Before my career path diverged toward web design, multimedia, and other computer-related geekery, I was a biologist. It was something I knew I wanted to be from an early age. When I read about the discovery of the genetic code at MIT, I knew where I wanted to go to college to learn biology.
And that’s what I did. I took pride in not being an engineer, in being someone who dealt with “messy” systems, living things. I preferred hands-on work over lab bench manipulations, and despised the molecular biological trend the field was following (much to the detriment of my future career).
But what I liked the most about biologists was talking to them, sharing their enthusiasm, even if I barely understood their specializations. About 20 year sago I was given a tour of a biomechanics lab at UMass Amherst, where I was shown slow-motion video of geckos climbing sheer glass walls. I barely understood the underlying mechanics – it’s all van der Waals interactions between foot fibers and the surfaces – but the fellow giving the tour was very good at explaining his work. (I also remember that he had a tuatara skull, which he acquired while in Australia.)
That fellow was Adam Summers, who has recently been featured on the Make magazine web site:
More people need to see that scientists are like Adam, and not pompous authority figures in lab coats. We do a tremendous disservice to society every time we invoke the ivory tower metaphor. Science doesn’t happen there, it happens in the heads and hands of people like Adam, people who are enthusiastic and curious about the universe.
Why did I begin this post with a still from Finding Nemo? Because Adam was the science consultant for the movie, advising the Pixar animators on the finer points of fish locomotion. Pixar repaid the favor by basing the Mr. Ray character on Adam, although I’ve never heard him sing the song about the zones of the ocean.
Oooh, let’s name the zones, the zones, the zones
Let’s name the zones of the open sea
…mesopolagic, bathyal, abyssalpelagic.
All the rest are too deep for you and me to see.
Oh, knowledge exploring is oh so lyrical,
when you think thoughts that are empirical.
Maybe that’s what it takes to show that scientists are cool: publicity from other geeks.