Posted: Monday, November 12, 2012 4:05:39 AM
“On the outside of an atom, there are electrons. In the center lies the nucleus, which consists of protons and neutrons.” My eighth grade science teacher continued lecturing in this monotonous fashion for the duration of the period. I was relieved when the bell rang because it signaled my freedom from this excruciating boredom.
This feeling was typical for most of my educational career. Science for the most part had been the art of rote memorization and regurgitation. One day I appeared to be an expert biologist and was able to recite the function of every cell organelle. The next week I seemed like an aspiring doctor and was able to name the bones of the human body.
I did not understand why I had to learn about what seemed like insignificant topics. Why did I need to learn that potassium has one valence electron or that the mitochondrion is the site of cellular respiration if I never wanted to be a chemist or a biologist? To me, the emphasis on memorization made science seem pointless.
My perception changed over the spring of the eighth grade when I went on the school-sponsored East Coast trip. During the trip, one of my classmates let me borrow a book, “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson, to read over the plane trip. I was instantly hooked after reading the first page. The third line goes, “for you to be here now trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and intriguingly obliging manner to create you.” I of course already knew this from chemistry, but I had never thought of it that way. Bryson’s description conjured up an image of a whirlwind of atoms spinning to create to create a person and I was fascinated. I was used to the mind-numbing language of science textbooks, so Bryson’s colloquial down-to-earth style captivated me.
“A Short History of Nearly Everything” is a book just as much about history as it is about science. The book explains the various fields of science and their respective origins. I discovered that a lot of science known to man is taken for granted. Many of the fundamental principles of science, such as the theory of relativity, were only discovered within the last century because of the relentless efforts of amazing men and women.
The book also radically changed my view of science as a whole. My favorite chapter is chapter 4, which describes how scientists calculated the diameter of the earth. I realized that science is not just memorizing a bunch of facts, but it is instead an attempt to understand the universe. Newton’s laws were no longer a collection of memorized equations, but instead were now a tool used to understand how the universe works. This revelation gave me a new appreciation of science. After reading the book, I developed a passion for science and stopped trying to blindly memorize and started to try to understand, which is how science should be.