Inspiration comes in many forms, often smiling at us when we tentatively open doors to new opportunities. The idea for this post came to me when I was exploring blogging challenges put up by The Daily Post.
Their theme last week was Connection, prodding us to trace the paths through which we’ve personally connected with others through the internet. What popped up in my mind instead, were the myriad connections that science opened up to me – in life, learning and friendships.
It started when I was 12 years old, when my parents took me shopping to the local bookstore. It was an exciting outing, after all I had earned a book coupon at school! While my parents were browsing through children’s stories, my roving eye lead me to the science and math section. That is where I saw it for the first time – the Dorling Kindersly (DK) Science Encyclopedia. Every page I turned was a visual and intellectual feast. I was dazzled.. and in love.
Although I went home that evening only with a story book (as afforded by the coupon), I couldn’t get DK out of my mind. My parents saw that I was smitten and lovingly gifted me the encyclopedia soon after. Coming from a family of modest means, it was my most expensive gift then. I remember clutching it tightly in my arms as I went to bed that night. Even now, I can feel the joy in my curious heart as I felt then.. It was the joy of discovery. That buoyant anticipation of finding answers to all my questions. The joy of finding myself.
DK encyclopedia was a stark contrast to my insipid school science textbook. Its pages did not just contain information, they revealed connections. How pressure cookers, rainfall, ice skating and steam engines are all linked to different states of water. How radioactivity can be used to destroy as well as save human lives. How scientists think, work and shape our lives.
Reading DK encyclopedia was my first exposure to what science is really all about. To my young mind, it uncovered ways to connect the dots and make sense of the world around me. It changed the way I wanted to experience life and learning.
It was that sense of wonder that propelled me to the world of scientific research. Being a scientist seemed like the only way to salvation and lasting happiness. And sure enough, experimentation and scientific protocol was every bit as satisfying as I had imagined. But what really thrilled me about research was the possibility of transcending man-made disciplines and boundaries. Isn’t that our inherent way of learning?
In my early days as a research intern, I had the good fortune to work with a principal investigator (PI) who worked on many interdisciplinary research projects. We worked with physicists, biologists, chemists and material scientists (some of whom went on to become dear friends). Being an engineering undergrad, I began to spot connections between science and technology. Technological progress and scientific progress drive each other, often by those who blurred academic boundaries in their effort. I was inspired to carry this interdisciplinary approach with me all through my research, and still do.
In all our mundane routines, devices & technology, our physical & emotional states, our social lives; science taught me to look for connections and appreciate them. All boundaries, be it academic or social, have been designed by humans to convenience learning and societal function. However, these boundaries are often the very reason we limit ourselves – both in knowledge and compassion. The key is to look beyond them.. to look for connections.
More food for thought:
- An excellent article on Why Physics is Not a Discipline by Philip Ball