If asked how I view myself, one of my answers would be, “I view myself as a scientist.” Although I have only a few years of college training in science, I have always had a curiosity that is common among scientists of all types that causes us to ask “why” and “how.” Unlike those who are trained in microbiology, chemistry, physics, I am a scientist of the everyday or the common things we see. I find myself asking questions like, “Why did that tree grow away from the building when another type of tree seems to like being next to a structure?” or “Why did my hydroponic lettuce bundle grow so enormously fast in one month, when my garden lettuce seems to take forever to get to mature size?”
99% of the time my questions have already been answered and I can usually find out those answers by a simple internet or library search. If I have to dig a little deeper I contact a more expert person than myself. It’s not the training that is important to me, but the drive to know.
Sadly, I have found that more and more frequently, the role of the scientist has been driven into an elitist category. It was not a trained scientist that first found that fire was hot, it was an ancestor that had no training at all but what they had observed. With continued observation and experimentation subsequent ancestors found that fire was useful, and then necessary. This is what scientists do. Scientists of all ages and levels of experience.
A person who cooks is a scientist when they make note of what baking powder does to a specific recipe and then changes that recipe according to their observations. They are finding out how baking powder works with their ingredients and why it creates a specific reaction. They may even decide to look at what other people have done with baking powder, or do a simple google search on the subject. Then they can improve upon someone else’s work and let others know what they have done in order to continue the process. This is cooperative science. When a homebrewer decides to see if there is a way to cultivate yeast cells from unusual materials, they are following an age old tradition of the science of microbiology.
Whoever you are, whatever age you are, you are also a scientist. Even if you are not trained in science, your curiosity makes humanity better. Everyday science encourages us to understand the world we see and interact with all the time. Children who see us questioning the way in which our daily life proceeds are also encouraged to continue to ask questions. Subsequent generations of humans need this curiosity and not just those who will go on to become Einstein or Neil deGrasse Tyson. All of us have an instinctive need to question and understand. The next time you see a call for a science fair, consider it, or at least consider what you would explore. No matter how old you are, your curiosity is not shameful, it makes us all better humans.