A moment of science

By Phil Plait | June 11, 2012 10:32 am

When I was five years old, my entire life changed.

It was a good change — the best, really — and it happened in a single moment, all at once, irrevocably and utterly. And all I did was look through a telescope.

Wanna know more? Then go read a short article about this I wrote for Slate magazine. They asked me to write about the state of science education, and what can be done to improve it. That’s a huge topic, vast, and in some ways impenetrable. So I poked at it a bit, looking for some leverage, and told the editor that while I don’t know how to fix our broken science education system, I know what worked for me personally. And I know it works for thousands, millions of others.

All it took was a moment of science. Go read the article for more.

But wait, there’s more! I tweeted a link to the Slate article, and my friend (and newly minted PhD) Nicole Gugliucci asked others what their moment of science was. It’s a good question! What was yours? Leave a comment here, or tweet it with the hastag #momentofscience. I’m about go on travel for a day, but on Wednesday I’ll collect and post them!


MORE ABOUT: Slate magazine

Comments (71)

  1. As part of a fifth-grade project, I wrote to NASA telling them I thought astronomy was cool. They sent me back a huge packet of information, including a dossier about each of the planets (including Pluto, though Charon was conspicuously missing even though this was about 1987). I couldn’t believe they’d send me so much stuff after just writing to them, and that fuzzy feeling persists to this day.

  2. Actually I can’t point to any single moment that turned me toward science. It was an accumulation of many influences over many years, interrupted by many setbacks. But good role models were essential. For me these were mostly teachers at all levels, and my parents who, though they knew almost nothing about science, at least weren’t scared of math and encouraged me to do what I loved.

  3. Marcus

    I am not a scientist myself, but I have loved science since I was a young kid. My moment of science was the first time I realized that we don’t have all the answers about the natural world. It was a result of asking what space is, how big it is, how far it goes, and my teacher in school saying “We don’t really know”. To a young boy, adults and teachers know everything. It seems like there is an answer to every question and the world is a place of certainty. When I realized that there are questions about the way the world / universe works that we don’t have the answer to it changed my life forever. Ever since that moment, I have been in awe that we don’t know certain things. Now that I am older I am in awe of the fact that there is a whole group of people unwilling to accept that we don’t know certain things, and they have made it their mission to find those things out. Science is rad, and I will be a fan boy forever.

  4. I definitely had a few moments of science growing up!

    My Dad used to work as a tour guide for the observatory at his (and later my) university when I was 4. One night he took me up to the observatory and, like you, showed me Saturn through the telescope. I remember the little yellow disc with “handles” so clearly still! Even though I never became an astronomer it nevertheless started a lifelong fascination with the universe and with science.

    At my mom’s, we had 2 things around the house that I used to pore over endlessly – one was a collection of NOVA specials taped off the TV, and the other was a coffee table book of scientific images, including a whole chapter of images of a growing embryo/fetus (SEM and microscopic). In the end, it was the study of life that won my heart – I ended up completing a degree in biology and becoming a medical illustrator, and now I make interactive educational software to teach others. :)

    As a side note – my husband and I bought a solar filter for our telescope and brought it to one of the lookouts at Niagara Falls this past weekend for the transit of Venus – we got to show Venus to a ton of people, teach a little science and see the awe on others’ faces when they peeked through our telescope at another world for the first time. That was really special for us, and I hope we gave someone else their “moment of science” too!

  5. Ian

    My moment of science began in high school chemistry. It was a very typical high-school chemistry class, in that very few people were interested in it and spent the period talking with friends and goofing off. However, there was one fun part of class that we were all looking forward to, called “Scotland Yard.”

    I assume most chemistry classes have a version of Scotland Yard in the curriculum, but to clarify, students are given mystery compounds and, depending on the tests you run, you were led to the “culprit,” which were given names like Leadfoot or Sneezy Magneezy. It started easy, each sample being one element, but later on, two or three culprits were in your sample, and you had to identify all of them.

    The fact of the matter is that if you were diligent and careful with your sample and your testing, you should have no problem. This is apparently too much to ask of juniors in high school, because I was the only student that year to identify a “three-culprit sample.”

    At that moment, I took a little pride in being meticulous in my testing, and thought that chemistry might be my thing. Nearly 10 years later, I’m about to start my Masters studies on polymer chemistry!

  6. I’ve always been fascinated by astronomy, and watching Robert Zemeckis’s Contact really put me in perspective as to how full of awe the universe is.

    But the one defining moment of science for me was after a reading of Carl Sagan’s “The Demon Haunted World”.

    “Science isn’t a perfect instrument of knowledge. But it’s the best we have. ” – Carl Sagan.

  7. I’m not a scientist, nor do I play one on TV, but I’ve always been fascinated by space and the universe. I loved reading from the very moment I picked up a book and was able to make sense of the characters that made up words and sentences and paragraphs. During this very formative time, I read everything I could. Luckily my parents had a series of very simple books that were about the sciences – I was drawn to the one about astronomy. While I read all of those books repeatedly, “Astronomy” was the one that I could never get enough of, no matter how many times I read it. From there I went on to devour everything I could about the space program – it was a truly magical time for me.

    Here it is, 40 years later, and I’m working as a staff assistant in the Astronomy and Physics Directorate at JPL, supporting the people who work on all those cool things that help us to discover the universe. It was a long and very circuitous route that brought me here – one that wound through entertainment and politics and furniture manufacturing – but I feel as if I’ve come full circle. Once again, I’m living in a magical time – the magic of science, which is all the magic I need.

  8. Mine happened when I was nine years old on a visit to Lick Observatory. I had an opportunity to talk to one of the resident astronomers in a one on one situation and he was talking about the telescope being a time machine. The knowledge of a single photon traveling for millions or billions of years until it hits my eyes has always been the most profound and humbling idea I have ever wrapped my head around. Now, forty years later, I try to share that concept with folks that I interact with at Star Parties and events like the recent Transit and Eclipse. For me, science is the measurement of wonder at our natural world.

  9. DrFlimmer

    Well, Phil, that’s actually a tough question.
    I don’t remember such a single moment that has changed my life. I remember a few funny moments, which, after all, made it unavoidable that I am currently working on my PhD theses.
    For example: I always was fascinated by astronomy. When I was 8 or so years old I gave a “scientific” talk to my parents about an “ant planet”. It was actually a few hours long. I have no idea, what I actually told them. I have to thank them, however, that they didn’t interrupt me and kept on listening to me for all the time.
    With 12 or so I was already thinking about black holes and the “end of the universe”, and if there is something beyond that “end”?
    During that time it had never occurred to me that I would become a scientist. In school (especially in “lower” classes) physics was boring: “Put this lamp into that hole – the lamp glows…” Great…
    Then I found out that in order to study astronomy you need physics. And also the topics began to become more interesting (nuclear fission and power plants). When I was 16, I read the chapter about quantum mechanics in my physics book, and discovered my fascination for the small things in nature.
    Well, and now I write a theses about radiation mechanisms in blazars. I call this a career. It was somehow written in my gene code.

  10. Not sure I had a “moment” of science. I think my whole life has been a string of moments. Sadly I got a degree in engineering… Not sure what that says, but I have a passion for science. Maybe when I was just 3 years old and heard about the crazy Americans putting a man on the moon? Although, as you noted, memories from such an early age are quite maleable, so it’s hard to tell what is my memory, and what is something I have been told about my memory of that event.

    OFF TOPIC: Hope you and yours are staying safe with all the wildfires in your neck of the woods.

  11. I was lucky enough to have several moments of science before I started to pursue it as a career, but I totally agree with you Phil, seeing Saturn through my first telescope is what sealed the deal for me.

    I’ve written a blog post (link below) about what got me into science, but just know that those moments of science never end. I was in Alaska for a rocket launch only a few months ago and seeing the aurora for the first time nearly brought tears to my eyes. Science has taught me a lot, but beyond the math and physics it has also taught me how amazing and awesome, in the truest sense of the word, our universe can be.


  12. Chris

    My moment of science was more a moment of science fiction. I grew up watching Star Trek: TNG and that got me into wanting to understand if there was any science behind the technobabble. Also loved the PBS series “The Mechanical Universe.” I was in grade school when I watched that.

    Although you mention that people can’t be turned on by endless lectures, I actually am. I like mathematical equations and what they tell me, but others just don’t get it. I like accumulating information and am able to see the connections and patterns between them. Unfortunately trying to convey what I view as a simple concept to others has always been difficult, compounded by the fact that I have a very difficult time reading and understanding human emotions and interacting socially. I can prattle on endlessly about a subject, but I have no idea if they are getting bored. I think I’m being very coherent, but others don’t feel that way. And when I state something that is just a fact and not trying to be mean in anyway, people say I’m cold hearted. But I’ve always been a bit of an oddball.

  13. Mine is quite similar to yours. I was probably 7 or so, late 1970s. Northern Virginia. My dad got me out of bed at what seemed like the middle of the night to look at Saturn through his telescope. I was hooked. We went to the Air & Space Museum all the time after that. I started studying the planets and like one of the previous commenters, I sent for and received a bunch of literature about NASA’s current (at the time) missions: Viking, Voyager, SkyLab. I still have all those old brochures, packets and pictures.

    Studying the planets, stars and the universe became something of a lifelong passion. In college many of my electives were astronomy courses. I didn’t pursue science as a career. I became an English teacher, but I work science in as much as possible–sharing the joy of a non scientist, if you will–and as a writer, I think that “moment of science” was the beginning of the awe, wonder and astonishment at the universe that informs both my poetry and my teaching. Thanks for sharing this and taking me back, again.

  14. Kathleen

    My high school Physics instructor, Mr. Unkrich, who taught me that science and math have everyday applications. He showed me a simple formula, Force = mass x velocity(squared), and using this I could estimate the types and severity of injuries of a trauma patient. It was this understanding and a love of emergency medicine that gave me a career as a Paramedic. He also showed me how to apply a knowledge of physics and geometry to play better pool.

  15. AliCali

    In either 5th or 6th grade, my class went to Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, which was about 50 miles away. The planetarium show that pointed out all the constellations got me hooked. I bought a planisphere and learned all the major constellations I could see. I read many books on astronomy.

    Thirty years later, I finally bought my first telescope. I take the telescope to Griffith Observatory during their public star parties and I hear all those kids and adults marvel at the moon, Saturn, or an open cluster. I also give tours at Mt. Wilson, show people the 100″ telescope, and try to convey my enthusiasm over this very fascinating subject.

    Although I didn’t become an astronomer, I love that this is my hobby and it’s something I can share.

  16. Matthew

    When I was five years old, I saw the Apollo 17 mission on TV, and realized there were people actually walking on the moon. I would never look at the moon the same way again. This amazement led me to want to learn more about our solar system, then our galaxy and eventually the universe. We need to cultivate and encourage that sense of wonder and exploration in our children.

  17. There was no real moment of science for me, but my interest in science was mostly driven by the sets of encyclopedias and sort of year in review sets put out by the same people. I would just flip through all of them and just naturally gravitated to the science stuff. Read synopses of the Apollo missions, everything about space exploration and was just fascinated about everything to do with astronomy.

    Remember looking at a picture of Quasars, what were they? They didn’t even know. Looks like a star, but it isnt a star? then what is it. That type of stuff.

    Guess it also helped that my sister worked as a secretary at Goddard SFC and she would bring home mission patches and stuff to read from work :)

  18. Mike

    Great article. For me, I don’t remember any specific moment of science. I think I’ve always loved science–catching bugs, looking through telescopes, doing “chemistry experiments” in the kitchen sink, reading–endlessly reading–every science book in the library. Astronomy has always been a big part of it, although I eventually became a chemist.

    One thing I have to disagree with in the article, though. I agree that “endless lectures, forcing her to memorize fact, dates, numbers, and equations” could make one not love science, but I think it is, to some extent, required if you’re going to DO science. Without a fundamental understanding of facts, numbers, and equations, it’s pretty difficult to advance the frontiers of science. You’ll be spending all your time looking up facts on Wikipedia instead of thinking about connections.

  19. I was apparently born into a fascination with science and technology (quite a trick, since my parents are fundamentalist Lutherans; my dad was a pastor). My first two words were “star” and “light”, and apparently as a small child I used to make “wires” out of clay and used them to connect my blocks.

    I can’t remember ever not being interested in science, and I’ve followed it as an interested student all my life. In college, in the 70s, I discovered computer programming, and that has ended up being my career (35 years). One of the most stunning science events of my life was the first time I looked through a telescope at Saturn and realized that photons from the sun were bouncing off Saturn and into my eye. Talk about awe!!

    BTW: I was a frequent visitor to the original BA site, and was thrilled when I discovered its re-incarnation here!

  20. Daniel J. Andrews

    Like Larian, I’ve had a string of moments. First one was at age 6 when I saw autumn leaves for the first time in my new country (Canada). That was the start of my passion for the world immediately around me (which eventually led me through a series of other science moments—coupled with intense curiosity–to my current career).

    My astronomy science moment was at age 9 or 10. My friend and I found a National Geographic unfolding star map. We took it outside to look at constellations. Next night we borrowed a pair of binoculars so we could see the Milky Way properly.

    Through binoculars we couldn’t find the Milky Way…all we could see were more stars. No milky light, no glowing stuff. After a few minutes of looking in vain, it occurred to us that the Milky Way *was* made of stars (that was my “My god. It’s full of stars” moment).

    I still remember the thrilling shock of that discovery, and I was hooked on it (we also loved dragging the adults outside and showing them what we had discovered and being able to share what I had discovered is another thing I became hooked on. “Hello, my name is Dan, and I’m a junkie…” sigh).

    If I had to sum up what made my “science” moments it would be a sudden wonderful shock of new knowledge (I can see craters on the moon!!) followed by a burning driving almost insatiable curiosity which sweeps you along with it so thoroughly you lose track of time and miss meals and reasonable bedtimes. I simply have to find out more because of curiosity and “the pleasure of finding things out”.

    Incidentally, that’s why I laugh when people say scientists are just in it for the money. Frankly, most of us would do this type of work for free* because we’re curious and because we need to know how things work.
    *may explain why we’re so underpaid compared to similar positions in industry…? :)

  21. Terry Smiljanich
  22. I’m not a scientist, I study International Affairs, but if I hadn’t gone into that I would have done science or engineering. But I guess my love of History and Geography are a bit stronger.
    My moment(s) of science was/were in my childhood too. Probably between ages of 7-9. There were many Educational Shows for Children on TV in those days. I particularly remember one which would translate into: “This World isn’t a Sorcery” where two scientists explained everything from Evolution to Physics and Chemistry. I was fascinated by how well everything just fits in and makes perfect sense. It gave me a sense of wonder. It actually made me more curious even though it answered a lot of questions, even ones I did not have before. When I was 10/11 I saw the 1999 Solar Eclipse that was 100% visible in parts of Slovakia where I’m originally from. That event amazed me. From then on I knew that science is Amazing. Then, when I started learning Physics/Chemistry at Year 6, I was amazed even more how those 2 sciences explain everything so well. Finally I was lucky to have two awesome Physics teachers, who were passionate about their subject and you were right Mr. Plait, being passionate about a subject makes it attractive more.
    My parents however are to blame a little bit too. They gave me Childrens’ Encyclopedias and many books to educate me. They wanted me to be curious and smart. They got the 1st one right and the 2nd? Well, that’s up to the others to judge. 😀
    I love the stars too, but Physics and Chemistry are amazing.

  23. Chris

    @15 Kathleen
    He showed me a simple formula, Force = mass x velocity(squared)…

    Sorry to ruin your memories, but
    Force = mass x acceleration
    Acceleration being the rate in change of velocity
    Kinetic Energy = (1/2) mass x velocity^2

  24. JMW

    I have to agree with some of the other people who have commented here, that it was not a single moment, but rather the sum of several such moments, some of the (hilariously) varied:
    – Spock
    – Scooby Doo – no matter how often those darn meddling kids investigated some apparently supernatural phenomenon, it turned out to be a guy in a suit just faking it (I speak here only of the 70s incarnation, not the later corruptions versions)
    – reading my first book about the solar system
    – reading my first book about space flight
    – reading my firts book about volcanoes (are you starting to get an idea why I come here?)
    – reading my first book about dinosaurs (I also haunt Dinosaur Tracking and Laelaps, two of Brian Switek’s blogs)
    – reading my first Sherlock Holmes story – the Adventure of the Dying Detective

  25. My dad was an aerospace engineer, so science was an everyday part of our lives. One of my earliest science-related memories was of the family standing in the backyard, looking at the light from a partial solar eclipse streaming through some bushes, casting crescent-shaped patterns on the ground.
    After that, it was (like you, Phil) looking through a telescope (a Sears brand 2″ refractor, mounted on a camera tripod). I saw Saturn and its rings for the first time. Later on, we saw Jupiter and its moons.
    I also have vague memories of my very early childhood, watching a moon landing. Might even have been the first one. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I knew from my family’s reaction that it was very important.

  26. Scottynuke

    Although I was “primed” for science by Dad’s amazing collection of Brittanica and Time-Life tomes, science didn’t really hook me until my 8th-grade science fair. I’d become interested in nuclear power and figured out on my own how to “simulate” a reactor core, complete with fuel and control rods, using a light bulb and resistors. (OK, so Dad the electrical engineer made sure I didn’t burn down the whole contraption, but anwyay.)

    Then the fair was overshadowed by Three Mile Island and I was confronted with questions about hydrogen bubbles, leaving me scratching my head and wondering why people were trying to bring fusion into the discussion.

    That “there’s always more to learn” moment launched me along a science-based trajectory that sent me through the world of journalism, where I focused on explaining both basic and applied science. Several stops later, I’m back with nuclear power, still explaining away to the general public. :-)

  27. DonnieM

    My Mom and fourth grade teacher signed me up for a pre-college astronomy class that was open to anyone from elementary-school age thru high school. One of the classes was about black holes and it was described to us what might happen to we humans if we approached a black hole. I was hooked on astronomy after that. I’m not a professional astronomer at all, but when there’s an eclipse, or on a night when there’s a scheduled sighting of the International Space Station, I make sure all of my friends and family know about it. And, they tell their kids, who seem enthusiastic about it. So, I’m still getting that excited feeling about astronomy and science in general.

  28. When I was a kid, I was just attracted to science, technology, and science fiction. It was what intrigued me. My interests were so diverse that I was accepted to university in engineering, entered in molecular biology and graduated as a paleontologist…
    My fascination with space was rekindled as an adult when I was bedridden for two weeks, and my wife bought me a copy of Nightwatch. I am now a full-time science educator, in both my day job as a teacher, and my “monnlighting” as a volnteer operator of the largest telescope in Canada. Nothing gets me more pumped than giving others that very Moment Of Science you mention, and setting them on a road to further wonderful discoveries.

  29. Robert

    I am not a scientist, but I recently returned to school in the hopes of becoming one. My interest in science goes back as far as I can possibly remember. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of playing with a toy space shuttle my parents got for me when I was around four years old. When I was maybe five, my family was visiting my grandfather and he had this book all about the universe. It was a large hard-backed book, and I spent most of the visit staring at all the glossy photos of space. After seeing how much I loved it, he let me keep it. Because of that book, I already knew all about the planets when we started learning about them in school. That book weighs heavily on my past and I think about it often, though it vanished long ago and I have no idea what book it was.

    In high school I decided to read about Albert Einstein. I was shocked and amazed at how strange the laws of physics seemed. At that time I decided I wanted to be a physicist. Unfortunately, I told my math teacher this and he promptly told me that I wasn’t good enough at math to be a physicist. It sounds absurd to me now, and I can’t believe he was so dismissive of my desire. I wasn’t the best math student at that time because I found it all so
    boring. But he could have used my new found interest in physics to encourage me mathematically. Instead I became discouraged and dropped that idea completely, believing that I was terrible at math.

    More than ten years later I began to have an interest in mathematics and how it relates to science. I decided to try to teach myself some math and see how I felt about it. I quickly found that I could really enjoy math. I went back to school shortly after and got an A in college algebra and an A in astronomy. Now I’m in trigonometry and really enjoying it. My plan is to continue working hard on my academics and go to grad school to get a PhD in physics.

    Since returning to school and doing so well in mathematics, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the nature of math class and what about it turned me away from the subject when I was younger. I literally hated math for most of my youth. I clearly recall sitting in my third grade class listening to a recording of a very boring sounding man reciting the multiplication tables. We had to write down everything he said. We would do this every day and I loathed it. I can’t think of a better way to turn a young mind off to math. I also recall being in sixth grade and the teacher telling us that pi was equal to 3.14 or 22/7. I was a curious child and raised my hand and asked what pi was. Her reply was, “3.14 or 22/7.” So I said, “I know that, but what is it?” She then said, “You just need to know that it’s equal to 3.14 or 22/7.” It was years later that I finally was given an explanation
    for what pi was.

    The system for teaching science, and especially mathematics is completely broken in the U.S. It is taught in the most asinine, boring way possible, and ensures that most students will never know the beauty of it. I think it takes a very special sort of young student to receive the kind of math education one would usually get in this country and to still come out of the other side with an interest in mathematics.

  30. JES

    The planetarium at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute. That, and the (now woefully out of date) dinosaur books by Roy Chapman Andrews.

  31. I’ve loved science for as long as I can remember and have had an inqusitive mind from the start. My mother would read to me her college anatomy and psychology textbooks when I was just learning to read. My father would show me photos of his travels in the Air Force and his time working on the STS Columbia shuttle program. Not to mention my parents were die hard Trekkies, so I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation all the time. The time travel episodes were my favorites. :)
    I would always gravitate to the nonfiction section of my school library, lending books about human anatomy, space, animals, dinosaurs, weather, atlases, et al. ‘The Magic School Bus’ and ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’ were my favorite TV shows growing up. When I was about 7 or 8 my parents took me to the opening of the local observatory with state-of-the-art telescopes and computer programs. Then they bought me my own telescope, which I still have. I was so excited. I wanted to know everything I could as a child about all things science-y. I didn’t have just one moment of science. The curiosity of life, the universe and everything has been there my whole life, and it started with a simple child’s question: “Why?”

  32. David

    My dad got his PhD in inorganic chemistry when I was 5. I have memories of him taking me to his lab on campus. Then working in his chemistry lab during the summers in high school. For me, science was a part of every day life growing up. We had a subscription to Scientific American on our dinner table that we would flip through and read as kids. I hope to keep this tradition alive with my kids now.

  33. I’m giving away my age here but, when I was seven years old I remember sitting on the roof of our house (a ranch style, so the roof was low) with my Dad who had taken me up so we could more easily see the sky and watch a satellite (I think it was “Telstar” in 1962) pass overhead. I remember him telling me about Sputnik and Echo and I also remember the totally amazing feeling I got — shiver up the spine kind of feeling — that we humans could actually put something up into space to orbit around the Earth. From then on out I was a hard core science geek — still am…..

  34. ctj

    voyager 1’s encounter with jupiter. it was right around my 7th birthday (more clearly giving away my age), and PBS had live coverage from JPL and other NASA sites practically around the clock (or at least it felt that way to me). i can clearly remember some woman talking about the discovery of io’s volcanoes.

  35. Jay

    There were three distinct times; looking at the moon during an Apollo Mission in my father’s Tasco telescope (still have it, more of a finder scope). My junior high school science teacher showed me that learning and applying science was fun while my high school physics and chemistry teacher showed me I could work through chemistry and do so successfully. Finally, as an adult, it was again looking in a telescope that sent me on a renewed quest, this time leaving a 15 year business career and returning to what my actual degree was centered on, teaching. Money isn’t the same but the opportunity to inspire science and teach it is more than enough for me. I don’t believe that science is dead unless parents and teachers allow it to die. It fits in easily at the elementary and of course at the secondary level with language arts and math. Thus if you really want to generate an interest in science, it needs to be tied and connected to the math and language curriculum. More importantly, we need parents to be involved and even more importantly, educators who will inspire and will create inquiry lessons where kids get to be involved. For example, with a telescope, don’t just show objects, but teach kids how to use it and more importantly have them learn the science behind they objects they are going to find and view. We want to do things for kids, what hooked me and what hooks kids today are getting them doing science.

  36. Grand Lunar

    I really don’t think I have any single moment of science. Rather, it was several “moments”.
    I have a vague memory of when Comet Halley made it’s appearence. I do more vividly recall the return to flight of Discovery, after the Challenger disaster (this was the first shuttle launch I clearly recall).
    TV had an impact, for sure. I grew up watching Star Trek:TNG. I recall when I watched the film “2001” for the first time, and it’s sequel (which I had ironically seen first). Both made me wonder what the real Jovian system was like.
    I had books on astronomy, including one that told the stories of the planetary encounters of the Voyager probes.
    When I first got a telescope, I think I was hooked. I never took this past the level of a hobby, though.
    I still have science moments, thanks to blogs and educational videos online.
    I hope I never run out of such moments!

  37. NAW

    A quick hint to mine. My birthday is January 27th. And like most of us I looked into the encyclopedia to see if anything famous happened on my birthday.(not ageing myself too much) And I see the Apollo 1 accident there. So I look that up and read on what happened and what was done to fix the problems. And that just opened my eyes for science. I saw how it is used to find the problems that happen and fix them. And then send humans to the moon from the ashes.

    There have been a lot of up and downs to this love. But that just adds to the fun of the game.

  38. Chris

    Ironically what almost killed my love of science was my parents getting me a telescope. A crappy 3 inch refractor. (I didn’t know better at the time) My parents knew little about astronomy and telescopes, only that I was very interested in it. So they got me one, told me to go look. Pointed it at stars and not much to see. Finding the planets and other astronomical features was not as trivial as it is now with a simple Google search. And it doesn’t help being in a light polluted area. Probably preaching to the choir here, but before you get a telescope for your kids, make sure you can help them along and look at some great sights.

  39. Scott Haney

    I’ve always loved science and engineering. I’ve also always loved music, and I was blessed with the choice of scholarships in engineering or music when I graduated high school. I chose engineering, as I felt it would help underwrite the other. (And I do make my living as both an engineer and musician.) And I, like all kids at the time, wanted to be an astronaut. I was absolutely enthralled when Armstrong first set foot on the moon.

    But my “moment of science” is actually sad. My mother worked in the library of our small Indiana town. When I was 10 or so, I went back to the science section to pick up some books for summer reading. EVERY SINGLE ONE had an anti-science pamphlet in it. “Science cannot explain why like-charged protons don’t fly apart! THEY ARE LYING!” “Relativity was created by a JEW!” Some even worse, believe it or not.

    And right there, at the age of 10, I realized how incredibly stupid people can be, and I decided there and then not to let anyone else dictate the truth to me. It changed my approach to a lot of things, and I like to think I am better for it.

    And, unlike Grand Lunar, I hope we DO run out of moments like mine!

  40. Jess Tauber

    Even adults have forces trying to squeeze the life out of a love of science. In the past three years I’ve found almost two dozen mathematical patterns in the electronic and nuclear periodic systems that come out of the Pascal Triangle and related forms, in various diagonals (both deep and shallow) all having to do with growth, packing, ordering, etc. (so also related to the Golden Mean and larger Metallic Means series). Yet when I ask mathematicians for help I get useless responses: a) its all crap (even though these are simple observations with no crazy assumptions or equations, just recognition of the patterns, which are exact), b) we already know this already (not true, ask any professional chemist or physicist who deals with the periodic relations), c) why should a mathematician care about chemistry? and d) so what?

    Apparently egos are involved, ignorance, bluff and bluster thrown in for good measure. And these are professionals. Imagine then how much worse it must be for kids when they get exposed to even more exasperating responses to their queries! The only true up side to all this is that our enemies are educating their children in ways just as ridiculous, or more so.

  41. At age 7, I scientifically proved the nonexistence of the tooth fairy by not telling my parents about my lost molar. It was still under my pillow in the morning!

  42. Tsai Yao Yang

    It began when the solar system popped up in my science class. I was fascinated by that topic. It was a really simple feeling, but that tug of curiosity about the fact that I’m living on a revolving sphere, revolving around another sphere along with other spheres pushed me further into wanting to understand more about what I can see around me.
    And then there were insects. 😀

    Knowing becomes a necessity in life.

    Living in a country that has some less than average but heavily exam-oriented education system, I’m really glad that the Internet came to be.

  43. Kurt Erlenbach

    There were several small moments leading up to it, but the Big One was the spring semester 1975, Astronomy 102. Prof. Carl Sagan at Cornell U. As good as his books are, the real thing was better. Five months of inspiration, three days per week. You really don’t know what you had till it’s gone.

  44. Daniel J. Andrews

    Daniel (36). You beat me by a year or two. I must have been 8 or 9 when I did the same thing.

  45. I can’t honestly remember a time when I wasn’t interested in science, but if I had to choose one event that made a life changing impact on my it would be seeing Saturn through my telescope for the first time. I’d seen Jupiter and it’s moons, the Lunar craters and highlands in their stark beauty, but none compared to the view of the ringed planet hanging majestically in the blackness.

    I haven’t had a telescope in a long time, but whenever think about that first look at Saturn, I want to rush out and buy one on the spot.

  46. john

    For me the Apollo missions are the most memorable moment. If I had to narrow to one particular moment I think it would be when my dad told me that the astronauts in their gear weighed 360 pounds on the Earth but only 60 pounds on the Moon. Trying to understand this introduced me to all sorts of physics and mathematics, convinced my parents to get me a telescope for my eighth birthday, and led my elementary school teacher to have me give several astronomy lectures to our class.

  47. Lori W

    At age 9 I went on a camping trip with my school. I heard an owl for the first time, touched a snake and was amazed at the number of living things a square foot of earth could hold.

  48. My “science moment” was the culmination of a road trip I took with my parents when I was about 7 or 8. Looking back, it was really a “science getaway” (that’s right – I did it before it was cool 😉 ) – we toured a museum built around a dinosaur fossil dig site, went did a rock-collecting thing with a minerologist, and visited Meteor Crater (worth the trip all by itself!).

    The big moment for me, though, was when we visited the Kitt Peak Observatory. We did the usual stuff – visited the visitor center, played around with the exhibits. But the moment I remember most was when we actually took the tour up to one of the telescopes.

    It was perched on a hill rising above the already steep site. You could look out and see the Arizona desert stretching away to the horizon, far below, but up there, I remember it was so cold that my fingers hurt. As we walked up the hill, I realized just how big the building was. I didn’t know how to describe it at the time, but I felt like I was in a special place, a place where my parents would normally tell me to be quiet and not cause trouble (as if it were necessary then). A sacred place, like a monastery. And when we went inside, the sense of specialness was even more intense. I don’t want to sound sentimental here, but looking back, I think it was the closest I have ever come to a religious experience.

    Here was this massive, complex, huge and delicate telescope, in this cold, cavernous building, like a holy icon of curiosity within a cathedral of science. And I realized that people built this thing, this huge, incredible, fantastic, futuristic thing, way up on this lonely mountaintop, for the sole purpose of looking at the stars. This wasn’t a pretty-looking statue or a blinking TV antennae. This wasn’t built to “put out” something – art or opinions or information. It was a receiver, bringing in the light of the universe, answering questions, discovering new things that no one had ever known before. People who had questions (something I was very familiar with as a kid) had decided to go to the ends of the earth and create this amazing thing to find answers to their questions! It. Was. So. COOL!

  49. @30 Robert: I am not a scientist, but I recently returned to school in the hopes of becoming one. …

    Unfortunately, I told my math teacher this and he promptly told me that I wasn’t good enough at math to be a physicist. It sounds absurd to me now, and I can’t believe he was so dismissive of my desire. I wasn’t the best math student at that time because I found it all soboring. But he could have used my new found interest in physics to encourage me mathematically. Instead I became discouraged and dropped that idea completely, believing that I was terrible at math.

    More than ten years later I began to have an interest in mathematics and how it relates to science. I decided to try to teach myself some math and see how I felt about it. I quickly found that I could really enjoy math. I went back to school shortly after and got an A in college algebra and an A in astronomy. Now I’m in trigonometry and really enjoying it. My plan is to continue working hard on my academics and go to grad school to get a PhD in physics.

    Wow! That’s inspiring!
    I’m in pretty much the same boat as you used to be – when I was little, I wanted to be a scientist. Later on, I wound up doing really lousy in school. Looking back, the hearing loss I was born with probably had a lot to do with it, but I never was very good at math, and I concluded that any chance of becoming an astronomer (or astrophysicist, or nuclear physicist, or any other field that I find interesting) was close to nil. Now I’m 31, and feeling like an old fart already. I’m just trying to find a career that will pay the bills. Recently I’ve been considering going back to school (I never got a college degree) and I’m looking at all my options all over again. I still find science-related classes (like meteorology and aviation) fascinating, but I’ve been putting off pursuing my math requirements because of all the bad experiences I had back in grade school.
    You’ve given me something to think about 😀

  50. One other nifty moment was a bit later, when I was about 10, and I went to camp (the only time I ever did). It wasn’t really science camp in the sense of beakers and test tubes, but they did take the time to point out plants and discuss the natural world. The one moment that really blew my mind was when they took us out one night and explained about rod and cone cells in the eyes, and how your eyes acclimate to darkness over time. It was the first time I’d been away from town – I’d never seen so many stars!

  51. Roelof

    My distinct science moment resulted from a very simple experiment in 2nd grade. Our teacher held a metal bowl filled with ice above a water cooker, showing how the evaporating water condensed on the bowl while the ice was melting and explaining about the three states of water and the phase transitions. Something just clicked; you could do experiments to show and understand how things worked and my aroused curiosity resulted in a nice career in science/astronomy. Many moments followed (astronomy courses on Dutch TV, Voyager and Viking missions, Cosmos by Carl Sagan, etc.), but that little, simple experiment at age ~7 started it all.

  52. I mentioned this on Facebook as a result of your tweet, but mine came in third grade. I was bored with the assigned reading, so I asked my teacher to help. She took me to the librarian, who, after asking several questions, led me to the shelf in the library where they had science fiction. She told me to pick one of the books, check it out, and see what I thought. I saw the cover of Heinlein’s The Star Beast”, and took that one. I’m pretty sure I finished it before dinner that night. I read more of Heinlein’s space opera books before graduating on to his more involved books. I decided to become an astrogator.

    Oh. And I started looking UP!

  53. beer case

    Watching Carl Sagans “Cosmos” in 1981. I was 8 years old, and I changed forever.

    We need many more of those series.

  54. I’ve been ‘science oriented’ since I can recall but I remember when was about 13 or 14 and I borrowed from a teacher “The Evolution Of Physics” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Evolution_of_Physics) What a book! I didn’t understand it completely, of course, but it literally changed my life. The funny thing is that the teacher who lended me the book was the (italian) literature teacher!

  55. Dan

    I was in my mid 20’s. I purchased a small telescope that had some pieces missing from the mount. I got it fixed up and took it out of town. I turned it loose on Saturn and was amazed. I could see the rings and even the separation between the planet and rings. I viewed Saturn for years and watched the tilt change over time. I had that little scope for many years and when I moved from Wyoming to Houston I gifted it to the 13 year old daughter of a coworker. I hope she can see inspiration like I did.

  56. Greg

    I don’t know that I really had one eureka moment, though seeing my first shuttle launch might’ve been the trick. I would’ve been around 6 or 7, and I’m almost positive the external tank was still white, making it STS-1 or 2. It didn’t quite work out, but I’ve pretty much had the bug to fly into space since then, and as the son of a pilot, aerospace & aeronauticals were always a love. I was always curious about nature, encouraged by my parents, and always enjoyed and excelled in math and science classes more than the humanities.

  57. goat with mange

    Attenborough: The Living Planet…..Dad and I making gunpowder and crystals……watching ants…….streams and stars in the country……my old dogs and coral reef…..finding out about genomes……

  58. Mine is quite simple.

    Last visit of Halley’s Comet, I’m outside (the house had an outside toilet) at around 3am, and while the best naked-eye viewing is supposed to still be a month or so away, the night is surprisingly clear (rural Australia on a clear night). I look up, and get to see quite a fantastic view of the comet.

    Spent about an hour outside in the cold looking, showed my younger brother when he came outside. But I still remember getting to see something that I probably won’t see again. Something amazing.

    Something that was INTERESTING.

    And 25 or so years later… I’m still looking for interesting things.

  59. Joseph Gardella

    I’m a chemistry professor at the University at Buffalo, and not one, but two moments in my youth had a large influence on my career.

    The first was when I went with my father to the school where he served as a counselor in Detroit, Condon Junior High. Condon served a majority African-American population—not surprising before desegregation in Detroit. As a 9-year-old, I was struck by the struggles of the students living in poverty, in a difficult school environment, struggling to have a life we might consider normal.

    The other moment that I think about often is working as a high school junior in my first chemistry class. I had had a chemistry set as a kid, and I both burnt my friend’s ceiling with flames from gunpowder and learned to create simple chemical reactions with colored precipitates.

    When I realized in my high school class that the academic work of chemistry—understanding chemical reactions, chemical structure—came easily to me, I knew that I wanted to study chemistry and someday be able to influence other kids in more difficult situations that science was fun, science was worthy of study and science could lead to an exciting career.

    I’m lucky enough to be doing that now. In the local school district, I coordinate a teacher professional development program that creates “moments of science” for kids in urban schools.

    Through the program, teachers at 12 public schools conduct research over summer with local scientists. Then, they take what they learned back into the classroom, engaging students in projects like building real, working solar cells or analyzing DNA through gel electrophoresis. UB STEM students help out with the activities, spending many hours in the schools each week.

    Our program, the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership, helps teachers create the kind of excitement and wonder that has made us all so passionate about science: http://www.buffalo.edu/news/12951.

  60. Matt B.

    My moment of science (not specifically astronomy) was when my dad told me that it’s possible to make water from hydrogen and oxygen. This led him to tell me about atoms. Chemistry had been a closed and hidden book before that. I’m lucky my father wasn’t afraid to use big words with a 5-year-old.

    My moment of astronomy is probably just when I discovered the chart of planetary information in my encyclopedic dictionary. Having information lying around like that can really give a kid a head start.

    Likewise, I learned the Greek alphabet when I was 10 from the same dictionary. That kept me from having dangerous pauses in math classes. And that was my moment for linguistics. (Did I mention I’m a genius?)

  61. Chris Schoeneman

    Like Phil and so many others, for me it was that first sight of Saturn through a telescope. Mine was a small refractor built by my uncle. It wasn’t very good but at maximum magnification you could just distinguish the gap between the planet and the rings.

    Though I was young, I was already interested in science and was outside looking for Saturn on my own. I knew what to expect — I’d seen any number of drawings and photos of Saturn — but I was wrong. There it was! Barely resolved and crude compared to the photos but real! Save for a bit of glass, those photons were direct messengers from the planet itself. Absurdly, I felt close to Saturn and yet small and insignificant; triumphant and humbled. Awed. I crave to feel that again.

    I ended up writing computer software for a living. I love it and have no regrets, but science has a special place in my heart. I plan to be in Corvalis, Oregon, Aug 21, 2017. My daughter will be six and a half, I’ll be 48, and we’ll both see a total eclipse of the sun for the first time. Perhaps we’ll be awed.

  62. Gary

    I’ve always explored the world around me. Encouraged by parents and an uncle who bought me the chemistry set, electronic projects, a small telescope, a microscope, … But my first moment of “real” science came in high school physics class. Mr. Zacker had us calculate the velocity of where we sat on earth as we rotated around it’s axis.
    It was an impossible question when he posed it. The numbers were scary huge.
    But then all the lightbulbs went off for me. Not just physics, astronomy, algebra, and trigonometry. But creative writing, philosophy, geometry, sketching, biology, computer programming, … That was the best hour of schooling I have ever had. I finally felt I had the tools to answer all the questions. And they just led to more questions.
    Ain’t science fun!

  63. Aaron

    I’ve been interested in architecture since birth, and I’ve been a map geek since I first learned to read (about age 4). My #MomentOfScience, though, was probably reading about dinosaurs when I was about 5. (This was in the late 1980s, not long after the big revolution in paleontologists’ understanding of dinosaurs.) Reading about the universe and the planets a bit later only encourage my interest in learning about the world in general; I’m also eternally glad my parents (and other relatives) supported my bookish interests.

  64. Julanna

    My father, who was not a scientist, lying on the grass at night with the whole family, we were just checking out the stars and he was just explaining what he knew about them. I’m not a scientist either, but I do the same thing for the young things in my family (and any others I get anywhere near). One of my triumphs was taking a friend out of the over bright city to the dark country to prove that the Milky Way can be seen.

  65. Long time lurker, first time commenting. My first moment of science was actually as a young kid. My dad, who was a businessman with a degree in psychology, took me outside with some binoculars and showed me the night sky. He showed me the stars and how some of the fuzzy spots were actually nebulas – some of which were dead stars, but others which were the birthing grounds of new stars. I just was amazed at this world outside our own world, and whenever we went to the library – which was fairly often in my family – I’d check out as many astronomy and physics books I could get my hands on. A lot of them I didn’t understand at first, but I kept at it, until I eventually majored in it and got a degree in it.

  66. Nigel Depledge

    I don’t recall what set me onto science in the first place, apart from an avid interest in space when I was about 6 or 7 (I was about 2 months old when Apollo 13 launched, so there was still some optimism about humanity’s future in space at the time). But what set me on the path of biochemistry was learning, while studying for my Biology A-level, how DNA encodes the information from which proteins are made.

    Oddly enough, chemistry was always a bit of a “black box” to me until I started learning, in my first-year degree-level chemistry classes, about reaction mechanisms. I was very impressed with myself when, as part of my second-year chemistry project, I correctly predicted that a possible side-reaction of a reaction I was carrying out was polymerisation of the product. Of course, I was brought back to Earth with a bit of a bump when, instead of crystallising my final product with conc. nitric acid, I destructively oxidised it.

  67. Stark

    I know what made science my lifes love – and when it happened, down to the second. It was June 18th, 1983 at precisely 7:33 AM GMT-4. That was when, at the age of 8, I watched the Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-7) lift off from about 3 miles away. It left a bit of an impression. :)

  68. 1. my father gave me a crystal radio set when I was 7 and I remember being under my bed sheets listening to the radio. I wanted to know how it worked.
    2. In high school I went a bit deeper are realized on my own that the Bohr radius occurs when waves constructively interfere. That insight was a Eureka moment that made me realize that this, and hence almost everything, must make physical sense.
    Although the two are unrelated, they both motivated me.


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