Becoming a Scientist.

If you observe young children carefully, you will see that they have an insatiable curiosity. We need to be careful to avoid repressing that curiosity. Telling them answers before they investigate for themselves can turn them away from their probing.

It is illuminating to examine the early lives of scientists. A common feature is their free range childhood. Some were able to roam the countryside and perhaps fishing like Agassiz. Some were able to roam in their towns and spent time in museums on their own such as Thomas Huxley. Charles Darwin roamed freely collecting and added to his fathers extensive natural history collection. Naturally Ernest Rutherford had a free-range childhood at Brightwater and Foxhill. James D Watson went with his father bird spotting instead of going to church.

Another common feature is their artistic development. Galileo could play the lute as his father was a virtuoso lutist, while Galileo made musical instruments. Einstein played the violin as did the un-famous NZ astrophysicist Beatrice Hill Tinsley. She played in the Junior National Orchestra. In another artistic outlet, Louis Pasteur could have taken up painting. I saw one of his fine works in Maison de Pasteur in Arbois on a visit. Leonardo da Vinci must surely count as a scientist and as an artist. Herschel played the oboe in a military band and was a composer of note. Erwin Schrodinger is noted for his poetry in German and English. However, Richard Feynman who played bongo drums should not really count as really artistic.

The educational background of scientists show that many had teacher parents or they had some form of home schooling or had private tutoring. Charles Darwin was home schooled by his sister before going to a boarding school as a day pupil. Marie Curie’s father was a teacher and instructed Marie and her family in science at home. Marie and her sister were involved in the “Flying University”, a clandestine college teaching in the banned Polish language.

An exception is Michael Faraday who had little formal education but working for a bookbinder, he got to read many books. Rutherford’s mother was a teacher and no doubt had an influence on him even only to have an emphasis on education. Thomas Huxley’s father was a teacher whose school fell on hard times. Richard Feynman’s parents encouraged him to ask questions and when coming home from school, instead of being asked what did he learn today at school, was asked about what questions he asked.

Consider the case where a child went on to get a Nobel Prize just like the parent. The parent must have had a role in developing the son or daughter’s education. Niels Bohr had a son Aage, who followed him in nuclear physics and both were awarded Nobel Prizes. The Australian Bragg father and son got a Nobel Prize together. J J Thompson got a Nobel Prize for discovering the particle properties of the electron while his son G Thompson got a Nobel Prize for discovering the wave properties of the electron. The Curie family had several Nobel Prizes between them.
Marie Curie and husband Pierre shared a prize in 1903 while Marie got another in 1911. Daughter Irene shared a prize with her husband in 1935. In addition, the husband of Marie Curie’s second daughter (Eve), Henry Labouisse, was the director of UNICEF when it won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965. There are several other cases of father and son winning a prize.

Often in their lives, there was a book that was important and helped form their thinking. They were always dedicated readers. Both Darwin and Alfred Wallace were influenced by Malthus’s “Essay on Population.”. Dipping into Euclid’s “Elements.” encouraged the maths ability of several scientists. Ampere took up science after finding a eulogy of Descartes in his father’s library. Michael Faraday as a bookbinders apprentice became interested in electricity from reading an Encyclopaedia he was re-binding and then was particularly inspired by the book “Conversations on Chemistry.” by Jane Marcet. Rutherford was influenced by the book “Physics.” by Professor Balfour Stewart. James D Watson’s book was “Travelling with Birds.” by Rudyerd Boulton, from a Museum of Natural History. He was later was inspired by the book “What is Life.” written by physicist Erwin Schrodinger. Thomas Huxley was quite an early reader with one of his encouraging books being James Huttton’s classic “Geology.”. Beatrice Hill Tinsley was inspired by Hoyle’s book “The Nature of the Universe.”.

Many came from religious families and often from church ministers of some kind. Louis Agassiz’s father was a Pastor, Beatrice Hill Tinsley’s father was an Anglican Minister and Mayor of New Plymouth. Joseph Priestly was born into a family of religious non-conformists. Alfred Wallace was born to very devout parents. Several scientists came from Quaker families, such as Dalton. Michael Faraday came from an unusual sect; the Glassite sect of Christianity. Marie Curie’s mother was a devout Catholic, although her father was an atheist. Charles Darwin came from a Unitarian family.

I think more notice should be made of the way children can become scientists.

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