in science, medicine, and engineering. In addition, there are numerous new foreign Ph.D.’s in science who come here to work on research. After finally getting an academic job, all new faculty scientists immediately seek to attract as many graduate students as possible to work in their new laboratory. This ongoing scenario thus is a Malthusian progression in the number of new doctoral scientists.
This dynamic immediately runs headlong into the several difficult practical problems involving imbalances of supply and demand. At the top of the list, there is not enough money available to support all the new research projects proposed by the ever-growing number of new research scientists in academia. This same shortage of funding actually impacts on all faculty scientists, whether new or senior. The end result is that this money problem gets worse every year (see earlier article on “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research”). Another large practical problem, the limited number of open science faculty positions in universities, also is made worse by the enlarging number of new doctoral scientists.
I have never heard of any official or unofficial discussions about the wisdom of constantly generating more and more new doctoral scientists than can be supported adequately by the pool of available tax-based research grant funds. In this essay, I will (1) describe the causes and consequences of increasing the number of new science Ph.D.’s, (2) explain how this is bad for science, and (3) then will lay out my view of what could be done to stop this ongoing problem, and discuss why nothing can be changed now.
Causes of this Malthusian problem
One must look closely at the never discussed reasons why this peculiar ongoing generation of more and more new science Ph.D.’s remains in operation, in order to recognize the actual causes of this problematic situation. The ultimate causes are the practices of universities. The graduate schools at universities had been under financial stress for several decades, and so sought to maximize their inflow from tuition payments by enlarging their enrollments. Since tuition can only be increased so much, the tactic utilized is to raise the number of enrollees paying tuition. This fits in nicely with nature of modern universities as businesses where money is everything (see earlier essay on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?”).
Consequences of this Malthusian problem
The direct consequences of the yearly production of more and more new science Ph.D.’s now are apparent, and indicate that these are having bad effects on science. The expanding enrollment in university graduate schools means that their standards for admission will continue to get lowered; to increase enrollments they must accept and later graduate more students regardless of their deficient qualifications. I myself have observed 2 graduate students utterly undeserving of a Ph.D. be awarded that hallmark of advanced education; one of them even had a crying spell in the midst of the oral presentation for her thesis defense. Modern university graduate schools feel they must do everything and anything to further increase their enrollment and awarding of degrees in order to help deal with the current financial realities. Pressures to further “modernize” standards for the doctoral degree will increase as the graduate student population continues to be enlarged. In addition, more teaching responsibilities will be shifted onto graduate students. The science faculty usually are reluctant to work in the very large introductory courses, and are happy to be able to reduce their teaching load. The consequences of this problem for university education are obvious.
As the number of unfunded or partially funded academic scientists grows larger every year, federal research granting agencies will need to obtain increased appropriations from the Congress. Generally, this means increased taxation. These agencies additionally will need to increase the size of their support programs for graduate education in science, thereby making the problem with finding support for research activities even worse. Both these needs add to the current negative impact of this Malthusian problem on science.
Are graduate students or scientists to blame for this ongoing problem?
We must note that the graduate students working to earn a Ph.D. in science are innocently entering a career path that is their choice. They mostly are unaware of being used as cash cows in a business, and so are blameless for the resultant problems. Faculty scientists become trapped within the university system for getting promoted and tenured. Foreign students and scientists will continue to move here despite whatever difficulties they encounter since the situations hindering and restricting the conduct of scientific research in their own countries are much greater than exist here. They cannot be blamed for making this choice. The important contributions of foreign professional researchers to the science enterprise in the USA are very widely recognized to be substantial. Blame for the Malthusian problem lies mainly with the universities.
What will result for science if the number of new science Ph.D.’s is decreased?
Directly, a reduced number of new Ph.D.’s in science will significantly decrease the number of applicants for new research grants. That result is equivalent to providing more tax-based dollars to support research investigations, and will be obtained miraculously without any increase in tax rates.
The ultimate results for science of stopping the problematic Malthusian progression will be dramatic, and will include several very good secondary effects. (1) The quality of the new incoming graduate students will be raised, since there will result a more rigorous selection of the capabilities and aptitude of applicants for admission into graduate training programs. (2) In turn, the better graduate students should lead to a general increase in the quality of scientists and of science. (3) The enlarged pool of funds available for research support will enable more good proposals and more scientists to be fully funded than is the case at present. These several positive effects will combine to produce an important derivative benefit: a general increase in the quality of scientific research.
How could this Malthusian cycle be stopped?
In theory, a single step could solve this problem! A reduction in enrollments of new graduate student candidates into Ph.D. programs will stop this Malthusian progression, since that will decrease the output of new science Ph.D.’s!
As one example of how this theoretical solution can be accomplished at graduate schools, each science training program currently accepting 20 new students every year will have a 10% reduction, so that only 18 new students will be accepted for the next (second) year. In the following (third) year, another 10% decrease will occur, so only 16 new students will be enrolled. These annual decreases will continue for at least 5 years, until the number of new students enrolling reaches a level of 50-60% of the original figure; this cutback will produce a corresponding decrease in the number of new doctoral degrees awarded. Use of incremental progressive decreases, rather than trying to do everything all at once, will prevent large disruptive effects and will allow sufficient time for each graduate school to make the needed adjustments to the new system. The graduate students already enrolled will simply continue their course of advanced education just as at present.
This change in size of enrollments in each program must be made for the total number of graduate students, since otherwise the present widespread practice will continue with accepting foreign applicants to officially or unofficially fill the absent places scheduled for occupancy by USA students. Thus, the 10% annual decreases in enrollment must apply to the total number of all students enrolled, and not just to those from the USA.
Can this proposed cure for the Malthusian cycle actually be installed?
The answer to this question seems to me to be “Never!”. Universities as businesses always are happy to obtain more profits, and so will never agree to decrease their number of new Ph.D.’s being graduated. In principle, the federal granting agencies could mandate such decreases based upon their provision of research grants and education grants to many universities. From what I have seen, these agencies like their growing budgets and increasing influence, and so are very unlikely to ever change their present operations. Thus, I am forced to view the problem of too many new science Ph.D.’s as being unsolvable.
The answer to the question proposed in the title clearly is “No!”. Dr. M considers it to be both sheer insanity and very wasteful to ordain more new doctoral research scientists than can be supported adequately during their subsequent careers in academia. The number of new Ph.D.’s in science .should be balanced with the amount of financial support for research. It now seems to be badly imbalanced. The current production of too many new Ph.D.’s is bad for graduate students, bad for science, and bad for research. It is time to put an end to this idiocy! Unfortunately, there appears to be no way at present to prevent this problem from continuing and becoming even worse.
Dr.M welcomes questions about this essay and other opinions about this controversial question, via the Comments!
Part I of this essay identifies the chief causes and consequences for the increasing dismay and dissatisfaction of scientists working in universities for researching and/or teaching (see “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with their Job? Part I”). Part II now discusses the effects of this condition upon the conduct of experimental research and science education in universities; further, I explain what can be done to deal with this current issue.
What do the changes in Part I mean for scientific research and science teaching in universities?
The whole nature of science and research at universities recently has changed. The altered and decreased standards for quality performance in research and teaching means that a decline is inevitable in both activities. Rather than being a university scientist, members of the science faculty now are forced to become businessmen and businesswomen. Instead of working at the laboratory bench, far too many successful university scientists become managers doing paperwork while sitting at a desk in an office, but never entering their laboratory. Acquisition of more and more research grant dollars now is their chief goal, instead of trying to discover more new truths and create valid new concepts through research experiments.
When doctoral research scientists become transformed into business managers, they are then expected to perform activities that all their many years of advanced education and training have not prepared them for (e.g., acquiring money, adjusting experimental data to fit what is wanted, bargaining, composing research grant proposals based only on what is most likely to be funded, handling investments and charting profit margins, interacting with other scientists only as either competitors or collaborators, etc.). I know of no evidence that being good or clever at making money in business is more than very loosely related to being good or clever at doing research experiments; these two sets of skills and capabilities seem to me to be separate and unrelated.
Science and scientists at universities have been modified to such an extent that activities, performance, and advancement now are being evaluated with very different criteria than were used only a few decades ago. Even science education is negatively affected, because quality standards for teaching are lowered, students are not taught to think independently and to ask meaningful questions, the development of understanding by students is not fostered, etc.; often, all of these are decreased or even negated. University scientists concentrating on teaching activities now are evaluated mainly on the basis of their popularity with students, instead of being evaluated for educational quality. I will never forget the time I was very shocked when a senior faculty teacher once confided to me that he believed his own required first-year medical school course had degenerated into something suitable for high school students.
Can university research and science teaching be rescued?
What should be done to resolve the current predicament of university scientists? Finding effective solutions for these vexing academic problems certainly is not easy, particularly because academia historically always has been very slow to change anything even when it is totally obvious that changes are badly needed. Possible solutions could be sought either by (1) rectifying the general policies and practices at modern universities, or by (2) improving the individual situation for each disgruntled and demoralized scientist. Since I regretfully do not see how the first possibility can be accomplished at the present time, I will consider here only the second possibility.
Why do I feel that university policies and practices cannot be reformed now? Universities generally are very happy with exactly the same changes that upset their science faculty, since those maneuvers have significantly elevated the financial position of these institutions (see “Three Money Cycles Support Scientific Research”). Any large and comprehensive solution for the problems in academia probably must await strong reform measures that can replace the ongoing commercialization of doing research in universities with some modern version of its traditional aims of finding new truth, creating valid new concepts, and, developing new ideas and new technology. Similarly, in all levels of teaching science in universities, changes that can improve the present decayed educational system seem unlikely until there will be removal of such unrealistic philosophies as “truth is relative”, “all children are equal”, “education should be made easier, so students can learn quicker”, and, “that’s good enough”. In my view, all such anti-education liberal proclamations really are only excuses for failure to do effective teaching.
What can actually be done to improve job satisfaction for individual faculty scientists?
My suggestions here are directed towards practical considerations. Because I believe that the policies for scientific research in universities are very unlikely to be changed or improved for a long time, I suggest that the best approach for individuals is to move out of the way of whatever causes their dissatisfaction. This entails evaluating the nature of their problematic situation and the amount of change they believe is needed. Many will find that this ultimately boils down to asking oneself whether it is time to find a better place to work. I do indeed know personally that this is never an easy question, and that moving usually is very disruptive for the career of any academic scientist. However, it should be recognized by all the upset university scientists that there now are an increasing number of good employment opportunities for scientists that are quite different from working in traditional roles at universities. One now can conduct research experiments at the laboratory bench outside universities, or can perform science-related work completely outside research laboratories. I already have discussed a number of these non-traditional opportunities in recent articles primarily aimed to inform graduate students and Postdocs (see “Other Jobs for Scientists, Parts I, II, and III”).
Dissatisfied university scientists who remain very enthusiastic about continuing to do lab research should seriously look at what is available in industrial research and development centers, and in government laboratories. Much valuable information about these possibilities can be obtained by directly talking to doctoral scientists now working in these other environments, and personally asking them what they see as being serious local job problems.
Dissatisfied science faculty who still are very committed and enthusiastic about continuing to teach science should try to find a new employer, either at other universities or at non-university sites, where their viewpoints about what constitutes excellent education are shared with the other teachers and are actually put into practice (i.e., lip-service is not enough!). With the recent development of digital education outlets, educational video programs, non-university course offerings, personal education coaches, private educational organizations, etc., there now are an increasing variety and number of employment opportunities for good science teachers to do new things.
Concluding Remarks for Part II
The increasing levels of job dissatisfaction amongst university faculty researchers and science teachers stem from the recent large shifts in (1) professional identity, (2) job aims and duties, (3) standards for job performance evaluations, (4) career expectations, and, (5) commercialization of academic research and teaching. These modern changes largely run against what most practicing academic scientists were taught in graduate school, and directly give rise to increasing levels of job frustration and dismay. The main message here is that these changes also act to decrease the quality of both scientific research and science teaching. It is nationally important that good solutions to this quagmire must be developed. It is up to each individual scientist to find a good environment for doing quality research and quality teaching. The increased variety of job opportunities now available for scientists make non-traditional solutions to this important problem a realistic possibility.
Conclusions for Both Parts I and II
University scientists are increasingly upset with their job due to wholesale changes in many different aspects of researching and teaching. Science at universities now is being degraded, and the professional roles of faculty scientists increasingly are distorted. This problem is not some isolated small esoteric issue, but rather involves the purpose of science and research, and, the objective of becoming a doctoral scientist. These very destructive changes in universities constitute a large portion of the reasons why I have come to believe that science itself now is dying (see my recent article in the Big Problems category on “Could Science and Research now be Dying?”).
The traditional work for doctoral scientists employed as faculty at universities is laboratory research and classroom teaching. All that now has changed greatly. Readers who are not scientists should first learn about the actual job activities of university scientists (see “What do University Scientists Really do in their Daily Work?”); that will greatly aid in understanding this essay. A surprising number of faculty scientists performing research studies now find that they are frustrated, dismayed, and increasingly dissatisfied with their job activities. Even senior scientists mostly working in classroom teaching now feel that they get less and less professional satisfaction for trying to do a good job with science education in undergraduate, graduate, and medical school courses.
My examination of this growing problem in modern universities is divided into 2 parts. The first presents the causes of why the science faculty are so upset, and examines the unfortunate consequences. The second part will detail how these recent changes impact on science and scientists, and discusses what can be done to alleviate this distressing condition for university scientists.
What is causing job dissatisfaction amongst university scientists?
From my own experiences during over 35 years of faculty work at several universities, and from talking to many different faculty members at other academic institutions, I know that many university scientists feel that they now are not readily able to do research as they were trained to do. Their identity as scientists is constantly challenged by the changed job goals, hyper-competition for research grants that takes them away from the lab bench, and, pressures to accept or ignore professional dishonesty. They also unexpectedly find that they have been incompletely educated, since their graduate courses and long training included no formal instruction on how to be successful as a business executive, financial jockey, administrative manager, and salesperson, while still officially being a professional scientist at work on researching and teaching. Accordingly, their daily life as modern university faculty gets to be quite problematic (see earlier articles on “The Life of Modern Scientists is an Endless Series of Deadlines” and “Why is the Daily Life of Modern University Scientists so very Hectic?”).
There are 5 chief causes for this unfortunate dissatisfaction in academic science
(1) Traditional evaluation of quality performance in research has been replaced by counting dollars acquired from research grants. This changes the entire nature of university research.
(2) Traditional evaluation of quality performance in teaching now has been replaced by measuring popularity of teachers and courses with the enrolled students . This changes the entire nature of university teaching.
(3) Doing significant experimental research has only a strictly secondary importance since the main job of the science faculty now is to increase the financial profits of their university employer (see “What is the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?”). This changes the very nature of being a science faculty member at modern universities.
(4) Science faculty members doing grant-suppported research are only renting their laboratory. Unless they win a Nobel Prize there are no long-term leases of research laboratories, even for tenured professors. This necessarily changes the nature of anyone’s career as a university research scientist.
(5) Individual curiosity, creativity, and interests are increasingly submerged into mechanical types of research activities requiring little individual initiative or self-determination, particularly when doctoral researchers come to work as technicians inside large groups (see my recent article on “Individual Work Versus Group Efforts in Scientific Research”). Research groups commonly involve research managers, group-think in tightly knit team projects, and daily attention to financial targets for research grant awards. This changes the nature of any research career at universities.
Although these causes and their resulting consequences seem very obvious to me, readers should be aware that they are disputed or even denied by academic officials and some other scientists. It is my belief that the present decrease in the quality of research and science teaching that results from faculty dissatisfaction is a serious national problem that someday will become very obvious for all to see.
What are the consequences for university scientists?
Let us briefly look at the main consequences coming from each of the 5 major causes for current faculty dissatisfaction listed above.
(1) Making research at universities into a business activity brings all kinds of secondary problems from the world of modern commerce into research laboratories (e.g., corruption, deceit, graft, greed, mercantilism, vicious competition, etc.). These necessarily decrease science integrity (see my earlier article on “Why Would Any Scientist Ever Cheat?”), and thereby subvert trust in research, science, and scientists.
(2) When popularity with students becomes the goal of science courses in universities, then teachers start bringing pizza and bowls of punch into the classroom in order to raise their chances for winning a “teacher of the year” award. Concomitantly, standards are lowered or discarded as education becomes sidetracked from its true purpose. Popularity and excellence in teaching simply are not synonymous (see my recent article on “A Large Problem in Science Education: Memorization is not Enough, and is Not the Same as Understanding”.
(3) If finding new truths is no longer the chief aim of scientific research then the standards for evaluating what is true will change and decay (see “How do we Know What is True?”). Dollars cannot be any valid measure of what is true.
(4) Sooner or later, all science faculty researching in university laboratories will encounter the problem of not getting an application for research grant renewal approved and funded. Even when they have previously merited several grant renewals, such a rejection means that they soon are pushed out of their laboratory. University labs are only leased, and all space assignments therefore are temporary; if the rent is not paid by a research grant, then occupancy ends. This necessarily means that laboratory research at universities must be only some temporary work, rather than an ongoing career activity.
(5) Working as a businessperson, chief manager, executive officer, financial administrator, research director, etc., is very different from being a professional researcher and/or teacher at a university. The mentality, integrity, and accountability in these two sorts of employment are very different. Universities formerly have valued and encouraged creativity, curiosity, debate, and individualism much more than these are utilized or accepted in businesses where money determines everything (see article on “Introduction to Money in Modern Scientific Research”). These qualities now have been changed into requirements for conformity to executive authority, group-think, subordination of curiosity and creativity, and, willingness to never ever ask any questions.
Concluding Remarks for Part I
The chief causes and consequences of the growing dissatisfaction of university science faculty with their job now can be clearly recognized. Universities believe this entire situation is wonderful because their financial situation now is much improved. The end results of putting up with these unannounced changes are that members of the science faculty are sidetracked from traditional research, forced to work at activities they have not been trained to do, spend most of their time working on research grant applications, and, are involved in a business career rather than in science. Scientific research in academia now has become increasingly commercialized (see my earlier essay on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science?”). Most science faculty become very surprised with how different their daily life actually is from what they had expected in graduate school. It is hard to conclude anything more striking from this essay than that science itself has been changed.
In summary, science faculty working at modern universities on research and/or teaching are increasingly frustrated and upset because their planned career is diverted, their integrity is challenged, their curiosity and creativity are squelched, their research is sidetracked into business aims, and their long education is made to seem quite incomplete. No wonder they are so upset!! Part II will discuss the effects these changes have upon researching and teaching, and, will give my views about what realistically can be done to deal with this modern academic problem.
Climbing the Path of Learning! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Education about science is widely recognized as being quite deficient in the modern USA.I have previously described some defects for science education aimed at levels from youngsters in grade school (see early article in the Education category on “What is Wrong with Science Education for Children?”), to graduate students in science (see earlier article in the Education category on “What is Missing in Today’s Education of Student Scientists?”), and to adults in the general public (see essay in the Education category on “Most of Today’s Public Education About Science is Worthless!”).A very general educational problem in colleges and universities is how to teach a big chunk of knowledge to students who perceive no reason to study that subject beyond the requirement that a course be passed. A recent article by Dawn C. Meredith and Edward F. Redish in the July, 2013 issue of Physics Today , along with subsequent comments submitted by other college teachers , deals with this problem for science education in Physics, and are highly recommended to science educators.
When college and university students take a required science course they quickly become hopelessly stuck in a learning rut where memorization constitutes their only skill for learning, and is used wrongly as a substitute for understanding.I have seen this many times in my own classroom experiences as a faculty teacher; modern university students often excel at memorizing to such an enormous extent that they literally are majoring in this activity.Both students and their teachers at all levels too frequently rely on memorization to learn and to teach!Students end up deep in negative territory, by developing no understanding and a poor ability to use the memorized knowledge (e.g., to solve problems, discuss concepts,ask questions, etc.); the hole gets even deeper when they later try to learn more advanced knowledge.
Learning, Knowledge, Memorization, Understanding: What Exactly do These Key Educational Terms Mean?
Learning is internalizing knowledge into the brain, and occurs via schooling, observing, imitation, inspection, and experience.Learning can occur at any time in the human lifespan; it can be regarded as pleasant or unpleasant by students, and sometimes is defective (e.g., 2 x 3 = 5) or incomplete (e.g., 2 x 3 = 3 x 2).
Knowledge is factual details about some subject (e.g., describing the parts of a flower), definitions of concepts and relationships, and, skills in some operation (e.g., speaking a new language, making a good weld, cooking a cheese omelet, etc.).Knowledge might involve memorization, but more often it arises naturally from trial and error experiences, observation,reading and thinking, and, figuring something out (i.e., problem solving).
Memorization is one type of learning.It is a mental activity for adding material to the brain’s memory bank.Memory commonly is produced by repetition, and can be subdivided into long-term or short-term storage.Recall from the memory bank is rapid and typically requires little thought, calculation, debate, or understanding.Memorization enables a quick response to frequently arising mechanical types of questions (e.g., What is 2 times 4?What is the French word for “today”?How many centimeters are in one inch?How many strikes produce an out in baseball?).Memorization provides all of us with many easy practical benefits for daily life, and also is very useful on the job.
Understanding follows from knowledge, and features the ability to interrelate different aspects of some subject, to use logic to extrapolate for new situations (i.e., it can produce a hypothetical explanation, either valid or invalid, for something not directly known), and, to derive generalizations and make predictions.Understanding relies on learning how to think.The ultimate widest understanding is termed “wisdom”.
How do Memorization and Understanding Differ?
These 4 terms might be seen more clearly if we examine how people learn to speak a new (second) language.Young children learn this mostly by imitating adult speakers and talking to their teacher.For adults, the first task is to acquire some basic vocabulary; this initial learning most often is done by memorization (i.e., using flash cards, or a computer program).Next, knowledge about basic rules for sentence structure and grammar are acquired; some of this learning is done by memorizing, but much also comes from imitation (e.g., listening to a recording of native speakers conversing).Then, one puts that knowledge together and tries to speak and converse in the new language; the instructor teaches by providing correct examples and by identifying, correcting, and explaining mistakes.Most speaking and listening skills are developed progressively by gaining experience with conversing in the classroom or talking with other speakers; this corresponds to increasing one’s understanding!Understanding will be increased further by learning to read and write the same new language.Upon finishing, one is said to have “learned” and to “know” the new language, and to “understand” how to use it; thus, memorization is seen here as a good tool for initial learning, but is not used so much at later times for acquiring increased understanding.
Knowledge and understanding are quite interactive.In general, some basic knowledge exists before understanding begins and develops.Knowledge frequently involves facts and definitions, but understanding involves concepts and reaches conclusions.Memorization alone is not sufficient, because understanding also needs to be acquired.Many students and teachers mistakenly feel that memorized knowledge can substitute for understanding, but this is almost never true.If someone learns how to ice-skate and then memorizes all the official rules for ice hockey, that person still would not be able to play this sporting game very well because their understanding is much too limited.They could gain the needed understanding by acquiring more experience with watching and playing in actual competition; that understanding will not directly involve any memorization, and can be acquired from individual efforts, other players, and a coach-teacher.
Why is Memorization Now so very Popular with Science Students and their Teachers?
Unfortunately, memorization by students is emphasized, encouraged, and even worshipped by many teachers giving courses in science.It also is enormously popular with university science students, who see memorization as being the only practical way to “learn” all the very numerous facts, figures, and concepts presented by textbooks and lectures; these intelligent students can see no other way to acquire all this large volume of materials that must be learned by the time of the next examination.Clearly, these students only are building their short-term memory and do not realize the importance of either long-term memory or understanding.
The cardinal role of memorization in current science education is strengthened further in the minds of students because their teachers write examination questions that only are about facts and almost never necessitate making judgments, interpretations, reasoning, problem solving, and dealing with derived conclusions.This mindless practice often is justified by teachers, using such explanations as, “It takes much too long to score written essay questions!”, “When we have a class size of 150 students, we are forced to use computerized scoring of multiple choice questions for our exams!”, and, “We have to use strictly factual questions from our textbook since many students unfortunately are not able to think, reason, write, or speak because of gross deficiencies in their previous education.”
In my opinion, all such reasons only are excuses for laziness by science teachers and their employers.The misuse of memorization by students and instructors as being equivalent to understanding results in incomplete and inadequate education.I know all of this is true because I myself have seen it, and have been forced to do it as a teacher.In my classes I actually have seen modern science students not only memorize an entire big textbook, but also memorize all the diagrams and photographs.When this task is finished, they then sincerely do believe that they “know everything”!That assertion is contradicted by the fact that most cannot deal with new situations, derive relationships, provide examples for concepts, solve problems, conduct a discussion, or even answer simple questions involving a little thinking.As soon as a course is completed, all of their memorizations disappear rapidly. Subsequent more advanced courses then must commence by first presenting review sessions on previous classroom subjects before they can start dealing with new topics.The end result, which I consider to be very sad, is that these students are missing understanding and have been only very superficially educated.
What is the Significance of Memorization for Science Education?
Most divisions and subdivisions of science feature numerous special terms, meaning that learning science is mostly equivalent to learning a new foreign language.Thus, almost all science textbooks for any age level now provide a glossary and an extensive index section.For learning science, memorization can give a basic vocabulary, a set of rules about relationships, definitions of some essential concepts, and some selected examples.However, understanding demands much more extensive mental activity, and is usually accomplished by evaluating many more examples, some exceptions to general rules, problem solving, analyzing fundamental data, discussing alternative interpretations, and, evaluating predictions and extrapolations. Science teachers provide guidance to expand students’ knowledge and to develop their understanding.Without adding understanding, their ability to use knowledge remains very limited, and these students really have not learned much at all.
As one short example of memorization used validly in a biology science class for grade/grammar school, students might first memorize the main kinds of different forms of life.That corresponds to memorizing a basic vocabulary.For adding understanding to this initial knowledge, students can be shown videos of some living examples to learn a little about their habitat and distinctive attributes.Quizzes will test memorization of essential terms and facts, but examinations only will test understanding by evaluating the ability of students to think and reason; exam questions will ask for correct placement of several previously undiscussed examples, identification of key differences between several selected life forms, and, explanation about why a dolphin is considered to be a mammal rather than a fish, etc.A corresponding approach should be used for college and university science courses, but with a larger amount of material and more extensive scope.
Memorization is good for education about science when it is used appropriately, but it can never be accepted as a substitute for understanding.It should not be used as the only means for evaluating learning by students.It is my hope that teachers, education specialists, school administrators, and other educators (e.g., parents!) will discuss this current problem and the possibilities for improving this aspect of science education.I know that many teachers reading this piece will have their own viewpoints, concerns, and stories to add to those I have given here.Trying to improve this problem in modern science education will require extensive efforts for discussions, planning, and actions.Beyond pointing out the nature of this problem in science education, I can do no more here; it is up to all the teachers and educators working at the front line with students and administrators to actually initiate the needed changes.I will be delighted if others will start the ball rolling (and, it must roll uphill!).
Questions, arguments, criticisms, and suggestions for Dr.M all will be welcomed via the Comments section below.Please be sure to identify which level of education you are working with.
Your decision of which graduate school to attend in preparation for a career in scientific research will be of vital importance for the rest of your life. Typically, you will work there for 3-8 years to construct a thesis, defend it successfully, and thereby earn a Ph.D. Your thesis advisor will guide your endeavors, and functions as an academic parent; you will learn many practical skills, as well as what to do and what not to do in the mentor’s lab. Your graduate school, doctoral thesis, and research activities will establish your professional identity as a particular kind of scientist (e.g., atomic physicist, cell biologist, solar astronomer, solid state chemist, theoretical physicist, virologist, etc.).
Selection of which graduate school will be best for you is made difficult because so many variables are involved.There are 4 main features that must be evaluated by you in order to make this choice wisely: (1) presence of outstanding well-funded faculty scientists with busy laboratories; (2) size, scope, and organization of the graduate training program, particularly for the area of your prospective interest; (3) experimental facilities and research instrumentation available, including special equipment required for scientific investigations in your major field of interest; and, (4) reputation and track record of the department, school, and past graduates now working in scientific research.
The task of picking a good graduate school is a generic problem in matching varied students with the different training programs and atmosphere at each educational institution.Just as any young prospective scientist has individual characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses, it must be recognized that each graduate school also has a distinctive character with advantages and disadvantages.You should learn to list all these latter factors on a sheet of paper as objectively as you can; if your list is complete, then there should be no surprises later.I have previously discussed some situations that are frequently negative in graduate school programs leading to a Ph.D. in science (see earlier post on “Graduate School Education of Scientists: What is Wrong Today?” in the Education category), and hopefully this might be useful for your evaluations.
The more information you can gather the easier will be your final decision. Where is this info found and how is it retrieved? Not everything that is very important for your choice is either publicized or obvious, so you will have to force some items to come out into the light.Talking with currently enrolled students at the graduate school can provide much valuable information about the working atmosphere there.Talking with other students who are in any graduate training program also often is informative.Faculty members at your undergraduate college should provide some useful impressions and opinions. Similarly, discussions with science faculty at the prospective graduate school always are quite instructive; before meeting them, be certain to look up their research publications in science journals during the past few years .The more facts and opinions you obtain, the better!
Your final selection must be confirmed by a personal visit to the campus.That can be arranged with any graduate school, and is absolutely essential!Your day-long stay should include time for attending a class or two, visiting a teaching laboratory, meeting a few current graduate students and postdocs, observing the available housing and nearby neighborhood, having lunch in the school cafeteria or departmental lunchroom, talking to some faculty scientists who have graduate students working in their lab, visiting the library and computer facilities, etc. Do not hesitate to ask current students to see their mentor’s laboratory, to explain exactly what they are working on, to show you where they reside, and, to tell you what they perceive as the best and most difficult features of being a graduate student at that location.Some appropriate graduate program official should be asked about the placements of their recent doctoral graduates with both postdoctoral positions and first jobs; you want to be at a school where all your hard work and special training pays off by starting you on a good career course, whether in academia, industry, or elsewhere.
Practical considerations often guide or restrict your choice, and these sometimes outweigh all other considerations.Practical factors include the availability of financial support programs, previous personal contacts with members of the faculty, proximity of the school to some desired employment site or living quarters, distance from your parents’ residence, past association of a family member with a particular school or department, professional reputation of research by certain professors at the school being evaluated, announcement of a new program in exactly the research specialty that has your personal interest, etc.
Graduate school is a good place to learn and explore, but it is not the best time to begin to wonder about what you will do later as an independent adult.Choosing between different graduate schools is best done after you have firmly decided that: (1) you definitely want to be a research scientist, and (2) certain parts of science or certain research questions hold a large personal fascination for you.Although I do know that many applicants to graduate schools nowadays have little feeling for what they will work on for their thesis project and future research investigations, I must state that it is definitely my opinion that being less certain about either of the 2 decisions listed above makes your choice of a graduate school much chancier.
No graduate school is perfect, but some certainly are better than others for you.Make certain you decide upon the training program and opportunities that are best suited for you. This need not be the school with the most prominent reputation, the most Nobel Prize winners on its faculty, or the largest financial resources. Some graduate students need more guidance and individual support than others, so be sure to select a school with those opportunities. Your final selection should be a decision that is very personal, well thought out, and, elicits enthusiasm and excitement in you; as always, it also must be compatible with the different practical realities.
Good luck with making a satisfying choice! If you later find that you have made a big and bad mistake, you usually can switch your thesis advisor, move to a different department at the same university, or transfer to a different graduate school. Should you wish to ask non-specific questions to Dr.M about this topic, please leave these as a comment to this posting; Dr.M reads every single approved comment submitted to this website, and will briefly answer your questions.
Before professional scientists find a job, they typically spend 3-8 years in graduate school earning their doctoral degree, followed by at least 2 more years with advanced practical training in conducting research experiments as a postdoctoral fellow.This long training of research scientists then continues with self-education for the rest of their professional career, regardless of whether they are employed in universities, industry, hospitals, or elsewhere.It is amazing to realize that there now are several major gaps and inadequacies in the current scheme for the advanced education of modern scientists, particularly those working as university faculty.
Graduate schools are not sites for vocational education, but rather they deal with background knowledge, techniques, history, interactions, and theory. Nevertheless, if any employment involves complex activities A, B, and C, then is it not reasonable that education and preparatory training should give practical instruction in all of these activities? If the employment activities shift or are enlarged to involve A, B, C, and also D, then does it not follow that instruction about D should be added to the teaching and training? Why is the education of scientists an exception to these expectations? University scientists now are not receiving education about several key aspects of their profession. Being educated just about science and how to do research is not enough!
Doctoral scientists starting work at industrial research and development centers do receive instructions about the business of their employer, how to handle financial matters involved with their work (e.g., planning, purchasing, repairs), the format for research proposals to be submitted to company administrators, procedures for regulatory compliance, deadlines, etc. Their educational situation seems quite different from that of their counterparts working as faculty at universities.
Although scientific research in academic institutions now is just a business (see my earlier post on “What Is the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?” in the Scientists category), there are not any courses on business subjects given to young scientists during their training at graduate schools; after finding a job, they mostly receive only minimal instructions about business matters from their new employer. Another of the very biggest practical problems facing today’s academic scientists is the management of time; although there are good academic courses on the principles and practice of time management, these are not being offered to graduate students specializing in science. Even the general principles for the good design of research experiments, including constructing the research questions and designing adequate controls, mostly are taught only by example rather than as a systematic coverage of theory and practice.Almost all research scientists of necessity use statistics for evaluation of their experimental results; a course on statistics usually is only an elective offering, and many graduate students in science mistakenly choose to not take this.
Another large practical problem for scientists working at universities concerns how to deal with the research grant system.This large topic about business usually is not covered by any organized coursework, but rather is dealt with on the spot after a job finally is landed. Much unnecessary loss of time by the young faculty member often results from use of this trial and error approach; it would be much better if the nature of “specific aims” and other special and very important cryptic terms used in research grant applications were taught in a course of instruction, rather than learning about these from the criticisms of reviewers evaluating their very first grant application.It also still is unusual for graduate students in science to receive didactic instruction on the professional ethics of scientific research, the relationships between the different branches of science, and the important place of engineering in the modern science enterprise.
Many of these deficiencies could be corrected easily once theimportance of the missing topics are recognized and accepted. The several gaps in graduate education of scientists occur very generally. Whether these gaps are filled by formal coursework or by tutorial instruction is not important. Some of the needed additional instruction will necessitate employing non-scientist teachers for instruction.Other status quo difficulties concern the fact that these missing subjects all are “non-traditional”, whereas universities training graduate students in science are almost always strictly very traditional in their educational approaches.Thus, current education for scientists in training simply plods along and graduate students are not being taught about the major job problems they will encounter later when working in their new job.
Some of the needed new instruction will demand use of a new format in order to do justice to their subjects. Such new courses should be offered by 2-3 different teachers, so that the full range of topics and subtopics can be given in an effective manner.It is obvious to me that a new course about money matters in a modern university faculty job would be better if given by a group including an experienced faculty scientist who has had good success in dealing with the research grant system, and a faculty teacher from a business school; this course also would benefit from participation by a professional ethicist. Getting all 3 types of educators to work coordinately in one course would be truly wonderful, but that would be quite an unconventional undertaking. Some of the missing educational offerings might become easier if they are given as intensive short courses (i.e., 3-5 weeks), rather than as the usual textbook-based courses lasting several months.This change in format also will provide a better opportunity for having valuable discussion sessions about practical questions with several experienced faculty research scientists (i.e., from different departments, working in different disciplines, coming from different graduate schools, and having different degrees of status).
I believe that these additional efforts to improve graduate school education will help all young scientists to deal more successfully and less painfully with their new job responsibilities and the problems in trying to be a good professional scientist.It then will no longer be necessary to waste so much time figuring out the nature of these job problems, and trying to learn from the traditional trial and error approach.
Science and Research Have No Imprtance for Daily Life !! (dr-monsrs.net)
Most scientists are aware that specialized investigations in science, whether performed by Nobel Laureates or by themselves, are totally uninteresting to all people in the general public.The major causes of this unfortunate estrangement between ordinary people from science are: (1) the public is given a very inadequate education about science and research in schools and the media (see my recent post on “Most of Today’s Adult Education About Science is Worthless!” in the Education category), (2) researchers in all branches of science communicate with special terms and abstract concepts, none of which areunderstood by the public, (3) almost all people have never talked to a real live research scientist or visited a research laboratory, (4) the media presents scientific research as some sort of amusement, and as being conducted by brainy creatures wearing white lab coats and coming from another planet, and, (5) most people feel that science and research have no importance for their daily life.All of these causal factors now have been active for a long time, and their negative effects are quite ingrained in modern society.
The unfortunate consequences of these 5 conditions are that the modern public: (1) has no realistic idea what science is and how research works, (2) has almost no comprehension of how science and research has advanced daily life, (3) is only aware of pseudo-science, but not of real science (eu-science), (4) does not see that science is people, and (5) pays no attention to science, except for watching some science circus show on the television.The end result of these several and deficiencies is that ordinary adults today have no interest, no understanding, and no regard for science, research, and scientists.
Removing the causes will greatly decrease these unfortunate consequences, and will permit many adult non-scientists to develop a growing understanding and a natural curiosity about scientific research.In particular, if the needed changes can be made, then: (1) people will begin to see scientists as dedicated fellow individuals whose work is important to everyone’s daily life and hopes for the future, and (2) the media will stop the incessant titillation of the public by showing scientific research as an amusement (e.g., “Who is today’s new star scientist?” and “What is the most amazing research discovery in science this week?”). The media must present real science in action, in order to diminish the false view that science is an amusement.The difficult removal of the common belief that “science doesn’t matter at all to me” will necessitate showing how current important practical problems are being examined in actual experimental studies by real scientists and engineers, and, presenting many real examples about how scientific research has originated interventions or improved solutions to modern practical problems that everyone is familiar with (e.g., anti-cancer therapies, detection and diagnosis of microbial infections, disease-resistant agricultural crops, high-tech batteries, new additives for gasoline, new types of light bulbs, paternity testing based on DNA, remediation of environmental pollution, etc.).
The recent development of crowdfunding (see my recent post on “Money Now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” in the Money & Grants category), where very numerous individuals in the public elect to each contribute a small donation to help support some research study in an area having their personal interest [e.g., 1-3], also has created a new mechanism for stimulating constructive personal interactions between the public and scientists. In some of the research studies supported by crowdfunding, the donors (i.e., ordinary adults) are invited to actually join in with the scientists to work on that project.In all such cases, these people will develop a much better personal understanding about how research actually is done (e.g., not all experiments work, the results obtained can be quite different from those expected, many experiments and a considerable period of time usually are required to reach a solid conclusion, there can be more than one interpretation of research data, etc.). Secondary benefits are that these adults will later tell their friends about their experience in the crowdfunding project, encourage the interest of their children for science and research, and, become much more supportive of scientific research studies in general.
Some national science societies now feature special educational sessions at their annual meeting, open for attendance by the adult public, school children, school teachers, and the local media.This is a great idea, but would be even better if these sessions are recorded and then made available for wider viewing at individual convenience on the internet.Additional new efforts are needed in this very important area.These should include: (1) better adult education about science and research; (2) more opportunities for adult non-scientists to meet and talk to real scientists; (3) more opportunities for both younger and older persons to personally participate in selected actual research projects; (4) more opportunities for the public to visit real research laboratories at universities, hospitals, government laboratories, and, industrial research and development centers; and, (5) elucidation on the internet and television about how truth is established by scientific research, the path whereby some research scientists have become especially famous and celebrated, and, exactly how exciting new technologies were developed by scientists and engineers.All of these new educational efforts will produce changes resulting in greater public understanding about real science, how research is done, and, why advances in science and technology depend upon the new ideas and new concepts coming from creative and dedicated individual research workers.
The general public today perceives science as being something much beyond their ability to understand.Many people actually are afraid of science!Since science and research seem to have no direct impact upon their daily lives, the simplest solution is for people to completely ignore them.In today’s world, these conditions have resulted in the enormous estrangement of most ordinary people from scientific research.
On television and the internet, science programs almost always portray science as an amusement.These programs often feature titillation and try to illustrate science in action (i.e., research) by showing unknown instruments having lots of colored blinking lights and noises, somewhat bizarre men and women wearing white lab coats, laboratory shelves with myriad vials and bottles, and, computer screens filled with a galaxy of numbers.This caricature of scientific research supports the common fear of science, and directly leads to seeing it as being something quite amusing.
The present “science-of-the-day” format found in many media programs about science almost always features claims that the most recent research finding promises some wildly fabulous advance.Probably most viewers do not even hear the obligatory follow-up statement that the promised glorious results will be many years in the future.Any attempt to explain what is being shown is always very abbreviated and superficial; the result is that the audience is amused and always dutifully repeats, “Isn’t that wonderful!”, but really learns and comprehends nothing new.This entire approach for public education demeans the audience, is grossly unrealistic about what science does and how research advances, and so seems worthless.These programs and their warped approach will not be helpful to anyone in the public.
Science would be much better presented via examples of real scientists showing and talking about their research work, particularly when these studies involve some of the current problems we all face.Actual scientists, not actors and actresses, should be presented and interviewed.This use of real living scientists will reveal them as neighbors and fellow people, not as mad monsters from some other world.The message of these presentations should present simple and clear step-by-step explanations showing how the selected question or problem is approached, how the experiments are conducted, what was found, and what conclusions are drawn from the data.All such presentations must explain what this means for the public, and be produced to be readily understandable by ordinary adults.
Practical matters are more easily understood than theoretical concepts.Showing some real examples of practical problems where basic research, applied research, and engineering are being conducted will help counter the mistaken general viewpoint that scientific research has no impact on daily life; attentive viewers will come to see that nothing could be farther from the truth.Probably the most difficult part of my proposal for better adult education will be to get people in the public to watch the 10-30 minute expositions; all too many modern adults have a very limited attention span, thus inclining them to watch sport events rather than any presentation about science and research.
Most ordinary people have never ever talked with a real live scientist, and very fewhave ever visited a research laboratory.Ideally, this should occur during education in primary and secondary schools.By introducing new and more effective formats that are not presently being utilized for media presentations, science will become much more personal and much more human for everyone.When the public becomes more familiar with scientists as real people, and comes to see how research can benefit everyone, they then will become more understanding and supportive of the long efforts needed to solve the difficult practical problems affecting everyone (e.g., behavior, energy, environment, genetics, health, nutrition, politics, society, water, etc.).Improved understanding that real science (eu-science) is about finding new knowledge and helping everyone will remove the current emphasis on amusement and pseudo-science.
When the public better understands that science is people, and that scientific research is important for everyone, they will become more enthusiastic about eu-science, and will come to recognize the falsity of being entertained by pseudo-science.Kickstarter  and other mechanisms for crowdfunding [2-4], where hundreds to thousands of ordinary people each make a small financial contribution to a selected project, recently has become popular; in some cases with support for science research projects, the contributors can become personal participants in the actual experimental studies.This aspect of crowdfunding dramatically reveals that the hidden large potential interest of the public in scientific research is waiting to be unlocked.
All universities have individual differences and special features in their graduate school programs for instructing student scientists working to earn a Ph.D.Nevertheless, during this advanced education leading to a thesis defense, certain aspects of useful and needed instruction commonly are missing. My belief is that these absences often result in practical difficulties for later research activities by scientists working in universities.
The long extent of graduate student education in science (e.g., 4-8 years) is necessary to prepare them to become doctoral researchers and scholars. Three very primary problems arise during any career as a research scientist working in a university: (1) managing time, (2) dealing with the research grant system, and, (3) avoiding any corruption.It seems very surprising that there is not any course work and little special attention currently being given to address these very important practical difficulties.
An intense course in time management would be eminently useful for professional scientists in any branch of science.Another course of instruction or a series of directed discussions about the organization of the current research grant system and how to deal with it would be immensely helpful to all new faculty scientists.The number of courses available concerning integrity and ethics in scientific research now is rising; this instruction certainly is badly needed, but must be expanded even further; in addition, there needs to be better recognition that all professional scientists must accept that there can be absolutely no dishonesty at all within science. General instruction about standards of ethics in science is very important and should commence at a very early age; ideally, this will start long before any actual choice of a career in science has been made.
Some of the classical subjects for instructing graduate students in science now continue to be offered, but are taken only infrequently.These include the history of science, inter-relationships and differences between the major branches of science, the key laboratory experiments which gave rise to famous findings and new concepts, and, general requirements for the design of good experiments and valid controls.A solid course in the use of applied statistics for analyzing experimental data is frequently available, but many graduate students in science choose to not take such; this seems surprising, since most faculty scientists performing experimental research will readily admit that statistics is vitally useful for their data analysis.
In addition to coursework, several other valuable and useful subjects can be covered in semi-formal discussion sessions.These include: how to select a postdoctoral position and mentor, what types of jobs are available for science doctorates, how to find a good job,how to get promoted, how to self-evaluate your progress and reputation as a research scientist, special features of working on scientific research within industry, and, the role of engineering research and development in the modern science enterprise.These sessions are likely to be much better if 3-5 faculty researchers working in different areas of science are present, such that several aspects of each topic within the different branches and disciplines of modern science will be brought forward.
Improving pre-doctoral education in all branches of science will produce a big payoff. Better pre-doctoral science education will make for better scientific researchers!
What is science to children? (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Education of children about science in grade/primary schools is supposed to provide some fundamental body of knowledge about major concepts in science, including specific real examples for each branch and sub-branch. This key background is needed to enable their later learning about more complex and detailed treatments in subsequent science courses in high/middle school. At present, most science education for young students still involves memorization, watching demonstrations and cartoon presentations, working with models, playing “science games”, “doing research” with some search engine on the internet, and, going on a field trip to some place like a natural history museum or some science exhibits featuring more models and games for entertainment. All of this scenario deals with what I call “empty science”, and is inherently boring and misleading to young students. The fundamental fact that science is real people is ignored. Somehow, science teachers should remember how these same courses and activities came across to them when they were only youngsters many years ago.
Quite frankly, I do not blame very young students going through the usual introductory courses for feeling that science must be an amusement and is some kind of game played by peculiar adults in laboratories. If the nature of research is included, it is seen by the children as being some sort of game played for money, and it is clearly very inferior to playing sports or musical instruments. These early strong conclusions later are cemented into adult minds, where science and research today very commonly are viewed as an entertainment, as something that normal average adults just cannot possibly understand, and, as a nonsense that has no importance for daily life. These very wrong views have led to the large estrangement of the modern public from science, and their lack of personal interest in science progress; most people just do not feel that science has any role in their personal life.
Dr. M is convinced that science education for children should involve very much less memorization and very much more hands-on work with actual materials, using examples that are more strongly related to everyday life. As a minimum, science courses must show basic interrelationships between the different sciences, introduce simple quantitation and statistics, and, feature hands-on collection and examination of measurements (data) for some real variables in everyday life (e.g., age, gender, body weight, body height, etc.). In addition, they should present some interesting biographical stories about how real scientists actually made their research discoveries and why they now are considered to be very famous; this will enable the understanding of how scientific research today consists of real people working on important unsolved problems and developing amazing new technologies. Outside the classroom, visits to such local features as nearby landscapes, zoos, farms, water treatment plants, mines, weather stations, etc., rather than only to dry museums, will show students hidden features of nature, geology, ecology, chemistry, and even astronomy. Class visits to an industrial research center will provide valuable personal examples of scientists working right now in the real world.
As part of these revised educational goals and activities, it first will be necessary to re-educate the educators. Adult teachers must learn or re-learn about (1) the essential nature of science and research, (2) organization of science, and interrelations between its many subdivisions, (3) the value of a question and answer format even for grade school classes, and, (4) how principles, examples, and derived reasoning can replace the standard need for learning only by memorization (i.e., unlike knowledge, memorization only rarely leads to increased understanding). In my view, the effects of these new learning modalities will be well worth all the new efforts involved. From the corresponding changes for science courses within high/secondary school and college, ordinary adults then will stop being afraid of science, will become more interested in research activities, and, even will be able to perceive that scientific research is a vital and interesting part of daily life.
Different aspects of the important topic of science education will be discussed further on this website in the coming weeks.