I didn’t always want to study science. Growing up, I thought I might become a writer. I was enamored by the way in which a good book could provide clarity and meaning to your most solitary thoughts and feelings. It could fill you with awe, or contempt, or sadness, or gratitude; it could find a way to seep into every part of yourself so that you saw, and heard, and felt, differently having read it. In other words, it made you feel human.
When I was sixteen, I participated in a competition aimed at introducing high school students to neuroscience. The experience affected me: I became motivated to understand the self – first and foremost defined by its billions of brain cells firing in deliberate yet mysterious rhythms. Perhaps this emerging curiosity could be compared to reading a book for the first time – only one I had always owned but never opened. Accordingly, in my “discovery” of science, I also discovered something very crucial. And that was that the writer (the artist) and the scientist, two roles I had often perceived in direct opposition to one another, were actually the same. They were both interested in interpreting truth – and this was inseparable from an interest in the human experience.
As a volunteer for Cell Explorers, a science outreach program at NUIG, I think often of others’ perceptions of science – especially those youth whom we seek to engage. We try to teach students that science can be interesting and, more importantly, relevant. In teaching them how to extract DNA from bananas, I’d like to think we are also teaching them how to “see” – not only the DNA (made visible by a solution of detergent and colored ethanol), but also the complexity that informs all things. A scientist is not only a “man of knowledge,” but also of discovery – and by virtue of being a sensing and social being, there exist an unlimited number of discoveries to be made.
A student once remarked to me that “science is the study of everything.” Although her definition may have been too broad, I can’t quite disagree. Science, I believe, is not exclusive. It is not detached nor is it unfeeling. It is everywhere, all around us – in every single cell of our bodies, in every beat of our hearts, in everything we are and everything this world is.
Last week, I saw a rare double rainbow arc infinitely and transiently across the Galway sky. I thought about the millions of raindrops, like minuscule diamonds in the atmosphere, each refracting and twice reflecting the sun’s rays to create such a phenomenon. Here, science had created art, or maybe art contained science – but in both, there was beauty.