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What drives science?

Posted on January 16, 2013 by in The OFI Blog

Sophia Roberts

In late September, when the weather was still warm and the tourists abundant, I ate my lunch. It was in the Sculpture garden. Peaceful, sunny and a hint of bustle the people and animals keeps my attention. It’s good to emerge from my windowless office space every once and a while. This memorable day in late September solidified the tone of my experiences interning at the National Museum of Natural History – the day I faced the squirrel.

Like the many people before me, I sat at one of the numerous tables and fixed my lunch. A few French rolls, a block of cheese and sliced turkey are spread before me when I spot a mischievous face. Eye contact. Acknowledgement. It is not long before the squirrel boldly leaps onto the table. All but my sandwiches have been packed away, but the decrease in selection is no deterrent for the squirrel. Clearly the food in my hands is the tastiest choice. I in no way know or understand the language of squirrel, but like to think that I stood my ground. I make no sudden movements; continue eating and staring into the eyes of the grey-faced thief. The squirrel moves off the table and circles around a chair; it waits a moment.

Minutes later the squirrel returns, tip toeing around the table’s chairs, but I know it is there. Recognizing that sneaking will not bear tasty food, the squirrel returns to the tabletop. The wait yields diminishing returns. It is all or nothing! Try lest you not eat squirrel. This is what I imagine the squirrel thinks, perhaps less lyrically. I stand my ground and even take a photo with my phone. The sandwich is gone, but the memory of your persistence remains. It is a stark reflection of this city.

Over the term of my internship at NMNH I have found that in life, and in science, one must stake their claim and hold their ground. I began my internship editing podcasts, designing title cards and lower thirds. I did not feel I had fulfilled my potential at the conclusion of my original internship and requested to remain here – I wanted more. I completed some tutorial videos and continued on. My task as of recent has been developing my thesis film. I will produce a film featuring researchers from the museum about scientific ignorance.

What drives science? What persistent force has sustained the interests of scientists over the course of history? Questions. It is what we don’t know. The questions that scientists ask, stem from the unknown. It is the inspiration, and the final product of all scientific work. The one guarantee any experiment or study can produce is another question. But how does anyone find anything, unless they are looking in the right place?

In the next coming months, with the guidance of my internship mentor, Robert Costello, I will shoot and edit a short film using interviews from NMNH scientists including Ted Shultz, Scott Wing and Nick Pyenson to illustrate the less linear path a scientist travels.

Sophia Roberts
NMNH Intern, Office of Education & Outreach
Montana State University