Sunday, May 29, 2005

Awakening My Inner Science Geek

Never ask a reporter something unless you really want to know the answer. It’s kind of like a compulsion with us--if someone raises a question, we are pre-programmed to embark on a quest for the answer, not stopping until we have ferreted out the truth.

And I’m the best (worst?) example of this peculiarity. Why, just the other day, an acquaintance asked me a very innocent question: “What keeps Earth in orbit around the sun?” Now, I have a basic understanding of this concept. It’s gravity, of course. I learned that in grade school. But what is gravity? Why does it keep Earth in orbit around the sun? Uh-oh. As a reporter, I lack the capacity to be satisfied by such a simple answer. I have to know every detail. To this end, I set out on a search for an in-depth understanding of gravity.

The situation was made worse by the fact that I am science-prone. By this, I mean that I have always had a deep and hypnotic fascination with all things scientific. As a child, I was enthralled by astronomy and archaeology. I wanted to discover a new comet, unearth the lost city of Atlantis, find proof of intelligent life in the universe. (To date, I am still consumed by the fruitless quest to find intelligent life on my own planet. But I digress.) I long ago abandoned these missions, in favor of more practical pursuits. I became a journalist, and the answers I sought were more along the lines of: What’s the best way to choose a name for your business? What are the benefits of outsourcing? How many jobs will the new refinery bring to the state?

My friend’s seemingly benign question, however, awakened my inner science geek, and this time there was no turning back. Recently, I have immersed myself in books about physics and astronomy, and I have no intention of coming back to Earth anytime soon. Frankly, I like it better out here. And who knows, maybe I will at last find signs of intelligent life. I won’t hold my breath, though.


“Touch a scientist and you touch a child.”
Ray Bradbury, author (from the LA Times, August 1976)

“The most wonderful discovery made by scientists is science itself.”
Jacob Bronowski, mathematician, scientist (from A Sense of the Future New American Library 77.)
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