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Wednesday, 3 August 2016

What makes me a Scientist?

Science is all about asking questions. But every answer brings further questions; this is why Science never stops! Especially if the original answer is 'I don't know, go and find out!'
This is what drives us forwards; curiosity. Scientists are just people who can't stop asking questions about absolutely everything. As XKCD aptly put it;
Image from XKCD

I think that's a big part of how you become a scientist; you just need to ask questions!I'm a scientist. I do research in a fancy lab covered in biohazard symbols, wearing a labcoat, doing novel research. Is that why I'm a scientist? No! You don't need a labcoat or a lab to do science, things like bioinformatics or a lot of physics things don't require you to step foot in a lab very often at all but we still call the people designing rockets for NASA scientists (because they are!). You don't need a PhD, or even a degree either. Having those just make you a qualified scientist, but aren't required. Anyone can set up shop in their shed and do some interesting experiments, or use science to blow things up for YouTube, and I'd still call them scientists. Not because they're using science, but because they're using it, if that makes sense.

If that's what you don't need to be a scientist, what do you need? Curiosity, and an arsenal of questions about how things work and why they work all come in handy, but even those can be boiled down to something simpler. I think it can be boiled down to just two words; 'How?' and 'Why?'.

You can look at literally anything and ask one or both of those questions. Here are some examples:

My desk fan is cooling me down. How? It's blowing air at me. Why? Improved air flow promotes heat loss from surfaces, including my skin.

My pen's ink can be erased with a rubber. How? The ink is different to regular ink so is removed when friction is applied. Why? I don't know.

And here's the next part of being a scientist; 'I don't know' is not an adequate response to these questions. 'I don't know' merely brings additional questions to the original ones; 'I don't know, so how can I find out?'.

I think that's all you need to be a scientist. Labs, and the stuff within, are just tools with which to answer the 'don't know' questions. The internet is another great tool for that; because a lot of times somebody out there will know what you're after. For example, with the erasable ink pen thing, I did a quick google and found out that instead of staining the paper like a normal ink pen they just put a layer of rubber cement on top! So it can be removed just like the layer of graphite that pencils leave behind. Libraries, too, are a great resource for this! Librarians will be able to point you in the right direction and help you find out what you want to find the answer to.

Most importantly, I think, you don't need anything fancy to be a scientist; all you need is to have those questions ready. All you need to do is ask How and Why, and you're already on the way to being a scientist! Because at the end of the day we're just people who like finding things out, and that's just a case of turning 'don't know's into 'do know's!

So you can be a scientist, right now. Just get out there and start asking questions!

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