This year I’m thankful for science

One night I went back to the lab after singing lullabies and saying prayers with the kids. I was in the middle of my doctorate program and evenings back at the lab were pretty routine. I was doing an experiment where I was attempting to describe the embryological development of a type of microscopic worm.

In the course of the evening, I discovered that, if I was patient, I could watch the cells divide in two. This was so exciting to me that I completely lost track of time. The next thing I knew it was two in the morning.

My situation raised an interesting dilemma. Perhaps my female readers could advise as to whether I handled this properly or not. The question?  Does one call home and tell one’s wife, “I am sorry to be so late, Dear. I will be right there. I have been watching eggs divide?” Or should one simply go home and hope one’s wife does not wake up and demand to know where one has been? Then one would have to say, “Watching eggs divide.”

However it should have been handled, I called my wife, woke her up, and explained as best I could. Luckily, we had already been married for some time and had three children together, and she was well aware that I didn’t have much of a life. So she believed every word. 

I’ve been pretty lucky to be a scientist. I am thankful that somehow the other scientists have let me play. I am especially grateful that my wife has always let me go back to the lab at night, even though I suppose that is akin to saying that I choose nematodes or mosquitoes over her. 

I am really grateful to all my colleagues with the big grants and public accomplishments because it has allowed me to continue to work on a lot of useless, but fascinating, stuff below the radar. I am also grateful to the few agencies that have occasionally funded my interests. (Otherwise I would have had to experiment at home on my children.) 

I am really thankful that science has an entire branch devoted to fiction. This has enabled a former English major like me to feel at home. This isn’t true of every field, you know. I have never heard of accounting fiction, or building-and-construction fiction. (“Ender’s Game” is so much more interesting sounding than “Smith, Kline, Amberhurst, and Ditz Accounting Game.”)

I am thankful that science is so fascinating to children. I mean, we can microwave bars of soap, smash tennis balls frozen in liquid nitrogen, boil purple cabbage to make indicator dyes and feed kids beets to make their urine turn red. I am also thankful that kids are so gullible. Science is about the only thing that keeps this grandfather marginally relevant. (Grandmas seem to stay relevant without the props.)

I am thankful for my colleagues who know statistics. I am thankful for significant figures so I can just round things off. I am even thankful for the metric system. So there!

I am thankful that in America there is a place for late bloomers. That’s what my graduate adviser called me when he let me join his lab. I am also thankful for the day he told me I probably knew more about my research topic than anyone else in the world. (Thanks for the mentoring and friendship, Dr. Andersen.)

I am thankful for my career as a scientist. I’ve been able to ask, and try to answer, interesting questions. More often than not those answers have created more questions, such as, “Why is the data so messed up?” “Why didn’t the controls work this time?”

I’m thankful that the Daily Sentinel allows me to write this silly, I mean Simply Science column. I am thankful for the world because it is such a fascinating place to play.

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor of biology at Colorado Mesa University.


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