Science Borealis

Science Borealis
Science Borealis

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Again! do it again!

Have you ever had an event that made you wonder about an idea which up to that point was so obvious you never stopped to think about its true meaning?

Well, it happened to me today.

I attended a great talk by Dr. Effie Sauer, who teaches at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus. She was telling us how they provide their undergraduate chemistry students with "real scientific research" experience. Which brings up the question (which were eloquently presented today as part of the talk) , what are the objectives of such a course? What are students suppose to learn from such a course?
The answer (of which I'm only bringing up only a small portion, with my apologies to Dr. Sauer) is :

In real science, things don't always work. In fact, they usually don't work the first time around (and mostly not even the second time around).

The problem with undergraduate chemistry teaching in universities (and correct me if your university is an exception) is that students are usually given experiments which work. They've been tested for years all across the globe, and everyone knows they work, which is great, since the students get a sense of accomplishment (if it works), and everyone is happy.
Real science doesn't work like that. Actual research is about not knowing what you get, and more often than not, you don't even know why it didn't work.

And then it hit me - why do we call it "Re - Search" ?

Looking up the etymological background, I've found that the "Re" implies repetition, performing a tack intensively. The "Search" is the seeking part.

So what do we get ? Seeking! Again! and Again! and Again!

 Why do we do it again? because it didn't work!!!!

And to think that I've been doing research for so many years, and not thinking about this obvious use of the term "Research"!

(I should point out that when I was doing my undergraduate degree in Chemistry, during the organic labs, some reactions did actually fail. At that we would confront our instructor and say "hey, this doesn't work!" as which we were told "yeh, it never did". My fellow students and I felt deceived. They knew it didn't work and made us do all this work for nothing. Peh. - shows you how little appreciation I had for failure at that stage)

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