The Amateur Scientist
The grand tradition of amateurs making valuable contributions to the great discoveries of science is well-known. Even today, not all science is accomplished in shiny, well-funded laboratories. Many fields, including astronomy, botany, and geology, continue to rely on the contributions of amateur collectors and observers to advance the state of the science. This makes amateur scientists an important addition to the apparatus of science.
How can you be an amateur scientist? Here are some thoughts:
- Observe and report: look closely at the things that interest you, whether the are birds, butterflies, or beakers. What do you notice? What do you not see that you might otherwise expect to have seen? Write it down. Keep your notes for the future; they may contain the seed of your next great idea!
- Pick an area of science about which you know very little. Go to your local library, bookshop, or friendly science store. Find a book about the subject, take it home, and read it. Now write down what you have learned. What was new or unexpected? Did you really know more about the subject already than you thought, or was it a complete suprise.
- Look at the world a little differently: use a telescope and binoculars to look at the very large or very distant, or a magnifying glass and a microscope to look at the very small. What do you see? How much more is there to see than what you can observe easily with your tools?
- Perform a proper experiment, with controls in place, to answer a simple question (about chemistry, about physics, whatever you like) - you can even recreate one of the great experiments of history that you have read about or studied at school. Write up your results and explain them. Did your experiment yield anything unexpected? Did your experiment perform exactly as you thought that it would? In either case, why?
At H.M.S. Beagle, we believe that everyone is born to be a scientist. The key is to learn how to think scientifically, and that's what we strive to encourage.