Figure One

Science. Communication. Community.

Falling In Love

Whether or not you’ve taken a stand to boycott today’s Hallmark Holiday, love is on your mind. Since you’re reading this blog, there’s a chance you’re in love. With science.

by Kerstin Nordstrom


I heart you.
(via Wikimedia Commons)


I was 10 at the time. In front of me was my science textbook, randomly opened to a page, proclaiming “Work = Force x Distance.” That was the moment I fell in love with science.

I’ll rewind the tape for you. I did enjoy science class before this. We alternated between dissecting animals and collecting them in the wild. It was pretty fun, if you had a strong stomach (I do) and got over your fear of snakes (I did, I even adopted one of our captives). But then we shifted from biology to physics. Reading that equation, everything clicked into place.

As scientists (or 10 year-old protoscientists) we’re not just making observations about the things and creatures and memorizing stuff other people have observed, there’s a whole beautiful framework out there.

I wanted to learn about the framework and build more of it.

I was fortunate to have the teachers I had in the ensuing years. They were passionate and knowledgeable about their subjects, and preferred getting their students’ hands dirty, whether it was through in-class experiments, research projects, or challenging problem sets. What they didn’t do was require us to memorize science. Rote memorization may have been easier for everyone involved, but it certainly would have been boring.

I surely would have fallen out of love.

For some time now, this country has pushed greater “scientific literacy” amongst students. But the interpretation of literacy has been too narrow; it has resulted in science classes becoming (bad) history classes. Let’s learn all the things we know. Students are left with little understanding of how we got to know them, how to learn more things, or even why those things are interesting.

So they’re bored, and have little chance to see the science stories in all of the facts. Many students can rattle off trends in the periodic table, but ask them why the trends are that way and they’ll mostly shrug.

And so, this narrow interpretation of science literacy exacerbates our problem of science literacy: while everyone wants to work for NASA when they’re eight, few want to pursue that dream when they’re eighteen.

Projected to arrive in March 2013, the Next Generation Science Standards hope to address these issues. Fundamentally, the Standards recommend shifting to a model that better integrates knowledge and practice, and is comfortable being interdisciplinary. Further the Standards recommend the teaching of several concepts that are universal (i.e. cause and effect) across disciplines. Sounds much more like how we actually do science. They sound pretty great.

But, I have to remain skeptical. How are these standards going to have a fighting chance, given our massive STEM teacher shortage? A good teacher can work around a bad curriculum, but a bad teacher can sabotage a good one.

Personally, I give credit to my teachers and mentors for setting me up with science.

My relationship with science has blossomed. But it’s the same as most of the relationships in my life. We get in fights sometimes. It still surprises me. I never could have predicted the path we took, though I’m sure I thought I could when I was 18.

When did you fall in love with science? Did you ever fall out of love?


4 comments on “Falling In Love

  1. Jessica Morrison
    February 14, 2013

    I fell in love in college. With rocks, of all things! It wasn’t until I took Introduction to Geology to fulfill a general education requirement of my journalism major that I started to really see the rolling hills that I’d grown up surrounded by in middle Tennessee. My eyes were opened to the world around me, the earth beneath my feet, all the things I’d always taken for granted. I had to know more.

  2. Allison
    February 14, 2013

    I fell in love with science as a preteen leafing through the local paper out of boredom when an AP article about comet Shoemaker Levy 9 on course to hit Jupiter in a year caught my eye. It was short, but my young mind went wild. I collected every article I could find for the next year and convinced my parents to take me nightly to the local university’s telescope in our small (cloudy) town to see the resulting damage spin into view in the days that followed Jupiter’s pummeling. The experience convinced me to pursue astrophysics. It wasn’t until I was just about to commit to a research-track academic career that I realized it wasn’t just the science I was pursuing when I collected all those articles – it was the science writing. Thanks to a Mass Media fellowship, I jumped ship on the research and became a science journalist for a decade. Loved it. But couldn’t support my family and be there for my young daughters in such a career, so I took another turn and am now on the flip side of the coin, as a PIO connecting the scientists to the journalists. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  3. katyrrell
    February 17, 2013

    It’s funny, because I’m not sure I can actually pinpoint the moment I “fell in love” with science. I loved many subjects in school, including English, gym (yes, I’m a weirdo that really liked gym class) and art. Yet, the natural world always captivated me. When I was 13, I went to an amazing summer camp at Lion Country Safari, in West Palm Beach, FL (where I grew up). As the oldest camper there, I got to go behind the scenes and assist the zoologists with their work. It was the most incredible experience for me and it was then I decided I wanted a career in science. By the time I got to high school, a fascination with the brain – thanks to our fetal pig dissection and the Discovery Channel – had me convinced I wanted to be be a neuroscientist or neurosurgeon. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was in college that I learned what science really was about. The primary education system had failed me, as my “science” to that point had been a collection of memorized hard facts and experiments followed like recipes. No wonder physics had been so tough. If students were taught science like it’s an art, if we were encouraged to explore and wonder and were taught that, *gasp*, even failure is ok, maybe more kids would love science. I began to love “real science” when I finally met it and spent years as a research scientist. I was working on a PhD in cell and molecular biology when I discovered science writing. As a kid and up until 7th grade, I loved writing and even published a short story (it was titled: “The Rats of Dr. Moreau,” and was, appropriately, about a scientist trying to solve an outbreak of a rare disease). The idea that I could combine two things I loved – writing and science – had never occurred to me. I am baffled by this. And now, I’m a journalist. I write health and science for the people in my state of Delaware (and some near the border, in PA and MD). Like Allison, AAAS made this possible 😉 I know I “leaked” from the STEM pipeline, but I think that’s ok. More science-literate people in the world doing things other than science, but using their scientific knowledge and skills, can’t be a bad thing.

  4. jstoll01
    February 19, 2013

    Great post, Kerstin! I fell in love with science in an unlikely place: rural Indiana. My family didn’t have cable television or video games, but I had access to PBS kids shows (like Square One TV and 3-2-1 Contact) and hundreds of acres of fields and forests. I made terrariums with moss and twigs from the woods (sorry Grandma), I wondered why toads had warts and frogs didn’t, I broke down the fractions when halving a recipe with mom in the kitchen, and I watched our vet deliver a baby calf every spring. Later, I went on to study genetics and blood cell development in an actual laboratory in graduate school, but I credit these early out-of-lab experiences for piquing my interest in science. Kids grow up in a million different environments, so I think it’s important to embrace the differences and adapt formal and informal science education accordingly. Science is everywhere, and so are unique teachable moments!

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This entry was posted on February 14, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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