Sep
13
2007

What inspired you?

A library seems like a good place to get into science.: Photo courtesy Oolong via Flickr.
A library seems like a good place to get into science.: Photo courtesy Oolong via Flickr.
Science Buzz got what I think is a pretty cool question recently, and I'd like everyone to please take a minute to read it, and to think about a response.

Where can you go to really get into science as a kid. I want to get good experience so I can cure diseases! (Other than the Science Museum.)

Take a minute to leave your recommendation for a place kids can go, other than the Science Museum of Minnesota, to really "get into" science. Or leave a story about what it was that got you inspired about science when you were a kid. What keeps you inspired about science?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Liza's picture
Liza says:

Oh, this is a great question!

"Science" is all about asking questions and seeing patterns. The best questions are ones that can be answered by testing hypotheses.

That said, you don't have to go far to get into science: your own back yard, or street, is a good place to start. You can watch the migration of birds and butterflies, the development of insects, the life cycles of plants, the basic ecology of your neighborhood, weather phenomena, and simple astronomy. You don't have to leave home to participate in the "citizen science" programs. (That link is to a few national programs and a bunch in Maine or on the East Coast. But if you Google "citizen science" and "Minnesota," a bunch of local opportunities pop up--just about anything you could possibly be interested in!)

Your public library is also a tremendous resource. Dream up any question, and then ask the librarian for help. He or she will be happy to help you find some simple experiments to try, or further reading on just about any subject.

Here in Saint Paul, we're lucky to be surrounded by all sorts of great nature centers. One of my favorites is the Maplewood Nature Center, just east of the city. There's a visitor center, self-guided trails, and all sorts of activities supported by naturalists and volunteer staff. Any time of year, and any time of day, there's something to notice out there.

You don't say how old you are. If you're older than 14, you can volunteer at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota. It's a great way to learn about the basic biology and behavior of animals, as well as injury and disease. (Youth older than 14 also have a few opportunities with The Raptor Center, which heals injured and sick birds of prey.)

Similarly, you might be able to volunteer at a hospital. Children's Hospital, in Saint Paul, has opportunities for teens and adults.

And there are lots of opportunities for kids in high school to participate in research programs at area colleges. Keep your eyes open for those, and let your science teacher and guidance counselor know you're interested.

As a child, I had a subscription to a program called "Things of Science." Every week(?) I got a manilla envelope in the mail. It contained instructions for a variety of simple experiments, as well as most of the supplies needed to perform them. (It was all stuff like paper clips and rubber bands, or stuff you could find in your kitchen.) I loved "Things of Science." Maybe it was because I was the oldest of four children, and the hour or two I spent with that envelope was some of my only one-on-one time with a parent, but it was also very satisfying to suddenly understand some phenomena, and to realize it was happening all around me.

It's not important to specialize yet. It IS important to hone your question-asking skills, and your sense of wonder, and to have some experiences where you conduct experiments or see/participate in the application of science.

Look out world! Here you come!

posted on Thu, 09/13/2007 - 10:57am
mdr's picture
mdr says:

My interest in science was first sparked by toy dinosaurs that came in a box of cereal. Suddenly, I wanted to explore all things prehistoric. Back then it wasn’t like it is now, there wasn’t really much reading material available about dinosaurs, etc. But a few books did exist, and the best were a couple by Roy Chapman Andrews, an explorer for New York’s American Museum of Natural History, who later became the inspiration for the Indiana Jones movies. Andrews’s two best children's books were ALL ABOUT DINOSAURS and ALL ABOUT STRANGE BEASTS OF THE PAST, recountings of his expeditions to China and Mongolia. It was thrilling to read about Roy’s adventures in the Gobi Desert, about finding dinosaurs and other fossils. I wanted to be an explorer just like he was.

The great thing about growing up in Duluth, Minnesota was that it was a great place to explore. Our neighborhood was on the very northeastern edge of the city, our house a block from the start of a vast expanse of woods that seemed to go on forever. My friends and I would often follow the Lester River up into the hills and spend our days exploring the backcountry. Or sometimes we’d hike along shoreline of Lake Superior, hunting for agates, or just skipping stones.

Unfortunately, Duluth didn't have much in the way of fossils, since the region is built upon billion-year-old igneous rocks that usually don’t contain fossils. But that didn’t stop me from looking. And I did manage to find a couple, but these came out of glacial till that had been carried into the area from somewhere else.

My folks were originally from the Twin Cities and one weekend, when I was about 10 or 11 we were in St. Paul for a family reunion picnic at Cherokee Park atop the bluffs across from downtown. Eventually I was off exploring the immediate area, climbing my way down the face of the bluff. When I reached the bottom, I found myself standing before a huge quarry, surrounded by walls of sedimentary rocks: shale on top of limestone on top of shale. An old rusting steam shovel set idly in the middle of it all.

As I walked along I picked up a rock to examine it and was shocked to see it contained a strikingly beautiful fossil of bryozoans, early marine creatures that lived in colonies like coral (I still have this fossil). In fact, all the rocks I picked up contained fossils. They were everywhere! I was in Hog Heaven.

I loaded up my pockets with as many fossils as I could and climbed back to the picnic, proudly showing my finds to everyone there. That evening, as we headed back to Duluth, I recounted my adventure to my family, glowing with the satisfaction of a successful day of exploration.

As it turns out, by pure chance, I had stumbled upon the old Twin Cities Brick Company quarries, a site that remains to this day the premiere fossil collecting location in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and a place I’ve revisited many times as an adult.

See what a little exploring can do?

posted on Fri, 09/14/2007 - 1:36pm
bryan kennedy's picture

Well if you ever make it over to London make sure to check out this really interesting museum:
The Old Operating Theatre - It is a museum of medical history and is built into a several hundreds year old building full of creaks, tight spiral staircases, and more weird medical history than you can shake a amputation saw at. I just got back from a trip over there and was totally wowed by this place.

On a more local note I would totally recommend the Bakken, a museum focused on electricity. It totally reminds me of a museum I used to explore as a child.

When I was a kid I also went on a bunch of tours with my parents. We went on tours of dams, candy factories, space centers, police stations, military bases, and even whiskey distilleries. Try getting your parents or school groups to organize some tours of places with a science focus. There is nothing like seeing science in action in real labs and real factories. You could see about tours at some of the big sci-tech companies here in town, 3M, Medtronic, and Ecolab jump to mind immediately. But there is also a heap load of companies here in the Twin Cities that focus on food science in places like Pearsons candy factory (who sadly don't give tours), General Mills, and even Summit Brewing company. I was fascinated by touring old whiskey distilleries when I was a child in Kentucky. The brewmasters knew so much about chemistry and the different reactions that go on with natural materials used in the process. I also think its easy to understand the science behind this process without encouraging underage drinking.

posted on Mon, 09/24/2007 - 5:37pm

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