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Getting into physics October 29, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in Uncategorized.
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I have heard that most people who decide to pursue a career in the sciences or engineering usually have a relative or someone close to them who has also pursued a similar career path and nurtures the interest.

That’s not exactly what happened with me. Both sides of my family were definitely blue collar workers, and some of them still farmed. Most of them don’t know what physics is. My uncle was the closest, as he had a huge interest in astronomy when he was younger, but he’s now a cab driver (though I own a couple of his astronomy books that he had when younger).

In fact, until my junior year of high school, I had no interest in science and, with the exception of astronomy, found it rather dull. I was planning on being a linguist, but in the ever present fear that I wouldn’t be able to pay for college, I was looking for resume padding. I found a flyer for the “North Dakota Governor’s School for Science and Math” and decided to apply despite assurances from the school counselor that they didn’t accept applicants from Class A schools (the larger schools in the state). Oddly enough, I was accepted, partially due to the fact that they dropped the preference for Class B schools.

I spent my summer working in a biology lab studying plant sugars. It was the beginning of realizing that I’m not a good experimentalist. I did a good part of my study using thin layer chromatography, and I think I mixed the solvent wrong every single time (but still managed to get some results). Once I had narrowed things down, I got to use gel chromatography. And finally I got to use a gas chromatograph – mass spectrometer (GCMS for short). The end result was that I couldn’t find anything conclusive because I’d used acid to break up my plant sugars (which broke up the stuff I was trying to examine) and should’ve opted for an enzyme instead.

I discovered during that summer that I really don’t like botany, but I really loved the process of figuring things out. In other words, I really liked research! I also discovered that physics was pretty interesting. Of all the talks on research projects, I was most fascinated with the one given by a friend who had worked in physics on magnetic properties of materials. I kept thinking that it was way cooler than anything I’d done.

At that point, I figured maybe I should change my career options to chemist. The following year, I took AP physics and AP chemistry in high school. I found out that I really, really enjoyed physics while I wasn’t so crazy about chemistry. On top of that, my physics teacher was always providing me with books and articles on physics-related topics, which got me very excited about physics as a career.

So the reason I got interested in physics is because I was more concerned about resume padding. Once I was actually able to experience research, which is something most kids don’t get to do, and was exposed to more topics that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise considered, I decided that was the route I wanted to go.

Governor’s school now has a lot more programs than science and math. I think that’s great for the kids who have more diverse interests. I have to admit that part of me is not so thrilled about it: I wonder how many kids really don’t know that they would be interested in science and, without being pushed into the experience, will never find out.

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1. Getting into physics « FCIWYPSC - October 29, 2010

[…] post: Getting into physics « FCIWYPSC a-cab-driver, a-huge-interest, astronomy, cab-driver, closest, his-astronomy, huge-interest, […]

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