Sunday, June 20, 2010

My science mentor

I volunteer with a science outreach program called Let's Talk Science. They recently sent an e-mail to their volunteers asking them to write a short tribute to their science mentor. That got me thinking; who is my science mentor?

Looking back in time - to my formative years - none of my teachers stand out (though many of them were talented and impassioned). My consistent source of scientific wisdom and awe came from my dad.

I remember a number of specific "learning moments"... when my dad explained a concept to me and I experienced the desired a-ha. For example, my dad was painting our van (with a paintbrush!?!) and he told me that the colour comes from what part of the light is absorbed by the paint, versus what part is reflected. A-ha! I got it, right then and there.

Another time... I was in my room (which I shared with my brother Mike). Our light was a big sphere attached to the ceiling, made to look like a planet or star. I guess my dad was explaining to me and a friend that seasons are caused by the earth going around the sun. I remarked that the sun also causes day and night, and joked, "That must be some complicated rotation." Dad calmly explained that the seasons are caused by the earth revolving around the sun, and day and night are caused by the earth rotating on its own axis. A-ha! There are two different rotations! I got it.

I also remember sitting at our dining room table in the evening with my dad. He'd tell me about how crystals are formed by atoms arranging in a matrix. Or how the hydrogen bomb works. He taught me so many things, and I remember just soaking it all up. And loving every minute.

That's why my dad is my science mentor.

Happy Fathers' Day, dad.

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