Monday, February 21, 2011

Science Fair Today, Medical Cures Tomorrow?

by Kelley Lindberg

I spent yesterday helping my son the human whirlwind create his science fair report for school. He still has to glue everything onto his display board tonight, but he made good progress.

The hardest part of the whole thing wasn’t the experiments, or the monitoring, or even writing the report. It was convincing him that it was important in the report to be exact, with numbers, careful observations, and other data. He wanted to just say “It was gross” or “It was good.” He’s a kid. It’s easy for kids to evaluate the world in simple terms.

So I patiently (okay, maybe not so patiently) explained to him again and again that scientists need to be specific in their reporting, so that other scientists can see his work and understand it, build on it, and learn new things.

Eventually, he got it, and his report looks pretty good now.

Somewhere out there are a bunch of moms and dads who I suddenly identify with and realize I owe a huge amount of thanks. They, too, worked with their kids on countless science fair projects in the last several decades, convincing their kids to be more careful with their observations, to think outside the box, to find creative problems and even more creative solutions.

Because those parents encouraged their kids through their endless parade of science projects, some of those kids grew up with a love of science. Some of them even grew up to be scientific researchers.

And now, all these years later, those researchers are on the verge of delivering to us new treatments, and perhaps even cures, for a vast array of medical problems, including food allergies.

So as I stood there slapping my forehead, trying to get my son to use a word other than “disgusting” to describe the bacteria colonies growing in his petri dish, I suddenly felt like a tiny link in a long chain of unsung heroes – those parents who suffered through all those thousands of earlier science fairs. If they could do it, so can I.

You never know what these seeds are growing. (I mean, besides the disgusting stuff in the petri dish.)

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