Tag Archives: Science education



TED videos show great ideas inside and outside science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
TED videos show great ideas inside and outside science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)


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)!

Concluding remarks! 

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.






Visiting a research lab is much easier than volunteering! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Volunteering for research is easy with Zooniverse!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)


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 is organized and run by the Citizen Science Alliance (see:  http://www.citizensciencealliance.org/structure.html ).  Its objective is to create online citizen science projects to involve the public in academic research (see: http://www.citizensciencealliance.org/philosophy.html ).  A listing of all their current research projects is available both at: http://www.citizensciencealliance.org/projects.html , and at: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects? .

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.

Concluding remarks! 

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!





It is not so difficult for some people to understand science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
It is not so difficult for some to understand science! (http://dr-monsrs.net)


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!

All these consequences reinforce each other!  The end result is that science, research, and scientists are totally estranged from people (see:  “On the Public Disregard for Science and Research” ), and are viewed as being utterly unimportant by most individuals (see:  “What Does Science Matter to Me, an Ordinary Person?” ).

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.

Concluding remarks! 

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?” )!





Different kinds of microscopy present a wealth of information.    ( http://dr-monsrs.net )

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.  

Kerry Ruef has developed very successful teaching programs for primary school students which use magnifiers extensively ( http://www.the-private-eye.com ).  I highly recommend to all teachers presenting science in primary schools Kerry Ruef’s very recent article, “The Private Eye ®– (5X) Looking/Thinking by Analogy”, just published in Microscopy Today (May 2015, volume 23, pages 52-57) .  This now is available on the internet as a PDF (see: http://content.yudu.com/web/14lmv/0A3cxwn/MicroscopyTodayV23N3/flash/resources/52.htm?refUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.the-private-eye.com%2Findex.html ).  The topic of “Microscopy in Education” is a subject frequently published in this journal coming from the Microscopy Society of America (see:  https://www.microscopy.org ).  

Concluding remarks. 

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. 



                                                         UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE




What did everyone do before computers, television, and libraries?   (http://dr-monsrs.net)
What did everyone do before computers, television, and libraries?                           (http://dr-monsrs.net)


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 libraries. 

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. 

Concluding remarks. 

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! 



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Science marches on, even though very many people are unaware!!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Science marches on, even though many people are unaware!!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)


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, Sciencehttp://sciencemag.org )  and Naturehttp://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.



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  Climbing the Path of Learning!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

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 [1], along with subsequent comments submitted by other college teachers [2], 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. 

Concluding Remarks

            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. 


[1]  Meredith, D.C., and Redish, E.F., 2013.  Reinventing physics for life-sciences majors.  Physics Today (July), 66:38-43.  (To purchase or rent this article on the internet, see:
http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/66/7/10.1063/PT.3.2046 ). 

[2]  Letters to the Readers’ Forum, 2014.  Notes on teaching physics to biologists.  Physics Today (April), 67:12-13.  (Click any of 4 individual titles on the internet at:
http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/67/4 ). 



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What Should I Investigate in Graduate School for my Ph.D.?  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
What Should I Research in Graduate School for my Ph.D.?           (http://dr-monsrs.net)


            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.



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            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! 



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