Wanted: Good Observers
In the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind. – Louis Pasteur
Karen A. Newman
The above quote is a reminder on the wall of Frank H. Andres’ laboratory, where for
the past 13 years the researcher has carefully observed and recorded what he sees
through the lens of his microscope.
Back in February, I wrote in this column about a study, produced
by a classroom of young children and their teacher, on the ability of bees to learn
to solve puzzles. The children said the study taught them that science is cool.
Shortly after the piece ran, I received an e-mail from Frank, who indicated that
the column had really struck a chord with him. On the phone a few weeks later, he
explained that he has been on a journey of discovery throughout his life, and he
reminisced about his grandmother training him to be a good observer by studying
monarch butterflies visiting milkweed plants to lay their eggs.
Since that momentous introduction to scientific observation, Frank
has explored a wide variety of interests; his career has included research into
submarine propulsion engines, communication satellites and crystal growing for Ted
Maiman’s first laser group at Hughes, to name a few. Today, at 85, he toils
in what he calls his laundry room laboratory, captivated by the organisms he sees
in his microscope and convinced of the research implications for medicine and industry.
He believes that what he has recorded is pretty fabulous and should be placed into
the hands of a younger person who is equipped to be a good observer. The problem
is, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to make that happen.
“I gotta tell you, at my age, none of this is driven by
ego,” Frank told me. “I just want to make sure that all of these things
that I’ve seen are not lost. I know there are other Frank Andreses out there
who can take off and run with this stuff.” By that, he means other young people
fascinated, as he has been, with observing the world around them.
But all of this makes me wonder how many unnamed Frank Andreses
are out there devoting lives, careers or maybe just their retirement years to solving
a problem, proving a theory or observing some fascinating activity through the lens
of a microscope – activity that might one day make a difference in this world,
if only he or she could get it into the right hands. In this age of instant global
communication and crowd sourcing, surely there are ways to share these dedicated
researchers’ myriad observations, to get it all in front of capable young
minds who may be able to further the explorations.
What do you think? Is there something we can do to help the Frank
Andreses of the world share their research? Please send your ideas to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we debate what we may be able to do in that regard, perhaps
we also could consider how we can help keep science education strong in our schools
because, as Frank says, “On this earth, we’re going to have to have
people around who can observe what’s going on around them.”
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