A biochemist's place in space
May 7, 2014
I've always been a person who was very involved in science, specifically chemistry and biochemistry. These sciences differ from astronomy in a great deal. In biochemistry, we are looking at extremely small details. The bonds between proteins in the body, the mechanism of catalysis in different chemical reactions, the regulation of different genes in the body, etc. I was spending the majority of my time thinking on a scale that was much smaller than I was, thinking about all these processes that were occuring in my body all the time. All these processes that were so close to me, and yet some things I just couldn't grasp.
It wasn't until I visited the McDonald Observatory on the way to Big Bend National Park that my outlook on science changed. At the time I had been working on a protocol for an in vitro splicing assay that took microlitre quantities of mutant protein and combined them to recreate splicing in a way we could observe on a gel. It hadn't been working and I was getting so frustrated and kept mulling over the details in my mind. The observatory changed my life.
We had picked a very good time to go; there was a supernova that the observatory was focused on that we could see on a screen connected to a telescope. Our host explained to us that we were watching an event that occurred long, long, ago and that the light was just now reaching us. We were literally looking back in time. He then went on to discuss what we do and don't know about space, showing us where our place was in the solar system and the vastness of space. It changed my outlook on everything. In the vastness of space, I am a speck. The things I am observing in my research are even smaller specks. It was so helpful to take a step back and realize that sometimes we need to take a break from focusing on the smallest of details and look at the big picture. As scientists we can't lose sight of that. It has helped me appreciate my place in science, my place on this planet, and my place in space. It's also why I proudly support space exploration and research. I may be a scientist whose interest's lie on a microscopic scale, but that's not where the next greatest discoveries lie. It's out there, in the vastness of space where the true unknown lies; the true frontier. I can't wait to see what lies ahead.
In 2016, The Planetary Society’s LightSail program will take the technology a step further.