Michelangelo once said, “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block before I start my work.”
The same insight applies to the scientific potential that resides inside young people. Curiosity is imbued within every human being since our birth, and before we can find the words to explain why, we experience the urge to turn over rocks.
Often, efforts to promote science among young people aim to impress upon them what is important about science. But why don’t we instead help them find their inner sculptures and spark their interest in science by discussing topics that are salient to their life experiences? After all, passion for science is neither borne out of abstract principles nor laws, but out of profound and personal yearning for answers in our day-to-day lives.
Introducing the #YoungScientificAmerican, or #YSA, the first partnership between a scientific enterprise and a media company that aims to publish multimedia content for the youth. As a standalone section of the media outlet, #YSA will release weekly columns combining scientific literature with topics related to youth. The goal of the campaign is not to talk about the youth or to emphasize what established scientists consider important but rather to incorporate scientific thinking and evidence into conversations young people want to have. These will be the type of articles that families can discuss together at the dinner table or that teachers can use as introductory material in classrooms. They have the potential to go viral on various social media platforms, unified by #YSA.
After all, these topics have the potential to fascinate a wide and diverse readership. When we are young, we pursue some of the most formative, universal, and timeless inquiries, such as how to improve oneself, how to find one’s purpose or how to be accepted by others. Don’t we all subconsciously keep track of the social media posts that generated many likes as well as those that were met with utter silence? Don’t we all remember the various diets or exercise regimens that we tried before the class trip to the beach? Last but not least, do we ever stop trying to make good impressions on our crushes for as long as we live? Let’s harness this momentum to direct young people towards seeking and utilizing scientific evidence.
Imagine one such feature on the topic of “Why do I feel nervous when talking in front of the class?” something many young people struggle to overcome. This is the perfect hook to discuss some of the captivating literature on the fight-or-flight response, or the effects of catecholamines on the human body. Why does my heart race? Why do my palms get sweaty? They will be fascinated to learn that some physicians prescribe beta-blockers to people for performance anxiety, not to mention individuals who have conditions that predispose to sudden bursts of catecholamines, such as a pheochromocytoma. All of these articles can be incorporated into a scenario that captures a young person’s desire to be more confident. The same strategy can then be applied to topics such as attraction, friendship, diet, body image, and social media. Each issue can also have outreach campaigns via social media such as Twitter and Instagram to encourage young people to assert their own hypotheses and suggest their original ideas for experiments. Currently, the scientific method is viewed among young students as a professional skill. The #YoungScientificAmerican campaign will teach them to embrace the scientific method as a state of mind in a fun, social manner, no matter what the subject.
Scientific inquiry is a deeply personal and passionate endeavor. It requires years of hard work and countless experiments. But this process cannot be turned on exogenously; it must come from within. Thus, instead of just teaching that science is important, we must show them how science can be important in answering some of their most burning curiosities. To do this, we must meet them where they are. We cannot give them the marble or the sculpture, but rather the chisel to transform themselves from one into the other.
If we can accomplish this, who knows? One day, what started as reading about how to make more friends in high school may translate to a scientific inquiry worthy of winning the Nobel prize.
Jason J. Han is a cardiothoracic surgery resident.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com