This is a lecture I gave at Crown Woods College on Friday, 23 March 2012. I wanted to show the students the importance of having a strong grounding in science and I wanted to incite them to find out more about what they can do with science. The pictures on this blog have been used solely to illustrate the points I wanted to make and they are not my own pictures. Their source is either from Wikipedia or other websites which can be accessed by clicking on the pictures.
“Good morning everyone.
I’m going to talk about Science. Science as inspiration. Science and its applications. Science as the basis for progress. To begin with let’s just take a quick look at some of the great scientists who have shaped our world. I’d ask you to write their names down and read about them later. It is important to know who was behind the great scientific ideas.
Sir Isaac Newton:
His genius surpassed that of other scientists. His legacy in mathematics, physics and philosophy is unequalled. We were able to send people the moon and satellites into orbit based on the laws of motion and gravity which he formulated. He explained and named the colours of the rainbow. He invented calculus. I mean, what more can you ask for. This guy was a genius.
He came up with a clever method to classify chemical elements and therefore devised the Periodic Table. His idea revolutionised chemistry and he was even able to predict the existence of 8 elements based purely on his Periodic Table. Unlike astrologers, scientists are very good at prediction.
The first woman to receive a Nobel Prize in Medicine and the third to receive the prize in Science. We need more women in Science and we need more women to be recognised for their contribution to Science.
Neil deGrasse Tyson:
He is an astrophysicist and a wonderful Science educator. Being a scientist is not only about studying Science but it’s also about teaching Science. And always remember that the best way to learn is to teach.
Here is another astrophysicist. Stephen Hawking is another good example of how scientists can be great communicators in science. His books on black holes and the Big Bang are best-sellers. I thought I’d show this candid picture of his. Scientists can be geeky yet cool and funny.
An amazing mathematician. Science can stand firm thanks to the foundations of mathematics. The importance of mathematics in our life can never be over estimated. We often think that mathematics is hard but it is like saying that speaking Italian is hard. It’s only hard if you don’t learn it. Maths is a language like any other, the more we practice the better we are at speaking it.
Another giant in scientific achievement and a great inspiration for women and men. The first person to receive 2 Nobel prizes: one in Chemistry and one in Physics with her husband, Pierre Curie. Later on, their daughter, Irene Curie, would also be a recipient of the Nobel Prize.
Who hasn’t heard of Darwin? This man alone revolutionised biology and has caused a lot of trouble with religious authorities ever since on his ideas about evolution and the origin of humans. Science is about being daring and about having the guts to change the world. Darwin was daring and his views on evolution were a revolution in our scientific mindset.
Einstein needs no introduction. I mean, he is simply the greatest. Say what you want but Science is cool.
This list doesn’t stop here. We have a whole galaxy of star scientists to inspire us. I’ve only shown a sample. We seek inspiration from scientists but also from our teachers. Scientists pave the way to progress while teachers show us which paths to follow.
But I think the greatest source of inspiration is Nature. Just look at this awesome picture.
That’s our home galaxy, the Milky Way, as seen from Earth. Isn’t that beautiful? We’re part of this galaxy which also contain some other 100 billion stars and has a black hole at its center.
The Crab Nebula may be the remains of a dead star but it’s so wonderful to look at. This picture show us the remains, the inside of a star after it’s exploded into a supernova. The chemicals and particles that dead stars leave behind are also found in us and all other living things on Earth. In fact, we are made up of star-dust. Just think about that for a second. The chemical elements manufactured in the dying stars are the ingredients of life here on Earth. But stars have to be born before they die, just like us.
This one, known as the Pillars of Creation, is exactly that: this is where stars are born. They form out of interstellar gas and dust. I can just stare at these amazing pictures for hours. If these alone don’t inspire you or move you then you must wake up.
Closer to us here on Earth, we have this amazing process called photosynthesis by which plants use energy from the sun to make their food. The whole food chain depends on the chemistry and physics going on in this leaf. Isn’t that just amazing? This thin, flimsy leaf and all other leaves are what sustain the food chain and us included.
This acid is what defines life as far as we know it. Another name for it is DNA. Our discovery and understanding of this molecule has revolutionised biology and genetics. And thanks to that we are now able to genetically modify plants and animals for better purposes.
Colours. Nature is beautiful. There’s no denying that. It’s not just about cold, hard facts but there’s beauty in science. Understanding the colours of these flames has to do with chemistry. The colours of the rainbow, as Newton showed, have to do with understanding light. An artist can use those colours to create the most amazing paintings but only a scientist can understand and appreciate where those colours come from. That said, artists can be scientists and scientists can be artists as well.
So, given all these different sources of inspiration, what can we do with that? It’s inspiration that allows us to be creative. And that’s how we move forward as a society. We apply what we know from Science and we move forward. The application of Science is technology.
Let’s take the Oyster card for example. That simple device which we all use every day depends on the principles of electromagnetic induction to work. It says here that we have to touch it on the reader for it to work. But that’s not necessary. Just waving it close above the reader is enough to make it detect your card. Electromagnetism can work without contact. All it needs is a moving electromagnetic field above the reader, no actual contact. Try it and you’ll see. Physics works!
Sat Nav. Every vehicle seems to have one. A very handy gadget to have. But do you realise that without Einstein’s theory of relativity this device would be useless? How? Well, Sat Nav works by measuring the difference in time in clocks on the satellite and clocks here on Earth. Einstein showed that time moves at a different rate if we move relatively fast. Satellites orbiting the Earth move very fast relative to us. So their clock is ticking at a different pace. Einstein also found out that by being far away from the Earth’s gravity, time will move at a different pace. So, again, the clocks on the satellites would measure time differently from those on Earth. It turns out that their clocks would shift by 36 000 nanoseconds per day. Not much perhaps – it’s only a fraction of a second. But, you see, light travels 30 cm in 1 nanosecond. That means that the satellite navigation system, which depends on sending signals back and forth from Earth, would experience about 36 000 times of these 30 cm shifts a day. That’s 10 km every day! If we do not account for the time differences as predicted by Einstein then we would not be accurate with our Sat Nav technology. The positioning would be off by 10 km every day. That means that in less than a month’s time, our satellite would point us to some village in Wales instead of locating us here in London. This is very significant. So if you want to get to where you wanna be then Einstein’s better be right!
Application in computing and telecommunication. We should not underestimate the importance of electronics when it comes to the gadgets we use every day. Whether it’s the computer I’m using here, or the iPad or even your TV at home, all of these devices rely of the precise Physics of electronics.
We also have applications in medicine in the form of the MRI scanner. There are several other applications of Science in medicine. Vaccines and x-rays are just other examples we can state here.
Even the simple light bulb has a lot to do with science. First there’s the physics of electricity to power the bulb, next there’s material science that allows us to know the properties of glass and the filament inside; then there’s chemistry, because you have to have an inert gas inside the bulb so that the filament doesn’t just burn up.
Food technology relies on science; in biology and chemistry in particular. We have to genetically engineer varieties of wheat and other food products which are resistant to certain diseases so that we can feed the whole world.
Paint has a lot to do which chemistry and understanding polymers and complex molecules. Again, science is not just for scientists only but its applications cross borders and impact artists, designers and every other field of work you can think of.
So what now?
To quote the singer from the rock band Guns N Roses, where do we go now? Given all this? Given the inspiration, given the applications, given our knowledge of Science, what can we do with all that? What can YOU do with all that?
And as a result where will you lead us as a species?
The paths you choose will determine this. But regardless of what you do later in life, make sure that it’s grounded in science, make sure that you have a scientific mind because without science the world is dull, without science you cannot fully appreciate beauty, without science you will be left behind as technology moves forward. Even if you want to become an investment banker and earn a lot of money or you want to become a research scientist working on a cure for cancer or work as a fashion designer or software engineer or you want to become a teacher or a chef, regardless of what you want to be, make sure that you are thinking scientifically. Science gives you the means to be independent and to be able to think for yourself rather than having to rely on others to decide for you. Being lazy doesn’t mean not doing your homework – tell that to your teachers. Being lazy means not to think, not to think scientifically. So always, always have this mindset, this outlook on life. Think like a scientist and be like a scientist.
I’ll leave you with the wise words from another great scientist and Nobel prize winner in Physics, the unique and amazing Richard Feynman: “I do not know anything but I know that everything is interesting if you go into it deeply enough.”
Science makes life interesting and worth living for. Thank you all.”