We need scientists. Proper scientists. People who will look at the world and wonder. People who will want to know, want to understand, want to find out. These are the people who have always dragged society along, sometimes kicking and screaming, into a new age of enlightenment and endeavour.
Just go onto any news site, look at the science section, and try not to find yourself amazed and bamboozled by discoveries and stories stranger than anything imagined. You’ll find stories about Pluto having cryovolcanoes that erupt an “icy slush”. You’ll find stories of scientists creating beams of neutrinos aimed at helping forensic investigators and archaeologists find the molecular changes that occur when bones burn. You’ll see photos of the oldest stars in the known universe; some that were born when the universe was just 300 million years old, making them older than our milky way at 13 billion years old. You’ll see how researchers have linked a particular fold in the brain to hallucinations in schizophrenia. Then there’s solar winds eradicating the atmosphere on Mars, a tsunami lab, and plans to send humans to Mars. There are so many interesting things going on, everybody should be interested in learning about it! And if you’re still not interested, watch The Martian by Ridley Scott and tell me you weren’t entertained by a two hour movie about someone using science to stay alive.
As you may tell, I love science. I love the world and the universe, and so naturally science excites me. But I am writing this because we have some gargantuan challenges ahead of us as a species. While I do find science inherently interesting and there needs to be no further reason to study it than that, it is also our greatest tool in our fight for survival.
Nearly a billion people are malnourished on this planet; and food security is a huge issue that needs to be addressed. With an increase in extreme weather conditions predicted (and already being observed) due to climate change, more droughts and floods makes feeding the world a whole lot tougher. Climate change itself is acidifying oceans, spreading diseases, allowing invasive species to flourish, swallowing islands, and killing people. Our 100 year love affair with antibiotics, which has saved countless lives and allowed our population to explode, may be drawing to an end as antibiotic resistance is reaching “dangerously high levels” according to the World Health Organisation. We will eventually run out of fossil fuels and have to find new ways to fuel our lifestyles (or completely change how we live). Clean and fresh drinking water is becoming desperately hard to come by in some parts of the world – These are just some of the huge issues facing us today.
All of this may seem like a huge cause for pessimism, but it also is a huge call to arms. The people who will fight this seemingly impossible battle will be the scientists. They are the ones who will create new technologies, research new medicines, develop new crops, or stumble across a solution to a perplexing problem completely unwittingly, not because they were actively looking in that particular field, but simply because they were looking.
We need to take science out of the classroom. We need to talk about it, think about it, wonder about it. All it takes to be a scientist is an active imagination and a curious outlook. Anyone can do it. So why not start?