Science - We're not all Einsteins

11th November 2011 at 00:00
Young scientists need curiosity and application, not genius

When I took part in I'm a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here, I was stunned by the raw energy, enthusiasm and curiosity of the children involved. During the two weeks of the contest - an online programme inspired by the TV show - there were live chat sessions with whole classrooms and panels of children could ask groups of scientists whatever they liked.

The children delighted in the direct contact with researchers and in their voting power (in the second week they decided each day which scientist was to be evicted). Meanwhile, for the scientists it was a nerve-shredding experience.

What struck me, however, was the tremendous optimism of the children, who had high hopes that science would solve the world's ills - disease, food supply, climate change and energy, to name but a few.

However much we protested our relative ordinariness, many of the children seemed to assume we were geniuses and repeatedly asked what we would do with the money if we were awarded a Nobel Prize. It is a measure of their ambition for scientists - and their belief in our nobility - that when I said I'd use it to buy a house by the sea for my wife, the plaintive response came back, "Wouldn't you spend it on research?"

The optimism of the children made me think anew about my research into RNA viruses. But the children's over-estimations of the abilities of the average scientist were a concern to me. I worried that, for some, it might needlessly put them off further study of the subject or even consideration of research as a career. So when I won my group (the Imaging Zone - we were all working with different ways of seeing), I used my pound;500 prize money to make a film about what scientists are really like.

I interviewed six scientists, each at different stages in their career, from PhD student to professor. I asked what stimulated and maintained their interest in science, whether they had a Nobel Prize tucked away at home (one did) and then explored whether any of them thought they were a genius. Each claimed not - even the laureate - but, helpfully, they went on to explain what it takes to be a good scientist.

I hope that teenage viewers might take away the message that anyone with sufficient curiosity and application can get stuck into science and make a real contribution.

Stephen Curry is a professor of structural biology at Imperial College London. See the film at http:imascientist-film.org.uk or read his blog at http:occamstypewriter.orgscurry

WHAT ELSE?

Visit the Imaging Zone to find out more about I'm a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here - http:imagingj10.imascientist. org.ukscientists

Resources

Scientists help keep our water clean, treat diseases, enable us to communicate with the rest of the world and improve the quality of our lives. Investigate their work with a resource from Global Dimension

In the forums

Have water regulations affected your experiments? One teacher faces a dilemma in the science lab

Teachers discuss how precision in science works - have your say

All resources and forum links at www.tes.co.ukresources009.

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