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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 11 2012: I think this has already been mentioned a couple times; but it seems like in previous times there was a lot of "kitchen science" going on simply because it was interesting and there wasn't anything else to do. Nowadays people are constantly bombarded by distractions like video games, social networking, media being shoved in their face, ever-increasing work hours (look at how many hours on average people work a week now compared to a century ago) etc.. It now takes a real dedicated effort to be able to get yourself away from all that even if you're really passionate about it. Where back in "the day" (pick an era) people would go and tinker with machines and rockets and crazy stuff because it was pretty much the only way to learn (not to mention blowing stuff up is a fun way to pass the time), it's easier today to just read something on arstechnica about a big lab doing something neat to scratch that curious itch.

    That and the whole "economic turmoil" thing makes it difficult to get things done even when you do have the drive...I can think of tons of projects I'd love to work on if only I didn't have to work on not starving.
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      Feb 11 2012: Very true....still, some of us encourage our little ones to tinker away in grandpas tool box of goodies hoping to spark interest in..........anything!!!
      • Feb 14 2012: I definitely think the primary source of a person’s scientific interest lies in their childhood. An article I found (http://www.ijese.com/IJESE_v5n1_Bulunuz.pdf) notes that famous scientists like Einstein and Feynman had “rich and playful childhood experiences with science” that most likely influenced their careers and interest when they got older. I know someone who was one of those kids who was glued to the t.v. and played endless hours of video games. Perhaps this is why he is not passionate about science and actively doing experiments.
        I believe the main component to creating “kitchen” scientists is the impression of strong memories that scientific experiments and learning from them are fun and engaging. These memories need to be strong enough trigger self-motivation. Perhaps even teens and adults can be converted to “kitchen” scientists if they experience something cool and impactful enough.
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          Feb 14 2012: ".......the findings of the study suggest the importance of elementary school science as well as informal science experiences to engender an interest in science."

          How true Andrew...this quote from your mentioned article is pretty much what all of us commenting on this topic have found.

          I will add to your wonderful comment that life, life that is lived surrounded by nature, provides the best lab in the world.

          Sitting in an apartment, on the 12th floor of a high rise, watching tv while playing on a DS and listening to music on an i-pod and texting your friends, will not the next scientist make.
          Of course, I could be wrong.....but I don't think so.

          That is why I posted my last comment a few minutes ago linking the Mike DeGruy talk on "Hooked by an Octopus"....Mike starts the talk explaining how, at the age of five, growing up in Mobile, Alabama was all the incentive he needed to become a marine zoologist.

          Thank you Andrew for the link and the wonderful thoughts. Are you studying science???

          And please, if you get the chance, visit the site JoAnne Cruz linked me to below in her comment.......it shows how young engineer students are making a difference right now through this great program out in California. You will probably enjoy the great videos showing all that goes on out there. It is a must see!!!

          Be Well, Mary
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          Feb 14 2012: How true, Andrew.

          I think one thing that prevents many would-be tinkerers from engaging in kitchen science is that a lot of technology seems to have reached a level of abstraction such that it is impossible for they layman to understand what is going on under the hood. For example, 20 years ago you could fix your own car in your garage. Now, your car has a computer which you need fancy equipment just access. Before, you could fix your transistor radio if you knew anything about circuits and had some time on your hands. Now, you break open the outer case and see an embedded computer.

          Unfortunately, it seems that the popular types of "kitchen science" which have survived are now trite: demonstrations of principles from basic mechanics, Newton's cradle, mixing vinegar and baking soda.

          Perhaps it sounds overly pessimistic, but I do believe we have reached a level of technological sophistication as a society where, in order to make big discoveries, you need at least some measurable amount of capital invested into your project, particularly in terms of education, equipment, and time. In light of this, I'm a big proponent of taking scientific perspectives on everyday activities. Cooking and gardening are two great examples. There's a well established movement of chefs working new science-inspired techniques into their cooking, and new gardening methods are developed all the time.

          I love food in particular, and I tend to break food preparation up into two sections: From the sun's energy to the grocery store, and from the grocery store to the plate. For the former, I suggest the books of Michael Pollan, and for the latter, check out Cooking for Geeks. Michael Pollan also writes fantastically about gardening and botany in general.

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