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Author Topic: How can I become a scientist?  (Read 1808 times)

Offline thedoc

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How can I become a scientist?
« on: 20/10/2014 14:30:01 »
Elizabeth asked the Naked Scientists:
   
I am 13 and want to be a scientist. What hopes for the future for being a scientist are there?
What do you think?
« Last Edit: 20/10/2014 14:30:01 by _system »


 

Offline chiralSPO

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Re: How can I become a scientist?
« Reply #1 on: 20/10/2014 20:02:52 »
At 13, I would recommend doing well in school as the best course for being any type of scientist later in life--then majoring in one of the sciences or mathematics in college, and perhaps getting an advanced degree (MS or PhD). It is also never too early to start reading on your own, you can chose the appropriate level depending on your abilities and prior exposure to the particular topic, but you might be surprised to find introductory college-level textbooks accessible (at least for chemistry, biology, geology and astronomy--most physics textbooks at this level require differential and integral calculus, which you probably won't learn in school for several more years...)

As a chemist, I will give chemistry an extra plug. I was 14 when I realized that I was bound to be a chemist. I started borrowing textbooks from the library, and set up a lab in my basement (with the permission of my parents) and started experimenting (mostly with the permission of my parents). Most chemistry can be understood with only elementary math (simple algebra, logarithms and exponents), and the topics are diverse enough that most people can find something of interest within it (are you interested in the reasons why some compounds or materials have specific properties, like colors or smells or magnetism, or how drugs or explosives work, or how we can make something transparent and electrically conductive etc. etc. etc.........)

In contrast to physics, which underwent huge revolutions in the early to mid 20th century, and has since not changed too dramatically, our knowledge of chemistry (and biology, perhaps to a greater extent) is growing at an amazing rate. If you are looking forward to being a chemist in the next 10-50 years, I would say the future is rich with interesting research questions, unsolved mysteries and an unimaginable diversity of chemical inventions, some of which could be cures for diseases, fuels of the future, molecular components of tiny powerful computers... who knows!

I say inventions, not discoveries, because there are so many compounds that could possibly exist that there isn't enough matter in the known universe to make even one molecule of each! As a synthetic chemist, I can make a compound that no one has ever prepared before on Earth, and it is also potentially the first time such an arrangement has ever existed. And although we might discover a new structure, someone has to invent a way of making it.
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: How can I become a scientist?
« Reply #2 on: 21/10/2014 09:44:20 »
And a plug for physics: chemistry only became exciting when the underlying physics of molecular orbitals was elucidated, and x-ray crystallography, infrared spectroscopy, and electron spin resonance confirmed the shape of interesting and important molecules.

Before 1900, chemistry was guesswork in a bucket. Now it is physics in a bucket. 

Are chemists clever? They are certainly exploitative. One of the most important chemical feedstocks is ethanol, made by yeasts digesting  sugars that were synthesised by plants. Now that's what I call clever!

(tongue in cheek smiley, please! I used to be a chemist...) 

The intellectual stimulation of science, whatever branch you pursue, is extraordinary. There's a huge satisfaction in understanding things and being able to analyse the apparent complexity of the universe, whether for fun (academic research) profit (industrial science) or the relief of suffering (medical science). Whatever your final destination, you will find it a lot easier to understand and communicate if you have a sound basis of classical physics (the way things work) and elementary mathematics (the language of all sciences).

Most important of all is to cultivate a scientific attitude. Believe only what you see, and explore anything that doesn't make immediate sense. You will have to learn a few things (life is too short to derive every fact and formula from experiment) but it's the critical attitude that distinguishes the scientific mind. 

As for the future: the more we know, the more it seems there is to know, and even when a field of science seems to be mature, engineers will still want to push the boundaries of what can be done with that knowledge, then ask why the product didn't work. So right up to the point where Man has been everywhere, done everything, and found out how to live for ever in the company of other interesting species, you won't be bored.   
« Last Edit: 21/10/2014 09:50:54 by alancalverd »
 

Offline chiralSPO

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Re: How can I become a scientist?
« Reply #3 on: 21/10/2014 16:45:02 »
Yes, the study of chemistry has been experiencing a renaissance since the 1940s or 50s because of the revelations of physics. Physicists gave chemists both a fundamental basis of understanding the structure of atoms and molecules as well as spectroscopic techniques that use everything from radio waves to gamma rays and other physical methods that allow the study and identification and structural elucidation of compounds.

Now that we can understand molecular structure and can identify molecules, it is up to the chemists to design and make new compounds and materials, understand (and exploit) the function of molecules. We also have to pass on our knowledge on the fundamental underpinnings of life to biologists, who can explore systems of even greater complexity.
 

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Re: How can I become a scientist?
« Reply #3 on: 21/10/2014 16:45:02 »

 

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