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: And just to share a couple more stories about the need for a proper space to do science, it's not just limited to amateurs. I just finished reading a biography on the two time Nobel prize winner Dr. Marie Curie. Despite already being a published scientist, her later groundbreaking experiments almost didn't happen simply due to a lack of space. This even though only inexpensive and rudimentary equipment was required. From the bio written by her daughter Eve in 1937: " But at least could there not be found, in the numerous buildings attached to the Sorbonne, some kind of suitable workroom to lend to the Curie couple? Apparently not."
    And also for Dr. Bruce Merrifield, the Rockefeller Institute chemist who had to build a lab in his basement in order to build his revolutionary and later Nobel prize winning solid state peptide synthesizer.
    Ah, bureaucracy, just the sort of situations we set out to avoid at Genspace so we could all just get down to the science! Anyway, if you can tell, I'm pretty passionate about having as much open access to science and technology as possible! And, in my opinion, having the right environment is key to accomplishing this.

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