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Abby Emery

University of Texas Freshman Research Initiative

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A social network to link students or curious individuals with experienced scientists

I recently watched a talk by Brian Cox in which he repeatedly made claims that innovation and curiosity - led science have resulted in amazing strides for humanity. Although the point of the talk was meant to influence policy makers by expanding the global budget for research, I was more struck by the simple poetry of human innovation that his talk highlighted.

Near the end of his talk, he read a quote about this tiny blue spec that was planet Earth. He was so blown away by this one idea that such a tiny blue spec suspended in what appeared to be a ray of light could be our home, the base of everything we will ever know. And, the entire time he was talking about this tiny spec -so small you have to know it is there to see it- that held incredible life and importance, I could not help but think of him as the big hearted elephant, Horton, from the beloved children's book that teaches us the value of curiosity and the bravery found in preserving it, no matter how lunatic a conquest. It is rough, and it has probably been tried, but what if there was a system. A system through which every time a curious little elephant hears a "who" (an idea that they are not capable of proving or exploring) could simply use as an outlet for their curiosity. And please, don't point me to yahoo answers.

I am talking about a social network that would specifically link curious students or underfunded organizations to accredited, active scientists in order to bridge the unnecessary gap that exists between science and society. I am talking about something more than a space for comments on youtube.

There are way too many avenues and ideas out there for the science community alone to keep track of, and I would hate to see that beautiful poetry of human innovation be lost in the white noise between scientists and the rest of the world.

In short, I believe that there is value and potential in those tiny crazy ideas that pop into peoples heads before they have the ability to explore them.

Topics: education science
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    Nov 6 2012: There are quite a few "ask a scientist" sites if you look for them.

    These are not social networks in the sense that scientists are giving time to chat with "friends," but do give you a chance to get questions answered.

    Beyond this, if you loosen up your criteria for what constitutes an active scientist, you can, through sites like physics forum, interact with and learn from people who either have or have had a lot of experience working in science.

    Another great site for learning but that lacks the interactive component is Science Daily. It's science news, presented for a lay audience, delivered to your inbox daily.
    • Nov 6 2012: Those sound like great site and places to go, and I am surprised that none of my professors have pointed me in that direction, but idea I have goes beyond the Q and A. It is more of an idea sharing concept than the one way flow of information that reading journals or using search engines provides. Those sites could be a fantastic place to start, but I feel that since ideas or potentially the most personal thing for someone - especially a scientist - to share, why shouldn't idea sharing between the science and lay communities be made more personal than a search engine?
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        Nov 6 2012: I understand what you seek, but for such arrangements to work, they have to work from both sides. Scientists like your professor are interacting with students in their classrooms and in their labs and through their labs these days also do outreach in the community where the university is located. Their big grants typically demand such outreach to the lay community even if they were not inclined to spend such time themselves.

        Many give talks and answer questions for popular audiences as well.

        I just think we have to remember that they also have work to do as active scientists and that there is a best balance of time spent socially and time spent engaged in scientific work.

        It is important to take the needs of science into account as well as the interests of lay communities to engage socially with scientists. The scientists I know don't spend a lot of time on socal networks, because they are engrossed in science and in their students.

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