Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Science is a process...

Grr, my reactor sprung a leak today during my experiment. So much of experimental work is wrapped up in trying to get the routine things to be, well... routine. You'd expect science to be a matter of reading the literature, poking some holes in other people's papers, designing the expts to prove your point and hey presto, a couple of weeks/months later, the results you need to craft a good solid publication. Alas, it seems as though most of my time is spent making sure my gas chromatograph is working, my system is repeatable and if neccesary, make the decision to pull it all apart and double check everything. I'm not sure where i read it but someone said 'i love the sound milestones make as a whizz past them', its a fair description of most scientific work, its impossible to plan sometimes because you keep getting blindsided by stuff that shouldn't be a problem! You also get nailed by stuff you didn't even know was an issue, but thats kinda fun... The trick is to work out a system/process that lets you see mistakes happening and if a mistake can happen again, figure out a test to catch it before you waste a couple months of your time chasing a red herring. Every scientist should have a toolkit of these sorts of tricks for their discipline, building your toolkit is part of what the studying is for.
Hence the title of this post, you have to enjoy doing science, not just the end result. I think it's a little like playing an instrument, the good players are usually the ones who enjoy practicing or playing the instrument with their friends for their own pleasure, the outcome is kinda incidental to the act.
I also found out i am supervising a group of second years in their phys chem lectures in a week or so. It's kinda depressing to read the questions, know that you knew how to do these once but have now forgotten and then realising that at the age of 32, it's been 14 years since you did stage II phys chem... i see a few hours revision in the near future.


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