Danielle Haas Freeman ’17 and other student researchers at Bowdoin have launched a new “informal” science blog about their research. With “Bowdoin Student Scientists: Science in Informal Language,” they aim to communicate the importance of science in a time when public policy appears to be veering from mainstream scientific findings, particularly on climate change.
Freeman explains in the blog that she is concerned that the outcome of the US presidential election reflects a distrust, among some parts of the public, for “both the scientific method and of the relevance of our research to globally significant debates over climate change, pollution, land use, and human health.”
In their posts, the student contributors describe their research in relatively non-technical language and straightforward descriptions. They also include some personal observations.
“We believe that the research we conduct here and hope to conduct beyond Bowdoin is critical to understanding the impact of human activities on the environment, to identifying the risks that our impact poses, and to protecting those people who will be most immediately affected by environmental change.” — Danielle Haas Freeman ’17
For instance, in her post “LeadIn(g) The Way,” Karen Chan ’18 offers a few “post-project thoughts” on research she did testing community garden soil samples for lead. “I think this project made data more valuable to me. It’s so easy to take for granted the values that news sources put out for us,” Chan writes. “…This project also touches upon contamination and waste, which I had never thought too much about before this class. But it’s so relevant! Chemicals aren’t inherently bad; amounts (and effects) are what’s important.”
Alex Poblete ’17 asks in his post — which covers confined water, acid-base kinetics, and protein design — “Why should we care?” He answers his question: “If you’re still reading at this point, you probably have a major question on your mind: what could possibly be the reason for wanting to know any of this? The reason lies in the incredible intricacy of biological systems.” He adds that his research could abet de novo protein design, which has “enormous potential in many fields, from medicinal purposes to industrial purposes.”
Freeman and the other student contributors are upfront with their belief that the study of natural science cannot be apolitical. According to the blog’s “Guiding Principles,” the students argue that “what we study, how we study it, who funds us, and who gets access to our results—all of this is political….We have all chosen to study or research environmental issues because we believe that humans do have an impact on the non-human environment, that the environment only has a limited capacity to sustain continuous human-caused pollution, and that, when that capacity is exhausted, our own pollution can come back to bite us.”
In the video taken last summer, Freeman and several other students in chemistry professor Dharni Vasudevan’s lab briefly describe their research.rch.