By Sweta Ravisankar; @sweravii
Edited by Christina M. Marvin
Imagine an instance when you did something for the first time. How did you feel? Were you cool and logical? Scared, but a steady? A twister of emotions? Science brings forth the concept of logical reasoning. This analytical power of the brain enables research scientists to shape research projects, invent new techniques and discover path breaking ideas.
In addition to my career in science, I am also an Indian classical dancer. This dance style has been engaging audiences through telling stories since before time was recorded. Stories transport us into another person’s world, and a story with emotions and facts helps us communicate. As a science communicator, I believe that story-telling is an effective way to convey science concepts that will make an impact on the society.
I want to share with you a few of my stories that have helped to build my impression of the scientific world.
My first science hero – Madame Curie
Some stories unconsciously stay with you and inspire you later in life. For example, the life story of Madame Curie is one of the first inspirational stories I can remember reading in my science textbook as a child. Being a woman in the early late 1800s, she was initially barred from higher education. Despite the gender bias of her time, she obtained degrees in Physics and Mathematics through sheer determination.
Eventually, she was the first female to receive the Nobel prize, and the only person to win a Noble prize in both Physics and Chemistry. She applied her research during World War I by opening radiology units to treat injured soldiers, calling her work “the chemistry of the invisible”. Sadly, doctors now believe her early death from aplastic anemia was ultimately caused by radiation exposure from her wor
Her steady determination, focus, and ability to overcome hurdles faced as a woman are values that I draw from today.
Taking textbook into practice – learning something new
Imagine a lab filled with 40 students, and one of them struggling for 20 minutes to focus the microscope to view white blood cells on a slide. This was a first year undergraduate lab and that student was me; an embarrassing moment back then. I moved the stage to the entire height of the slide to focus, that too several times and also tried it out in the different eyepiece magnifications. Eventually, this moment became a time for me to look back on and laugh. I particularly remember this moment because the lecturer did not make me feel small for my mistake and it became a learning experience!
This challenge made me realize that mistakes are also opportunities to learn from and improve.
An awe-inspiring moment – A Matter of Life
We are all influenced by the situations and people that surround us, both personally and societally. The occurrence of cancer and infertility issues in my close circle inspired me to pursue infertility studies. Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe pioneered the field of infertility treatments in 1978 by introducing what can be referred to as “fertilization in a dish”. Their book A Matter of Life beautifully encapsulates the science and emotions of their 10 year-long trial and error journey, leading to the birth of in vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF gives hope to couples who cannot conceive naturally.
A cool fact is that the first baby born from this technique, Louise Brown, has a child of her own today!
Eureka! Laboratory inspirations from theory to practice
Passion and excitement can be a constant source of self-inspiration. This section is about my eureka moments that keep me going.
Standing in the stem cell laboratory at Stanford University (years after that embarrassing microscope debacle in the first year lab), I was nervous to see the results of my experiment. It was the final day of my protocol to differentiate cardiac cells from stem cells in a petri dish. The sight of a beating heart cell made my own heart pound like a hammer. After a while it felt as though both my heart and the cell in the dish were synchronized.
In another instance, I was looking at sperm under the microscope. I saw a million tiny bright lights flickering, which reminded me of Chinese lanterns flying in the sky. When I zoomed in, I could see their tails and that they actually swam.
Come to think of it, we have all emerged from the union of one of the biggest cells (egg) and smallest cells (sperm) of the human body, and developed into complex beings. This thought blows my mind! Seeing the vibrant embryo divide after fertilization and reach an implantable stage over the period of a week to eight days is magical. Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe describe this moment in their book as a stimulating sight for an embryologist. It is important for me to be able to look forward to each day’s work.
These magical moments definitely inspired me through my five year PhD. Now, I am creating my own videos of embryo development like the one below!
Let yourself evolve and embrace the change!
These types of first moments and first impressions shape a person’s world view and create new paradigms as they evolve and mature. It is never too late to learn. I don’t want to feel satiated with the knowledge and experience I gain while being content with where I am in life. For each of us, our own stories of firsts grow as we all continue to learn more, educate ourselves and enrich our brain. Do you get those boosts of energy and satisfaction when you encounter something new and/or inspiring? I wish to have many more stories of firsts that will continue to shape me constantly. After all, change is the only constant! Let’s embrace it.
Leave a Reply