Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Seeing Through God's Eyes

One of the pleasures of studying the physical world is perspective. When you work with molecules long enough, you gain a sense of scale. It’s a little like being Neo at the end of The Matrix - you catch a glimpse of the millions of 1s and 0s that make up your daily life.

I was recently reminded of this at a no-kids night at the California Academy of Sciences. If you haven’t been, San Francisco has done a truly amazing job with both the CAS and the de Young art museum directly opposite. The museum night was magical, with low lights, a DJ, and wet bar – the perfect way to experience science.

By the time we made it to the IMAX Planetarium show, I was perfectly buzzed. We flew out and looked down on the planet Earth and the International Space Station, and I felt like I was there. I knew this was the closest I’d ever be to orbiting the Earth, and for a whole lot cheaper.

Then we flew out farther, so we could see the entire solar system, and paused to watch the planets in their rotational orbits. It’s quiet out there in deep space, peaceful, beautiful. As a molecular biologist, I’m used to thinking in terms of nanometers – not millions of light years. We flew out further, seeing nebulae and galaxies in infrared spectra, like looking through the eyes of God. After the show, we strolled through a night reef, watching jellies with four perfect rings of fluorescent pink pulsate rhythmically.

Sometimes it’s hard, as adults who have been-there-done-that, to find an emotional connection to the universe. But if we're going to do science, we may as well enjoy it. And in the right setting, knowledge can open our eyes to fresh perspectives, and help us rediscover the child-like wonder that inspired us in the first place.

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