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The Drake Equation

Laura Knickerbocker

December 10, 2012

Once upon a time, I was a young woman who wished to go to beauty school. I took some time off after high school to move to the city by myself and get a feel for independence before going to school. It was during this period that one unsuspecting day spent idly browsing the internet, my passion for all things space-related was awoken. I forget what led me there, but I came across a website where you could plug in the the Drake Equation. I felt a bit curious, and decided to plug in factors to the equation so that, in theory, there it only added up to one communicating civilization in our galaxy, to see what the total for the universe would be if humanity was the only one in the Milky Way. When I plugged the factors in so that the answer was just 1 for our entire galaxy, the answer for the universe was around 150 billion. It was like getting hit by a brick. Suddenly, for the first time in my nineteen years of existence, I got the smallest sense of the actual scale of the universe. If I had lowered the factors beyond actual reasonable logic just to receive a calculation of one for our galaxy, and based on that there were one hundred and fifty billion in our galaxy then surely there were actually more! I started plugging in factors I found realistic, looking up what other scientists plugged in themselves, even called a friend or two to see what they thought, excited to share with them the galaxy-to-universe ratio and see if they were as shocked as I was. I had always been a bright student, and payed attention in all of my science classes, but nothing ever impacted me like that moment. I felt a reawakened need to learn more about the universe. I started reading everything I could related to astrophysics and space in every moment of my spare time. It wasn't too long after that I started branching into other areas of science, namely biology. I had never before realized how connected, how beautiful science (and, therefore, life) truly was. It has changed my entire view on everything, and gave me an all-encompassing passion like nothing else ever had. It is something I deeply regret not discovering as a younger child, and something I will be forever grateful for discovering before it was too late to make it my career path and join the frontier of discovery. Now, I on track to go to school for Biology, and after I procure my degree I will get a Masters in Astrobiology. I stargaze as often as I can, and I'm often moved to tears by the vastness and beauty of it all. While beauty school is now off the plate, I do try to maintain my artistic outlets- mostly in creating sci-fi inspired looks and stories. I am forever grateful to all scientists and mathematicians who have allowed me to more accurately grasp the universe. I hope to be an advocate for scientific literacy, to spread the joy of knowledge to others.


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