Perspectives from science
How can astronomers find planets orbiting a star thousands of light-years away?
Why can’t I chop onions without crying?
How does radiation change DNA?
Is the five-second rule true?
There has always been the voice of a curious kid inside my head, and science has been there to explain the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’. I studied science at UQ and now work in a neuroinflammation lab at the St Lucia campus. My education and job in scientific research has changed my approach to life. Science emphasises the importance of persistence, collaboration, perspective and imagination.
If you ask anyone in scientific research, they will confirm that the job includes a lot of setbacks, troubleshooting and optimising. Working in research has been a fast-track course in persistence! Likewise, during my science education at UQ, I learnt about the profound perseverance of life. Throughout billions of years, Earth has gone through sweltering volcanic activity, global arctic conditions and multiple mass extinctions; yet, life remains – astounding!
A near-microscopic, adorable animal called tardigrades (or “moss piglets”) can survive extreme temperatures and pressures, dehydration and the hostility of outer space. Yes, I think they have superpowers! I suggest wearing a tardigrade outfit at the next superhero themed party – you’ll surely stand out.
Learning about the robust nature of life and working in research has shown me the value of persistence. Long-term commitment and perseverance can achieve remarkable results. This can translate to scientific discovery, career achievements, a hobby or personal growth. Believing in the power of persistence has given me the confidence to know that anything is achievable.
Here at UQ, the community of researchers are immensely passionate about scientific innovation and discovery. I study a terminal neurodegenerative disease called motor neurone disease (MND), which is unremitting and heartbreaking. Recently, research groups and neurologists gathered together with the MND and Me foundation to share our latest work.
Collaboration is central to generating novel ideas and inspiring each other. Inspiration also comes from meeting patients who are living with this terrible disease. When I speak with them, it is evident they believe in the scientific process and us. It is their hope and trust that drives the research teams to fight fiercely for an effective treatment.
Science may be built on a foundation of reason and objectivity, but working in the field highlights the significance of collaboration, gratitude, purpose and relationships.
In science, it’s crucial to understand both the finer details and the big picture. In the 19th century, scientists discovered that the diseases plaguing city dwellings were spreading via germs. Understanding the fundamentals of how bacteria and viruses function has led to improved hygiene, antibiotics and vaccinations; saving millions of people.
Consideration of the details is not only instrumental for scientific discovery but also for personal growth. I’ve learned that “small” habits or choices can have a big influence. However, sometimes focusing on the details can blind our view of the bigger picture. For a shift in perspective, we may need to take a step back. Or, perhaps a 400-kilometre step upwards to the International Space Station! Astronauts who have seen the Earth from space describe a cognitive transformation called the ‘overview effect’.
This cosmic perspective allows them to see the big picture and appreciate what is truly important. Not all of us can fly to space (yet), but we can make a conscious effort to take a step back and acknowledge the overall situation. This vantage point can grant gratitude, insight and solutions in our professional and personal lives.
UQ's mantra is to 'Create Change'. Change can come about from critical thinking and imagination. These skills have produced some of the most incredible scientific breakthroughs. Einstein had an astonishing imagination to propose that space-time is warped by gravity, or that time is relative.
Taking our observations and using creativity to determine how the whole puzzle fits together is a world-changing skill. This may be imagining why a disease process is pathological and how it can be altered with a therapeutic drug. Or, this may be in our personal lives, imagining a better life and creating change to achieve it.
Science has not only delivered perspective, gratitude and perseverance; it has also offered funny hypothetical discussions with my colleagues. We debate the future of science, technology, humankind and culture.
These discussions are about intellectual exploration, lateral thinking, and discovering who we are as individuals. An education, and a job, in scientific research here at UQ has transformed how I approach all aspects of my life. I believe that once you see the beauty and power of science, it changes you – maybe we could call it the ‘science effect’.