TED Conversations

Yu-An Chen


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Why don't we have more "Kitchen" scientists?

When people hear the word "Science", they often think of fancy labs with high technology equipment, and this is not too far off-- In my Bioelectricity class, for example, we learned about patch clamp experiments, which use tiny electrical recorders called micropipettes to record electrical currents from single ion channels in cells, and the voltage clamp experiments performed by Hodgkin and Huxley, in which they managed to thread wires through a single axon! These experiments, and a lot of other important experiments outside this field, require a lot of expensive machinery, chemicals and facilities. But does science always have to be a luxury? For example, instead of using expensive fish-eye lens for photography experiment, we could simply buy a much cheaper door viewer to get the same barrel distortion effect. Or you can go online and buy kits to record from brains, or if you live in New York City, you can join the community laboratory called GenSpace, take workshops, trainings, or can work on our own projects!

How do you think we can help science become more accessible to everyone? The more people, both amateur and professional, who contribute to science, the more ideas will be created!


Closing Statement from Yu-An Chen

Thank you all for the comments and suggestions. I got to know a lot of new resources by going through the comments. It seems like most people will be glad to see more kitchen scientists. We can start with turning off TV and explore more about the world. Science is all around us, if one has the heart, anyone can become a kitchen scientist.

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  • Feb 10 2012: I'm not sure if there are less "kitchen scientists" around than before. I think that a major hurdle to kitchen scientists, then and now,is that having an adequate space to carry out experiments and especially to collaborate in. There is a definite need in having more open biotech labs, where people can carry out their experiments in a non-traditional setting or having parents participating with their kids or students with teachers. As a result, myself and my colleagues decided to found Genspace, a "community biotech laboratory". The equipment can be shared among many members thereby offsetting a lot of the costs. There are a lot of novel experiments that can be carried out relatively inexpensively, if you just factor in the costs of the consumable reagents and materials. But having the space to do the work is a problem. That, coupled with the the costs for some of the few "major" items, like centrifuges, incubator/shakers, PCR machines are still a bit pricey for most people.This despite some occasional great deals on Ebay.
    Interestingly, having access to adequate space to even do groundbreaking research, even for established scientists, has always been a major problem. You would think that someone with academic affiliations or working in a well funded biotech company wouldn't have these problems, but that isn't the case. Especially if you have a new direction or idea that you want to pursue.

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