How Science is Done


I wish I had a dime for every time I have heard that we as teachers need to teach students how to do the scientific method.  I could have earned more than my regular paycheck at times.  When I get students in my class, many times I have to relieve them of the notion that there is only one way of doing science.  Many think that discoveries are made mostly when scientists look for them.  The idea that a lot of science is happenstance surprises them.  MESSENGER has a lot of science that was planned, but just like any other science experiment, it is the unplanned surprises that sometimes bring interesting results.  One of the coolest things i have heard during the past week was when Jim McAdam described the first-ever experiments with solar sailing.  Scientists started wondering about the intense light pressure from the Sun and how it was affecting MESSENGER.  By altering the angles of the solar panels they were able to get data and eventually do course corrections on MESSENGER without loss of fuel.  This was never discussed before the launch and was all done on the fly as MESSENGER was traveling to Mercury.  Using solar sailing they were able to get within 1.6 Km of the target area after traveling 2/3 of a Billion Kms.  Kind of like hitting a bulls eye on a dart board in LA when it was thrown from NYC.  Not bad.

So the next time someone tells you that you are going to use THE Scientific Method ask them “Which one?”

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