February 23rd, 2021

By Alara Tuncer




Beep Beep Beep. I woke up punching my alarm from a vivid dream of me in the fifth-grade science fair—sheepishly presenting about tungsten lamps. This is when I should’ve known that I was going to become a scientist. What kind of 10-year-old tries to build a light bulb with tungsten filaments?


It’s 9:20 am. I rub my eyes and pull the curtain reluctantly—yet—firmly and the light begins to illuminate my room. Hoping the sun does a better job at waking me than my alarm, I yawn. I feel sleepier than usual. It’s unavoidable for me really, to go about my day without dividing the total amount of sleep I’ve got the previous night with a single sleep cycle (roughly one and a half hours) to evaluate if I’ve gotten enough sleep.


I walk into the bathroom and turn on the tap to wash my face. I hear the faucet dripping, while I’m keen on avoiding scientific explanations for this, when I turn to observe the water sneakily escaping between my fingers from the hand I’ve been holding out—I’m caught in the flow of my thoughts just like the water, liquidious. I wonder why? Still, I carry on about my day, walking around on my tippy-toes so that my roommate doesn’t wake up to my creaking footsteps. Still, I hear noises caused by the unwilling force I’m exerting on the floor that is defiantly causing a surge of vibrations to travel along the floor, sharply cutting through the silence of the air.


I brush my hair and my teeth. You would’ve thought that my mind wandering into nothingness—thoughtless and lacking the natural scientific inferences and inquiries that would normally be generated—would cherish the emptiness of my mind but instead, when I don’t make scientific assumptions about my surroundings everything I do feels a lot louder. While slipping into my clothes, the zipper of my pants and the button above gets tangled in my hand and I’m only more aware of the constant sounds of my surroundings. Regardless, the rest of my morning ritual becomes increasingly easier as I get into the rhythm of something I’ve been doing for days, and then I’m finally caught in my natural tendencies and am reminded that this is some sort of muscle memory. Aha! It’s like how I can play Amelie Comptine d’Un Autre Été on the piano even if I don’t have the notes in front of me or haven’t played in a while.


I’ve always been naturally curious about the world I live in—searching for meaning and reasoning behind everything—which is what made becoming a scientist like second nature to me. It makes sense to become something that’s always in search of answers if you’ve got a lot of questions to ask about the world. Additionally, the weird approximation questions discussed regularly among my parents over breakfast were a kind of a Sunday ritual. One week it was estimating “how many water molecules there were in a standard glass of water” and another week it was “the total surface area of all the leaves in the world” which aided my becoming. Inherently questioning the big and small questions in my life surrounding me I became increasingly curious about the world we live in.


We are only limited to living in a world we can truly understand. What makes us “superior” to any other species is consciousness and consciousness manifests itself by compiling knowledge and information about our surroundings in our minds. I don’t want to be defined by the limitations of my knowledge and understanding. The world might feel small when you’re travelling but there are still questions waiting to be asked and solutions waiting to be sought.


So, as I walk down from my apartment located on the 6th floor, when you know the scientific reasoning behind certain things, it’s tough to avoid thinking about the energy that is added to my body with gravity as I step every step down the stairs—which makes going down the stairs faster and easier unlike going up the stairs.


Luckily, when I put on my headphones and deafen the notoriously clinging scientific thoughts circulating my mind, the rest of the day slowly unfolds. I step onto Thompson street and walk down along the grey concrete until Washington Square Arch becomes visible before my eyes. I decide to grab my daily cup of coffee with an extra shot of espresso today, I’m craving the extra caffeine. The coffee is warm between my palms, energy transfer…I breathe and take a sip and start walking.


There’s a man holding a sign that reads “the virus is a hoax, take off your mask.” He is also screaming at the top of his lungs “the vaccine is made to track us.” “Lady” he calls me “take off your mask,” he says, spitting out his words spitefully as it seems. He follows up with “the government is controlled by evil Democrats and China, they’re going to track you if you get the vaccine!” to another stranger persistently arguing with him on the side. Aha! So, it’s not about science, it’s about politicizing science.


There are several problems with politicizing science. Firstly, the science presented by politicians is merely controlled by scientists and experts. Often, it’s the people who know how to talk and present themselves in a certain way that becomes politicians and consequently support those with similar characteristics. It’s like a cycle feeding itself based on presentational merits! When this is the case, it’s unlikely for scientists who’re busy dealing with long experiments and complex datasets to get out and advocate for science to the general public while being convincing. And when science and politics combine with the intrinsic fears of certain individuals—somehow—the scientific research that’s created to help guide us through our hard times creates fear in scientific public policy.


Trying to avoid the spit that is flying out of his mouth and COVID-19 simultaneously—obviously—I walk away from the increasingly intensified man and make my way to the subway to go to work. I think about how the rest of my day looks like with experiments when I’m disturbed by the sound the train makes as  it arrives—an amalgamation of surface tension and air resistance.


When I get out of the subway I find myself amidst New York’s first snow. I take a video and post it on my Instagram story like a typical millennial. It’s barely snowing, the flakes can be easily mistaken for rain by the camera lens. I’ve always liked snow, growing up in Poland, moving to California for college, and now having lived in New York just a few months—this is my first snow in awhile—I’ve missed it! Also, a weather condition with an intricately beautiful scientific cause involving pressure and condensation, but let’s not get into that now…


At work, once I set up E. coli to express the proteins we desire, I sit by my computer when I get an ad pop-up for one of those websites skeptical of science and climate change. Before I click, fearing that the algorithms on my computer will re-write me as a science skeptic for the future, I go incognito. I note down the feeling of uncertainty when I’m confronted with the possibilities of science and technology. I come across a blog that’s named “Watts Up With That?” —masked with scientifically misrepresented data—a blog dedicated to promoting climate change denial. Advertised as “the world’s most viewed site on global warming and climate change,” I read through the headlines and tabs of aggravating and false claims.


Just as I’m going down a rabbit hole of false claims with the contents of my readings getting increasingly political—Bing! I get an Instagram notification. A friend of mine working for Rainforest Foundation US has sent me a picture of New York under a pile of snow in 1948 in response to the Story I posted earlier. Below her message reads “it doesn’t snow like this anymore, climate change. ”


Later in the day, I leave work exasperated with my mind circulating with thoughts of climate change deniers and coronavirus disbelievers. Why are there so many deniers of climate change? What about anti-maskers? All the snow from earlier has melted and the lights coming from lampposts and buildings smear as reflections. The overwhelming set of colors and the alarming noises echo as the cars pass. That’s when I notice the light bulbs of the lampposts taking my thoughts back to my dream from the night before about tungsten lamps.


Clarity. I have a vague memory of myself when I was 10 years old, knocking on my dad’s office door with a too-bright-of-an-idea about what I should be doing for the upcoming science fair. I remember telling him “I want to build a TV.” Despite being a successful engineer himself he can’t contain his amusement and laughs. “How about you try starting with something simpler this time and we can build a TV another time?” his amusement still lighting up his face. I can almost imagine mini-me searching the room for something that would be simpler yet satisfying for the little Marie Curie inside of me. And all of a sudden, my light-bulb-of-an idea becomes building a light-bulb.


In the upcoming weeks, I studied everything there is to know about tungsten light bulbs. Although I can vaguely recall some parts of my juvenile research, what I remember extremely vividly is winning that science fair having constructed a tungsten light bulb. There was an essence of clarity I felt in that moment when the two sizzling tungsten filaments surging with electricity met with each other rejoicing in a faint light that I wouldn’t change for the world. Thinking back to this moment it is more clear what the science naysayers are missing. The knowing.


As a consequence of the increasing polarization and politicization, science has gained an increasingly bad reputation. Radical protestors, Twitter accounts, and blog posts casting doubt on vaccines, climate change, and even coronavirus all have something in common. The fear of uncertainty and confusion. But the only solution to this problem is knowing. And science is the gateway to knowing more.


We have to constantly investigate and rebuild on our previous findings to let go of this cloud of judgment and slowly achieve clarity. Although you might be aggravated by the constant surge of stimulus you are experiencing—the only way you can make sense of it all—is if you inquire and investigate the reasons behind what’s happening. The dripping faucet, the loud footsteps, the stairs, snow, etc.


An apple fell on Newton’s head, he didn’t get angry at the apple, he looked at the reason behind this event and called it “gravity.” Later came Einstein and defined this as a curvature of time and space caused by energy and mass.


Neural networks in the brain are created through rebuilding on previous neurons. Similarly, cities expand outwards from a point of origin or by connecting with other nearby cities. Science also develops gradually this way. Rebuilding on what we already know and collaborating with others about the realities of our world, we can find the answers to our big questions. But to do this, we have to advocate for science and make scientific education more accessible.


I challenge you to investigate the realities revealed by science surrounding you. You can see the evidence of simple science in your daily life when heating your food in the microwave or turning your light on at night. What makes these simple tasks possible is science used for technological advancement. But you can also be observant of the complexities of the science surrounding you. Its remarkable evidence can be hidden on your child’s face that is combining your and your spouse’s own facial features. It might be harder to visualize the evidence of microscopic molecules such as coronavirus or harder to fathom the glaciers that are melting in places you’ve never been to before. But in this case, you have to trust the experts because they are trying to clarify the realities that surround and shape you. Trust science and believe in science because everything you do has science at its core.