Sources of Inspiration

For the discussion of the sciences. Physics problems, chemistry equations, biology weirdness, it all goes here.

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burkleypatterson
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Sources of Inspiration

Postby burkleypatterson » Fri Mar 26, 2010 2:13 am UTC

As a group of people who express an uncommon degree of dedication to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, we all likely were set apart from everyone else by a number of crucial determining moments and sources of inspiration. I'd like to hear some of the things that have influenced all of you to follow this admittedly divergent path. experiences pertaining to science preferred, but if it was important, it's worth saying! I ask partially out of plain curiosity, and partially out of an interest in self-enrichment.

A few things that inspired me:
the sitcom "Big Bang Theory"- originally inspired my interest in physics
the book "A Short History of Nearly Everything"- perhaps the most important thing I have ever read (academically, at least)
My beloved ti-89!!! Bridged the gap between worrying about math and loving it! Now I spend my time writing equations for fun!
the book "A short history of time" by Stephen Hawking
Black Holes- without a doubt one of the most interesting things I have ever learned about
Calculus- it gave me a whole new appreciation for the nature of math and of the physical world
And of course, XKCD- a work of sheer brilliance that has led me to explore things I never would have otherwise

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cpt
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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby cpt » Sat Mar 27, 2010 1:57 pm UTC

the sitcom "Big Bang Theory"- originally inspired my interest in physics


turn back now

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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby Steax » Sat Mar 27, 2010 2:00 pm UTC

Bill Nye.

Yes, sue me. I was at the age. At the time. :(
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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby burkleypatterson » Sat Mar 27, 2010 11:31 pm UTC

cpt wrote:
the sitcom "Big Bang Theory"- originally inspired my interest in physics


turn back now

I said originally. since i first began watching the show i've taught myself AB calculus to prepare for my AP Physics C course, read stephen hawkings collected works, won an APS scholarship, and have spent the majority of my free time learning physics and math. I'm just looking for interesting stories here

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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby burkleypatterson » Sat Mar 27, 2010 11:33 pm UTC

Steax wrote:Bill Nye.

Yes, sue me. I was at the age. At the time. :(


Who didn't think Bill Nye was great at that age!? Too bad about that business with his wife trying to poison him and attack him with ginsu knives :|

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Secateurs
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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby Secateurs » Sun Mar 28, 2010 1:28 am UTC

I think that it's more the fact that I hadn't had any real experience of chem/physics outside high school. I thought I was pretty hot stuff at English and Maths, but changing from a tiny public primary school to a huge private high school, I quickly realised that that wasn't the case. In chem, though, I just quietly studied and improved. It was a huge surprise to me when I started getting 'top' marks for my year. (I really didn't want this sentence to sound like I'm bragging, but I can't get it not to. Sorry.)

Then there's the fact that my year 11 chem teacher was just awesome. He's probably the reason why I've decided to go into chemical engineering next year.

Oh, I also read 'A Short History of Nearly Everything', and found it interesting at the time, but it didn't really click with a possible future career in scienc.e.
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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby Woofsie » Sun Mar 28, 2010 10:03 am UTC

This is going to sound horribly clichéd, but probably the first thing that got me interested in science was sitting on my dad's knee when I was about 6 and watching Star Trek:TNG. I remember him explaining to me how a warp drive worked and what antimatter was, and I thought it was totally awesome.

It turned out that my science education pretty much sucked until uni, so I kept myself interested with books and the internet. Astronomy Cast was a huge influence a couple of years ago, and made me consider physics to be a really viable career choice for the first time.

Lately I've been reading a lot of Carl Sagan, he really was an incredible guy. His Cosmos documentary is one of the best shows I have ever watched.

Also you guys: The Big Bang Theory is awesome.

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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby Hawknc » Sun Mar 28, 2010 10:10 am UTC

Hey, don't badmouth The Big Bang Theory. My inspiration was Star Wars, for crying out loud.

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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Sun Mar 28, 2010 4:00 pm UTC

I can trace this pretty well, actually. My first big push was Madelein L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, especially descriptions about the flow of time, four-dimensional space, and E=mc2. In middle school I read Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos and The Elegant Universe, which turned me on to modern physics. Sometime in high school I had been talked into engineering as more "reasonable" than physics, but my physics teacher and Richard Feynman (via Surely You Must Be Joking, Mr Feynman) got me back on the straight and narrow.
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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby Krikkit_Robot » Sun Mar 28, 2010 4:24 pm UTC

I guess it was my general appreciation for nature that inspired me to pursue biology. But it was a recruitment poster for University of Washington physics hanging outside my biology 2 class after I received a low C on a test I studied forever on that inspired me to forget biology and go into physics.

cpt wrote:
the sitcom "Big Bang Theory"- originally inspired my interest in physics


turn back now


What is wrong with The Big Bang Theory? I think it is a pretty good show, relative to the standard dribble on TV these days. It can be a bit too goofy at times and goes for entry level science jokes, and sure I don't think it would have inspired me into physics if it had been around at the time, but it isn't targeted only towards physicist.
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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby Steax » Sun Mar 28, 2010 4:57 pm UTC

Forgot to mention Reading Rainbow and Magic School Bus.

God forgive my 7 year old brain. I was so naive... Thinking science would be as portrayed in those shows. Was immediately disappointed in high school.
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burkleypatterson
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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby burkleypatterson » Sun Mar 28, 2010 5:07 pm UTC

Steax wrote:Forgot to mention Reading Rainbow and Magic School Bus.

In second grade I was convinced my teacher was Miss. Frizzle :)

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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby cv4 » Sun Mar 28, 2010 8:41 pm UTC

In grade 12 I realized that:

a) I liked physics better than biology or chemistry
b) I realized I wasn't going to get a baseball scholarship to a school worth going to

These, along with always liking robots, machines and sci-fi led to start a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering.

3 years in, its not bad, but not that good either. I have realized that I would rather be doing more from the business side, so I will probably get my MBA at some point.

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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby Eternal Questionner » Sun Mar 28, 2010 9:19 pm UTC

Ahh, Magic School Bus. That, along with Horrible Science and Murderous Maths when I was a bit older, is probably the reason I started to prefer science to my other subjects at school. Looking back, much of the stuff in them is more or less wrong, but it inspired me, nonetheless.

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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Sun Mar 28, 2010 11:41 pm UTC

I remember Horrible Science! Made me an evolutionist as a child. I liked the Histories, too, but they made math books? Awesome.
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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby MadRocketSci2 » Mon Mar 29, 2010 12:47 am UTC

2 sources of inspiration:
1) I had a magnetic set featuring various rockets and a lunar landscape when I was a kid. I thought that was the height of awesomeness, that we could build vehicles to send things (especially people) to other planets. I wanted to become an engineer and build vehicles like the Saturn V, from a very young age, and hopefully do my part to get mankind out there living in space.

2) I couldn't stand not knowing how things worked. "Knowing how things worked" included more than just having a ready verbal "explanation" for something. I had to have the principles, the fundamental concepts had to make sense, I needed a combination of mental picture and mathematical machinery. Even more - everything had to mesh. Contradictions grated. I remember driving my teachers absolutely nuts. I think this has subsided somewhat since then (to the point where I actively have to call that mindset up). Either that, or life has beaten it out of me. In total though, that is a good thing. Needing that level of clarity like you need air would have driven me crazy at the college level, where there was never enough time to learn things that well.

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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby nehpest » Mon Mar 29, 2010 1:11 am UTC

When I was a wee lad, Reading Rainbow and the Magic School bus got me started. A few years later, I became a Bill Nye nut (early or mid 90s, I think?) I, too, was brought up on a rich diet of Star Trek and Star Wars; in fact, one of the best Christmas presents my parents ever got me was Krauss's The Physics of Star Trek.

I was fortunate in that I got a pretty strong science education in high school, and a respectable math education gave me the language to express it all.

Deep dark secret: the movie Down Periscope is what tipped the scales in favor of engineering over pure science.
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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby DNA » Mon Mar 29, 2010 3:42 am UTC

For me, it was the question: What controls me? I was fascinated when I first learned all living things were made of cells - they were what we were controlled by! But wait... what controls the cell? Who tells the cell what to do? When I first saw a picture of a cell with it's dark, mysterious nucleus I was immediately drawn in. I couldn't get over the fact that a cell could have a "brain". A couple of college and university genetics courses later and now I'm stuck with the nature/nurture debate to answer my original question, which is pretty deflating.
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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby Eseell » Mon Mar 29, 2010 4:01 am UTC

Truthfully, Geordi LaForge from ST:TNG was my original inspiration for majoring in Aerospace Engineering. It's what I had wanted to do since I was eight years old and watching TNG with my parents, and they encouraged an interest in aviation all through my life. I still think LeVar Burton is rad.

Strangely enough, after college I only worked in the aerospace industry very briefly before jumping over to computer networking.
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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby Interactive Civilian » Mon Mar 29, 2010 4:15 am UTC

I don't know about science in general, but I'm pretty sure my marine biology obsession began at around age 10 when I saw a National Geographic Special on sharks. Or at least, that was when I learned the name of my obsession with sea life. I just remember hearing the words "marine biologist" being bandied about, and from that moment I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

However, I didn't become one fully, though I did get my BS in Marine Biology and General Ecology. I discovered about 2 months before graduating university that I love teaching more than I love research. I am now a high school biology teacher. 8)
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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby Cobramaster » Mon Mar 29, 2010 5:52 am UTC

No single source of inspiration that I can place a finger on but when my memory kicked in I was reading books about paleontology and ever since I have been pursuing the various sciences, to various degrees.
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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby polymer » Mon Mar 29, 2010 5:58 am UTC

This is a fun question :). This post is probably longer then it needed to be, but It felt nice reminding myself why I am where I am.

My goal is physics/research there are a couple or reasons for this. Sophomore year of high school I had a biology teacher that was full of energy and knew his subject very well. I started to talk and ask him questions about a variety of things. We'd spend an hour just talking about these and other questions. I talked to him a lot, eventually It got to the point where simply talking to him inspired various ideas for experiments that could be done. Because of those talks I learned that I wasn't bad at asking questions, and I wasn't bad at coming up with experiments. At least as far as biology was concerned. I would eventually realize that this implied that I may be capable of good science some day.

In math class I did the bare minimum in order to get the A, I generally could pull this off because the tests were worth so much. My math teacher was very impressed with me though, and had a lot of faith in me. Eventually I started to feel bad since I didn't think I was actually that impressive. One day I was sitting around procrastinating from my math homework, and observed a cereal box. For some reason or another, I wondered if one could figure out the volume of that cereal box, if you pushed the top edge in to look like a circle. I thought about it a little more, and found that it was a rather interesting idea. I was able to simplify and specify the components of the problem I could and couldn't answer with my current understanding. I then proceeded to attempt to learn the calculus necessary to solve the problem, and tried to solve the problem. I wrote it up in a paper and turned it in to my teacher. The paper in retrospect is pretty terrible, All of the math was done with a keyboard, and some basic assumptions of mine were simply wrong--like a parabola accurately modeling the edge of a circle. But she was proud nonetheless and consequently gave me a genuine sense of pride in my mathematical capacity. I proceeded to play with mathematical ideas, coming up with a couple more clever ideas. The key regarding that original question was that I started to think about things mathematically for myself.

That was an important moment since it prepared me for physics which I took my senior year. Physics class wasn't terribly difficult, and although it wasn't completely comprehensive, it was still a lot of fun. At around this point in time, I had decided that physics made sense as a discipline to study, since I felt it would leave options open for me scientifically. This now, I feel, is an awfully silly excuse to study a discipline, which is why I'm glad my physics teacher recommended the Feynman lectures on Physics. I bought the books, although I had never actually read a textbook before. I have read technical books though, so that would certainly help. What really pushed me though was Feynman's other book "Surely you must be joking Mr. Feynman!" The same physics teacher gives 50 points extra credit to the kids who read that book. When Feynman talks about what it was like to be hypnotized, he says something to the effect of "believing you can do something, but then don't, is just another way of saying you can't." That jabbed me in the heart, so consequently I took things I "could do" seriously. The question wasn't whether I could read the Feynman lectures, the question was whether I would. I made it a goal, and am currently following through with it. I've read through the first volume and 6 lectures into the second volume. I'm currently in the process of rereading the first one to reinforce comprehension. Those books have showed me how much one has to read something in order to truly get what it means. The books have done more then that though, they've helped exercise my mathematical skills even further, and have given much more context to what physics is and what it means to be a physicist. Much more then my college or high school courses ever have. I also now know what physicists mean when they say the universe is elegant, or beautiful.

So that's my story, I am a product of wonderful teachers. I hope to do their work justice someday :) .

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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby jmorgan3 » Mon Mar 29, 2010 3:26 pm UTC

nehpest wrote:Deep dark secret: the movie Down Periscope is what tipped the scales in favor of engineering over pure science.

Care to explain this? I'm an engineer and I like the movie, but I can't think of a link between the two.
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Re: Sources of Inspiration

Postby Coffee » Mon Mar 29, 2010 6:43 pm UTC

Star Trek and my video game obsession collectively pointed me towards computer science. Somehow around 2000 though I stopped going to school and enlisted in the Air Force.(that's another topic though) After about 3 years in I started taking classes part-time and I finished my CCAF. Then I got re-assigned to Korea where I read the book Dune; that, strangely enough, inspired me to go into ecology. Couldn't do anything with it at the time though. After Korea I was sent to the UK for a couple of years; just in time to catch Planet Earth on BBC; that's what narrowed my focus specifically to marine biology.

*edit* Oh, I forgot to list Mythbusters. Not for biology or as an example of rigor, but, well, I think it's a fun show.
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