You are the internet. A gargantuan, frothing heap of constantly changing information, communication and cats. You document some of the greatest leaps in intellect since some slightly disorientated apes decided that walking didn’t seem such a bad idea after all, while ensuring that anyone can have the entire works of Shakespeare at the touch of a button (virtual or otherwise). You’ve also slowly taken over our lives, allowing us spark riots or condemn men after physically speaking to precisely no-one within a few decades. You are what makes us feel like we’re in the future. So this introduction is quite an important one, I feel.
I am a man (but don’t hold that against me), studying physics at undergraduate level in London. I occasionally attempt to contribute to other intelligent conversations in a bid to convince myself that I’m a Well-Rounded Person, but find myself starting to veer towards quantum information or 3D printing and hence, veering back towards the kitchen after a room’s worth of blank faces.
This blog was quite a spontaneous decision that followed my flatmate’s proposal to write about her placement, but personally I think the narcissistic impulse to talk solely about myself for an extended period of time would have won me over sooner or later. The logic that led to this being created was a bit convoluted but essentially followed three simple steps.
- I know a bit about science
- I still don’t know what the hell “being a scientist” really consists of
- I would like someone to tell me what the hell “being a scientist” really consists of
1. I like science (yeah, this is going to come up a lot). It really is fantastic, from the historical um-ing and ah-ing of the natural philosophers, through the unfathomable leaps forward in almost every section of science during the renaissance and arriving at where we are today, paradigm-shifts and technological revolutions to boot. I like hearing people talk about it, whether it’s a new discovery that has popped up on someone’s news feed, or a new “moral issue” raised by a questionable publication that needs to be looked at rather more closely, it’s genuinely satisfying to listen to someone rambling on about something that interests them. And a huge part of why I got into it in the first place boils down to pictures like this:
Either in spoken form, from my parents, or teachers or watching documentaries, this sort of imagery got me hooked. The “EVERYTHING YOU KNOW WAS BORN IN A STAR” talk, or the “YOUR BRAIN IS A BUNDLE OF NERVES AND CHEMICAL REACTIONS THAT CONJURES UP CONSCIOUSNESS” revelations – all in capslock. I was captivated and began to find out as much as I could about well, everything, subsequently become a massive pain to anyone who knew me.
2. This is obviously brilliant. The fact that there is a concerted effort to evoke strong enough reactions from children to get them into science for life is almost a wonder in itself (leaving the current disregard of the humanities aside – that deserves a hell of a lot more time spent on it than one self-centred blog). However, once I found myself Doing Science (in reality meaning as much as Doing Admin or Killing Time), I realised I still had very little idea about it. Aside from a few anecdotes in lectures, I had nothing more than the stereotypes of lab coated, glassware-wielding people looking intelligent to guide me as to what being a scientist actually involved. If I were to take television seriously, I would expect a lifetime striding across the continents, mingling with Brian Cox and David Attenborough as I stumbled across new wonders. I was unaware of even the process of becoming a scientist; of course I knew you needed a few letters here and there after you name but other than that, it was shrouded in mystery, and seemed far too much like the training of a terrible kung-fu B-movie protagonist.
3. So, after (very fortunately) being allowed into France’s Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) to follow real, live scientists around as they fire X-rays and neutrons at various objects, I decided to document my experiences, in the hope of, perhaps, making it more evident what a young scientist actually gets up to in this day and age. It might well have some actual reliable FACTS in it, but will also (hopefully) be interesting to see what life is like in these sorts of institutions.
Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?