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31 days of ideas
Uri Alon

Science demands a leap into the unknown

Recommended by Liz Wayne

In high school, I took one of those quizzes where you answer tons of questions and they tell you what career you’re best suited for. The answer I got was “artist.” This isn’t surprising, even though I’ve gone on to obtain degrees in physics and biomedical engineering. Everyday I go into lab, I’m creating something new. I close my eyes and “press play” as I visualize what processes inside our body look like. My imagination lives in the nanoscale world. I’m constantly working with things that I can’t see, trying to interpret how the human body works and create a new vision for how we treat diseases. Science is an art of its own. Research is a continuous cycle faith and failure.

Uri Alon’s TED Talk, “Why science demands a leap into the unknown,” helps me remember this. It’s a reminder that failure, creativity and improvisation are all part of the experience of being a scientist. In the moments when I get stuck in my research, this idea encourages me to improvise a little, to do something that might make me feel unprepared like taking a long walk or dance a night way. Or to say “yes, and” when I talk about my research question with another scientist. Nature is trying to tell me something, and perhaps I just need to listen.

Uri motivates how I engage with my students. I try to incorporate notions of art and improvisation into their research experience. I train them in how to think rather than how to follow instructions because I want them to prepare for the moment when their existing knowledge is no longer sufficient. And much like Uri, I hope every citizen, student, professor, politician and doctor would embrace this mentality towards science, too.

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