January 13, 2008

Good Example, Bad Example: Inspiring Young Scientists and a New Definition

Yesterday, I was attacked repeatedly by Murphy's Law. By 2:30, nearly everything that could have gone wrong had gone wrong, culminating with the lock to the door of my lab malfunctioning with my key still stuck in it. It being Saturday, the Physical Plant was closed. I won't get my key back until tomorrow and, in the meantime, the lab door can't be locked. I wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed and watch a bad horror movie, which is what I did; I watched a truly awful flick entitled The Empty Acre. I can't bring myself to actually review it other than to say don't bother. Just don't.

Still, even a glum day like yesterday managed to have one heartwarming bright spot. It occurred while I was doing some field work at Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary. I had gone out to find specimens of fungi with which to test my new chitin agar medium and was in the process of streaking a control plate when a family of four approached. My field kit (which began life as a fishing tackle box) was open revealing the various dropper bottles of reagents and other science-y looking things. I had a petri dish in one hand and a pithing needle in the other, having just poked into a Trametes to take a sample of the microorganisms therein. The family stopped and the father of the group told one of the sons, perhaps six years old, to ask me what I was doing instead of asking him. The boy did, and I told him that I was trying to find out what kind of germs live inside of fungus. The kid's response was, "I wish I could do that." I told him that maybe he could someday if he really wanted to.

I always feel a certain gratification when a kid finds me out in the field and has a positive response like that after finding out what I'm doing. I get to be a good example for a moment and arouse someone's curiosity about the world. It's the same reason that I enjoy teaching, but it's even better. The students in one of my lab sections have to be there and often don't want to be. A curious six year old has much purer motivation for asking questions.

This morning, though, I also got to be a bad example. LL and I were talking about some coffee she'd brewed. We were given a sack of coffee from Zimbabwe as a Xmas gift by one of her relatives. The coffee has lots of caffeine but no particular flavor, and LL complained that she missed the taste of coffee in her mug. Still a bit bleary, I told her that I like strong-tasting coffee, too, but not the acidic sort. I couldn't think of the right word to describe that, so she offerred "robust." That's not the right word, though, since I have now redefined it:

robust (Ro*bust"):
  1. Boobs on an automaton.
Usage: That fembot has quite a robust! Now kiss my shiny metal ass.
Put that one in your dictionary and smoke it, Webster!

Sphere: Related Content