Science is awesome

I can’t believe how quickly April is flying by. It also means, unfortunately, that my one and only exam is pending. It’s happening this Friday, the 26th, at 9 a.m. The course is called Power, Change and Technology. It’s a course that deals with the implications of technology in today’s society, and tackles big questions like “Who is in control?” It seems like a broad question, and one might say “Politicians are in control” or “We as consumers are in control” but what if technology itself is in control of our society? It’s an unsettling thought, no doubt, but it’s one to consider.

So as a means of perhaps helping myself study without poring over my notes and readings, up to Friday I might be posting some stuff related to this course, and I hope I’ll be able to write it out in a way that’s at least mildly interesting. Today will function as a bit of a segue into my talking about technology.

To reiterate this post’s title: science is awesome.

Despite the fact that I’m just about to finish a program based on writing, I’ve always been somewhat interested in the sciences, even though I hate with a passion their close counterpart that is mathematics.

They’re inseparable, unfortunately, so some math bled into the chemistry courses I did in grade eleven and twelve, but somehow my love for chemistry outweighed my detest of math. The chemistry love goes back all the way to grade seven, before I really even had an inkling of what chemistry was all about. In my middle school, we would get agendas/planners every year. In the back of each planner were some interesting additions like world maps (with world capitals at the bottom) and a periodic table.

One night after school when I was but twelve years old, I decided to start memorizing the elements of the period table. I didn’t really know why the table was organized the way it was (something I didn’t learn until grade nine or ten, roughly) but I found it a challenge to start learning the symbols and what they corresponded to. A mystery to me also was why some elements had chemical symbols that had no relation to their name. They did, I just wasn’t aware. For example, Au is the symbol for gold, which comes from gold’s latin name, aurum. Pb is the symbol for lead, which comes from its latin name, plumbum.

Even now, I can recite the first 56 or so elements on the periodic table in order by memory, and I can name pretty much every element by its symbol. This imprint on memory isn’t going to be extremely useful in my future, but I like that a bit of my memorization of scientific terms has struck with me.

When I left high school and started working, I began to read books on science every once in a while. One of the first I remember reading was The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. It’s extremely accessible science reading about neuroplasticity, the idea that those who suffer brain damage can regain some supposedly lost brain function because of the brain’s innate ability to adapt. It’s extremely pertinent to me now, as about a month ago my grandmother had a stroke and got a diagnosis of aphasia, which has limited her ability to communicate as effectively as she once could.

I really liked Sam Kean’s book The Disappearing Spoon which tells the tales of various elements. The book title comes from the element gallium. It has a very low melting point, and can actually melt in one’s hand when held. It becomes a classic prank by scientists who serve their guests tea or soup with gallium spoons, and so as soon as someone puts their spoon into the hot liquid it melts.

This summer I had the pleasure of reading my very first Bill Bryson book, A Short History of Nearly Everything. Also a stellar bit of easy-to-digest writing, Bryson covers a huge range of scientific topics from biology to paleontology to geology to chemistry. He also focuses on the character of the scientists who have made such interesting discoveries, often showing how weird and competitive they can be.

So to say it one more time, science is awesome. However, science is not a universally good thing, more of which I will explain tomorrow.

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