Jump to content


Photo

How Did Your Interest In Science Develop?

  • Please log in to reply
52 replies to this topic

#1 llanitedave

llanitedave

    Humble Megalomaniac

  • *****
  • Posts: 22361
  • Joined: 25 Sep 2005
  • Loc: Amargosa Valley, NV, USA

Posted 15 November 2013 - 02:26 AM

A while back there was a thread about whether a formal education is a necessary ingredient to scientific literacy. That got me thinking about a related topic -- everyone on this forum, whether trained scientist or not, is part of a self-selected group of intelligent people who have a keen interest in one or more of the sciences -- almost certainly astronomy, but often other sciences as well or even all of them.

I wondered whether this kind of interest is something inborn, something that grows spontaneously, or something that's triggered by experience. I'm hoping that most people will be willing to share their experience of science enjoyment.

As for myself, I don't remember a time, ever, that I wasn't interested in scientific topics of all kinds. When I was very young, my parents did the best thing they ever could have done (besides refraining from strangling me on numerous occasions), by buying me the Life book called "The World We Live In". I poured over that book, and intensely studied all the wonderful illustrations. Several of those images remain with me to this day, including this one by Chesely Bonestell depicting the violent infancy of the Earth, Rudolph Zallinger's Age of Reptiles, and plates from the Mount Palomar Hale Telescope, showing galaxies at the then-unimaginable distance of 5 billion light years.

My interest in all things space-related was permanently affixed by the Apollo program. I watched Neil Armstrong's first steps on the Moon with my Grandmother, born in 1892, and the look of rapturous joy on her face made just as much an indelible impression on my mind as did the television images themselves.

In junior high, my parents responded to my incessant nagging by buying me the Edmund Scientific 3" reflecting telescope. Illustrated here from the blog of CN's own Rod Mollise. Through that I had my first view of Saturn, of the Moon's craters, of Mizar, of the Orion Nebula, and I was hooked. In high school I got a part time job so that I could buy with my own money, the next higher model, the 4 1/4" Deluxe Space Conqueror. I used that during the Apollo 15 mission, and with it I could actually glimpse Hadley Rille at the same moment that the astronauts were driving their rover alongside it. I couldn't imagine a better rush.

In the late 1970's, while serving in the U.S. Navy, I bought a 10" Coulter mirror for $105.50 and built a telescope around it. It had a square plywood tube and a fork mount made of 2 x 4s. It was a bouncy mount, but I didn't care. I had a BIG telescope, and that mirror was wonderful!

During that same period I made a couple of backpacking trips to Big Bend National Park in far west Texas, my first experience with the desert and my first real exposure to geology after growing up in the Louisiana swamps. That, combined with a seemingly minor observation on a beach in Spain, cemented both my interest and my confidence in things geological. Much as I loved and still love astronomy, geology gave me things I could hold in my hand, turn over, dig into, and stomp on. By the time I left the Navy in 1980, I had the GI Bill available to me, and I knew where I wanted to take it.

I began working professionally as a geologist in 1987, and with the exception of an ill-considered year as a database developer in the mid-1990s, I haven't looked back. Science of all kinds has enriched my life in incredible ways, and not for a single minute have I ever regretted developing a passion and following it wherever it might lead. I can't imagine ever having wanted to do anything else with my life.

So, that's my story (And I'm sticking to it!) What about the rest of you? How did you get interested in science, and how has that interest expressed itself in your life? I'm really curious to know.

#2 UND_astrophysics

UND_astrophysics

    Ranger 4

  • -----
  • Posts: 323
  • Joined: 19 Jan 2013

Posted 15 November 2013 - 04:35 AM

I grew up mainly overseas in Africa and the Middle East for my formative years,(watched COSMOS on BETAMAX cassettes mailed from the states)but my determination grew In 1987 when I had just enlisted in the Army, I had to serve 4 years to get my G.I. Bill. By then I was ready to get out to become a civilian and I enrolled at the university for my first degree in 1991. I had always loved science, but did not really have the money to start formal training until I could afford it. My next stint was working for 10 years in the former Soviet Union, (Worked with everyone from former members of the Soviet/Russian VVS to one of the designers of the BURAN heat shield system) and then back in the USA as a hardware software designer and technician. Now I am back at it again working on yet another degree. Learning never stops no matter what age. But yeah, G.I. Bill helped me too.

#3 Charlie B

Charlie B

    Viking 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 960
  • Joined: 22 Mar 2008
  • Loc: Sterling, Virginia

Posted 15 November 2013 - 09:30 AM

But yeah, G.I. Bill helped me too.



It helped a lot of us. I joined the USAF at seventeen, wanting to be an astronaut. However, my eyesight kept me out of the Air Force Academy. I served 12 years before deciding to leave and go to school on the GI bill (Viet Nam era). I managed to complete my BSEE and half of my MSEE on the bill and finished my MS on my own.

At that time, I thought that I was finished with school, but I was always interested in astronomy and space and started taking a few graduate courses (e.g., High Energy Astrophysics) and a couple of my professors convinced me to continue for my doctorate. I completed my dissertation in radio and x-ray astronomy and pursued this course part-time for a number of years, but could not afford to actually work in the field (engineering paid much more). Now I am an avid backyard astro-photographer. I have not submitted to a professional journal in three years and likely will not in the foreseeable future.

Like Dave, I ruined my eyes reading Compton's Encyclopedia on science subjects. I'm also an avid SF reader and have been since about age 8.

Regards,

Charlie B

#4 PeterR280

PeterR280

    Apollo

  • *****
  • Posts: 1185
  • Joined: 27 May 2013

Posted 15 November 2013 - 09:45 AM

When I was 8 years old, an older friend told me that if I traveled faster than light I would go back in time. That thought fascinated me and I started to learn about physics and science from then on. My mother was also very involved when I was very young. We used to solve math problems together. I started studying electrical engineering but quickly changed major to physics and went on to graduate work in physics. I never finished. The academic world was not attractive to me at the time. I am still trying to figure out how to go back in time.

#5 UND_astrophysics

UND_astrophysics

    Ranger 4

  • -----
  • Posts: 323
  • Joined: 19 Jan 2013

Posted 15 November 2013 - 10:05 AM

When I was 8 years old, an older friend told me that if I traveled faster than light I would go back in time. That thought fascinated me and I started to learn about physics and science from then on. My mother was also very involved when I was very young. We used to solve math problems together. I started studying electrical engineering but quickly changed major to physics and went on to graduate work in physics. I never finished. The academic world was not attractive to me at the time. I am still trying to figure out how to go back in time.


You can always finish when the time is right for you

#6 PeterR280

PeterR280

    Apollo

  • *****
  • Posts: 1185
  • Joined: 27 May 2013

Posted 15 November 2013 - 10:24 AM

going back to graduate physics is not all that easy. the level of math is quite involved so it's not easy to relearn after 40 years. While I remember most concepts, solving an involved differential equation would be hard for me now. The field has also changed quite a bit. A lot of new developments.

#7 llanitedave

llanitedave

    Humble Megalomaniac

  • *****
  • Posts: 22361
  • Joined: 25 Sep 2005
  • Loc: Amargosa Valley, NV, USA

Posted 15 November 2013 - 10:37 AM

One of the interesting consequences of reading lots of science books while very young, for me at least, was seeing how different sources can contradict one another. Where I grew up the school culture was rather authoritarian in the sense of "if that's what the textbook says, it can't be wrong." Realizing that the textbook CAN be wrong, and that there are ways of figuring out where the mistakes are, turned me away from blind trust to authority at a fairly young age.

#8 Charlie B

Charlie B

    Viking 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 960
  • Joined: 22 Mar 2008
  • Loc: Sterling, Virginia

Posted 15 November 2013 - 10:39 AM

I joined the USAF at seventeen, wanting to be an astronaut.


As a postscript, I did get close to astronauts. I was stationed at Patrick AFB FL and maintained down range communications for Cape Kennedy. Neil Armstrong once held the door for me to carry equipment into ARIA control. However, I did not recognize him and later a co-worker told me who he was. I regret to this day that I did not look at his name tag, but only at the eagles on his shoulder. The launch while I was there was Apollo 13 (go figure).

Regards,

Charlie B

#9 llanitedave

llanitedave

    Humble Megalomaniac

  • *****
  • Posts: 22361
  • Joined: 25 Sep 2005
  • Loc: Amargosa Valley, NV, USA

Posted 15 November 2013 - 11:00 AM

Fantastic story, Charlie! I never met an astronaut (unless you count events where they were public speakers -- I did meet Alan Shepard that way), but one of the highlights of my professional life was a visit to the Lunar Lab at the Johnson Space Center. I was trying to develop a tracking and distribution system for samples from the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project -- we had a limited number of samples(although at that time in the 10's of thousands and growing rapidly), and a pretty large group of national laboratories and university research centers that wanted access to them. It was a similar, but certainly not as intense, problem that the Lunar Lab had already faced and resolved. So, I was able to go visit and talk to them about their issues. In the course of it, I was privileged to be on hand for the extraction of one of the Apollo 14 core samples. It was like a group of surgeons gathered for a major operation, except in this case the patient was 3.8 billion years old. But the sterile masks, the hoods, the gloves, the positive pressure airlock in the room, and the white suits were all part of the atmosphere, The technician very carefully removed tiny segments using a 1cc scoop, and placed each one in an individual bin. Each core tube and each sample bin was individually catalogued.

In some respects their system was less sophisticated than ours, being pretty much pre-desktop computer, but it was quite rigorous, and we had plenty of ideas to consider adopting. I still smile when I think of that day.

#10 Charlie B

Charlie B

    Viking 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 960
  • Joined: 22 Mar 2008
  • Loc: Sterling, Virginia

Posted 15 November 2013 - 11:07 AM

Where I grew up the school culture was rather authoritarian in the sense of "if that's what the textbook says, it can't be wrong."



Me too and my kids! I remember how shocked they were when I once corrected their textbook.

Charlie B

#11 Charlie B

Charlie B

    Viking 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 960
  • Joined: 22 Mar 2008
  • Loc: Sterling, Virginia

Posted 15 November 2013 - 11:12 AM

going back to graduate physics is not all that easy. the level of math is quite involved so it's not easy to relearn after 40 years. While I remember most concepts, solving an involved differential equation would be hard for me now. The field has also changed quite a bit. A lot of new developments.



True, but it really depends on how much you want it. I did not go back until my kids were grown and in many cases I sweated blood. Plus, I was working full time and going to school at night. It took about 10 years to finish, but I thought it was worth it. It really was a labor of love.

Charlie B

#12 maugi88

maugi88

    Postasaurusrex

  • -----
  • Posts: 3354
  • Joined: 25 Aug 2013
  • Loc: SE MN

Posted 15 November 2013 - 11:53 AM

When I was a child we went to Florida on vacation and one the stops was the Kennedy Space Center. I was in awe of the huge rocket laying on its side and the building they built it in. I was only about 5 years old. My father died in a snowmobile accident when I was 9. I had a twin brother (who has also left us) and we used to sleep under the stars in the back yard with our older brother who was running the planetarium at UWL as a teenager. He was and still is quite brilliant, I didn't get that gene or I had to split the family smarts with my twin so I only got half. Anyway we would ask him questions all night long. He bought us a 3" refractor that we dabbled with but couldn't find much. I remember finding Saturn once and it quickly moved out of frame and was lost. Frustrated, I stopped looking thru things and just looked up when I had the chance. I watched a program hosted by Carl Sagan (not sure if that spelled right) and really loved everything I heard. I was really interested in aerospace and space exploration in my teens years and wanted to be a fighter pilot. Then I had an unfortunate period of drug and alcohol abuse thru my teens and all the great childhood plans went out the window. What a waste!! Thru even that I loved science magazines and tv programs. In the late nineties I finally got my act together and quit the idiotic things and got serious about living my life. I got a pilots license and even joined the CAP. I have not flown in years due to the expense and my family life became too busy for CAP. But my brother got me a meade ETX 90 soon after I stopped using and been back at it since. This year I was able to get a large telescope and I will probably buy a few more.

The good folks in this forum have been giving me their knowledge freely and that is why I am very happy to have discovered CN.

Way more info than anyone wanted to know I am sure.

#13 ColoHank

ColoHank

    Vanguard

  • *****
  • Posts: 2315
  • Joined: 07 Jun 2007
  • Loc: western Colorado

Posted 15 November 2013 - 12:48 PM

I grew up in Cincinnati, and my parents took me to a number of lectures and films sponsored by the local museum of natural history. As a youngster, I also attended mineralogy and fossil classes at the museum on Saturday mornings and, at home, I immersed myself in our set of Compton's Illustrated Encyclopedia.

I majored in geology at the University of Cincinnati, but was accepted into the Marine Corps' MARCAD program and dropped out of school in the middle of my junior year. While at Pensacola, I was privileged to hear Werner von Braun speak. After washing out of flight training due to an eye problem, I was still qualified to train as a navigator, but I wasn't interested in riding in the back seat. So... I opted to return to school and my geology studies (also served as a grunt in the Marine reserves to fulfill my six-year military obligation). Following graduation, I entered grad school. There, increasing pressures to specialize were a turn-off for me. A fellow student (who went on to a career of teaching at Tulane) suggested I might be interested in a career with the National Park Service. Just for laughs, I took the entrance examination, and quite by coincidence, ran into a Park Service rep on campus soon thereafter, one among many federal recruiters pitching their agencies at the student union. During our conversation, he told me that if I passed the examination, he'd probably be the person who would later interview me, and he was right.

Upon receiving an offer from the NPS, I left grad school and reported to Grand Canyon NP for twelve weeks of training. That was in the spring of 1967. The Park Service was a generalist's dream, and over the course of my career, I was actively involved in just about every aspect of field operations. Living and working in some of the neatest places in the country was a delight, too.

Long retired, I still volunteer at Colorado National Monument, where I spend most of my time wandering around alone in the backcountry with a GPS and camera locating archaeological sites.

Postscript: My boyhood home was about a twenty minute walk from the Cincinnati Observatory. My older sister was a classmate of Marilyn Herget, whose father Paul was director of the observatory and also ran the IAU Minor Planet Center at the time. I had my first view through the observatory's venerable old Merz und Mahler refractor (early 1840s vintage) when I was five or six years old. Some years later, while in college, I attended a seminar where Dr. Herget spoke about orbital calculations. Attached is a picture of me removing the lens cover from the Merz und Mahler a few years ago at one of the observatory's public viewing events.

Attached Files



#14 Qwickdraw

Qwickdraw

    Surveyor 1

  • *****
  • Posts: 1725
  • Joined: 03 Mar 2012
  • Loc: Ann Arbor, MI

Posted 15 November 2013 - 01:19 PM

Apollo and space shuttle programs without a doubt.

#15 llanitedave

llanitedave

    Humble Megalomaniac

  • *****
  • Posts: 22361
  • Joined: 25 Sep 2005
  • Loc: Amargosa Valley, NV, USA

Posted 15 November 2013 - 01:22 PM

Hank, I'm jealous. I wanted to be a Park Ranger from the time I first visited Big Bend until the time I had my first kid. After that, I knew it couldn't work out.

#16 GregLee1

GregLee1

    Viking 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 663
  • Joined: 21 Jul 2013
  • Loc: Waimanalo, HI

Posted 15 November 2013 - 01:29 PM

My parents bought me a chemistry set, a little toy microscope, and some other things, but mostly I got interested in science from how-to books, and most of those I found in our local public library, down in the basement, where few other people went. There was a book on amateur telescope making that went into great detail on grinding a mirror, a big book on the collecting of moths and butterflies that said how to make a killing jar and how to paint a sugar mixture onto trees to attract moths. A book on rock-hounding said how to use scratching and streaks to identify minerals. A book on linguistics that told how to take words apart into morphemes and determine how syllables were formed in various languages.

#17 maugi88

maugi88

    Postasaurusrex

  • -----
  • Posts: 3354
  • Joined: 25 Aug 2013
  • Loc: SE MN

Posted 15 November 2013 - 01:39 PM

Hank's story reminds me that I had a rock collection from State and National parks. I am sure that can get you in trouble now. When your a kid you don't understand such things. We also have lot of relatives in the U.P. so beach combing lake superior for agates was always a fun time.

#18 Crow Haven

Crow Haven

    Apollo

  • -----
  • Posts: 1312
  • Joined: 09 Jan 2009
  • Loc: Oregon USA

Posted 15 November 2013 - 01:41 PM

I'm science-illiterate compared to the rest of you and my history isn't interesting.

I've been interested in science since childhood but actually received very little training in any of the sciences throughout grade school and high school in California. I'm a product of the New Math era and the experiments in teaching techniques of that time. Fifth grade, for example, was a complete free-for-all where no math was taught and all I was encouraged to do was paint murals for the walls...this was not helpful to me. In spite of these things, I continued being interested in science primarily and was the only kid in my high school Biology class to get an "A" (the teacher tried to also keep my insect collection without my permission). I had "Independent Study" classes in many other subjects where I didn't even have to go to a class, just turn in work and reports from time to time. I was very interested in astronomy but nothing was offered on the subject beyond a few chapters in general textbooks and I knew no other students interested in astronomy. My parents didn't see any value in these interests for me and would not buy me a telescope. They felt I should concentrate on secretarial training or real estate (I tried these and hated working in them both). I didn't go to college, my parents wouldn't pay for it, instead I married my high school sweetheart (still happily married 33 yrs now) and his career in Coast Guard aviation transferred us every few years across the US. Living in different areas and travel has been an education in many ways.

I finally was able to save up money for a telescope (a Super Polaris mt C-8 sct) when Comet Halley arrived and I joined an astronomy club - SVAS - while living in Sacramento, finally meeting others with this interest (Paul has never been interested in astronomy other than taking a rare casual view through the eyepiece). That was a wonderful time!

Cloudy Nights is a place, besides books & magazines, where I enjoy reading about others' participation and interests in astronomy and other science topics now. I enjoy the forums very much. I also have rock (had a rock grinder/polisher) and sea shell collections, and enjoy painting wildlife scenes.

#19 maugi88

maugi88

    Postasaurusrex

  • -----
  • Posts: 3354
  • Joined: 25 Aug 2013
  • Loc: SE MN

Posted 15 November 2013 - 02:10 PM

I wanted to very briefly say to you veterans.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!!

God Bless

#20 gavinm

gavinm

    Surveyor 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 1667
  • Joined: 26 Aug 2005
  • Loc: Auckland New Zealand

Posted 15 November 2013 - 02:26 PM

I think I was born a scientist - left brain/right brain sort of stuff, but I guess I was encouraged in this direction by all the books my dad had at home. I remember all the pictures before I could read. Most on astronomy and the space program. He was the science editor for our NZ national newspaper at the time of the moonlandings and actually wrote a book on it. We even have Neil Armstrong's autograph on a letter he wrote to us in reply to a letter we wrote to him as kids.
I did everything at university including a few science degrees and an arts degree, and now I teach it (and as happy as could be training the next generation of scientists).

#21 Crow Haven

Crow Haven

    Apollo

  • -----
  • Posts: 1312
  • Joined: 09 Jan 2009
  • Loc: Oregon USA

Posted 15 November 2013 - 02:37 PM

I made the long journey to New Zealand by myself 10 years ago and loved everything about it (I can still hear the Bell Birds). It felt like a home away from home in the month I spent there. The green landscapes so vibrant, turquois sky, fantasic mountains and volcanos, keas, etc., is all so amazing -- a beautiful country!

#22 ColoHank

ColoHank

    Vanguard

  • *****
  • Posts: 2315
  • Joined: 07 Jun 2007
  • Loc: western Colorado

Posted 15 November 2013 - 03:57 PM

Hank's story reminds me that I had a rock collection from State and National parks. I am sure that can get you in trouble now.



The statute of limitations never runs out, and we know where to find you. Better start packing for a long stay at Ft. Leavenworth.

#23 maugi88

maugi88

    Postasaurusrex

  • -----
  • Posts: 3354
  • Joined: 25 Aug 2013
  • Loc: SE MN

Posted 15 November 2013 - 04:16 PM

Hank's story reminds me that I had a rock collection from State and National parks. I am sure that can get you in trouble now.



The statute of limitations never runs out, and we know where to find you. Better start packing for a long stay at Ft. Leavenworth.


uh oh :whistle: er ah I mean what rocks?

#24 Mxplx2

Mxplx2

    Mariner 2

  • -----
  • Posts: 249
  • Joined: 12 Sep 2012
  • Loc: PA USA

Posted 15 November 2013 - 07:58 PM

My interest in science probably got its liftoff as a kid watching Walt Disney on TV when he featured a series of space and rocket episodes with Werner VonBraun. Sadly, there was only one TV in the house at that time, and as a kid I had a tough time controlling what was on, but I managed to see those episodes. I even tried building my own rocket by stuffing match heads in a pipe and was lucky I didn’t blow myself up. I was also pretty good at math in school and electronics in the Air Force, so I think it’s only natural to enjoy something if you’re having success at it.

#25 PeterR280

PeterR280

    Apollo

  • *****
  • Posts: 1185
  • Joined: 27 May 2013

Posted 15 November 2013 - 08:02 PM

Mr. Wizard definitely influenced me as well.






Cloudy Nights LLC
Cloudy Nights Sponsor: Astronomics