You might wonder how I came to be at the opening ceremony of the Euroscience Open Forum 2012 in Dublin this evening. Well…..it’s because I love science. I love what it is, how it explains the universe to me, I love it for itself and for its applications to our lives. Not that I ‘get’ it all, or have a good grasp of it. No, just the wonder of it, how it improves our lives and what it promises.
Naturally occurring beauty often has a scientific explanation. The harmonics of Bach were written in all probability without knowledge of Pythagoras’ ‘music of the spheres’ . The configuration of seeds in a sunflower and the whorl of a snail’s shell occurred without consulting Fibonacci about the sequence 1,1,2,3,5,8,13… Beautiful faces, figures, buildings had Palladian proportion long before Palladio was born. Gravity didn’t wait for Isaac Newton, but in explaining it, he opened up a new way of understanding our universe.
We’re no slouches in Ireland either. Amongst others mentioned by President Michael D. Higgins in his poetic welcome to all delegates, we boast William Rowan Hamilton who in giving us quaternions in 1813, gave us the formula for Lara Croft’s graphics about two centuries later. His discovery is celebrated by an annual walk along the Royal Canal on 17th October every year.
Edwin Schrodinger became ‘one of our own’ when Eamon de Valera, a passionate mathematician and President of Ireland, offered him safe haven in 1940 as he declined to cooperate with the Third Reich. He stayed here for 17 years and his steps, and those of other scientists can be retraced in the company of Mary Mulvihill of Ingenious Ireland who is keen to share our scientific heritage with all.
But, back to the personal…more of the things I love….
-Teflon and Velcro which came to us courtesy of the Space Programme
– the Genome for showing us that we’ve so much DNA in common and that there’s so much more that unites us as humans than divides us.
– Global Positioning system (GPS) . Withoug my sat-nav I could hardly be trusted to leave the house.
-Food Science; the traditional arts of dairying, fermenting, animal rearing, wine making have been enhanced enormously by the application of science.
-the Internet and Social Media. If diversification is key to survival of a species, these allow expression to all preferences and viewpoints, and everyone can find a community.
Most of all, medical science with its new diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities has changed everything. Preventative medicine has given us a new cohort of people who would have been felled by coronary heart disease up to three decades ago. Vaccination has eliminated several cruel infectious diseases, and is on its way to making others a thing of the past. Immunology is creating extraordinary new frontiers in our understanding of infection and inflammation. Many cancers have yielded their secrets to modern science; my own husband would not be here today were it not for a fastidious doctor who paid close attention to an (almost) insignificant abnormality on a routine test result 10 years ago.
Even if some diseases still carry the shadow of the Grim Reaper, epidemiology tells us all that if we take regular exercise, maintain a proper body weight, have good relationships and don’t smoke tobacco, our odds of living a longer, healthier life are higher. The grotesque picture below is everything we would strive to avoid.
I still grapple, however, with the idea that a molecule is a molecule is a molecule. Science says that there’s no proof that organic foods are more nutritious or taste better than non-organic. In the 1960’s it was thought that nutrition could be reduced to a few capsules a day until Denis Burkitt proved that roughage is essential for the prevention of bowel cancer. Empirical evidence can’t be refuted but, in terms of epistemology I ask myself …How do we know what we know? What is informing the question that we ask? Until the Rosetta stone is completely deciphered on this one, I’ll keep getting my weekly organic veggie delivery.
A great programme lies ahead in the next four days, and it’s all here in Dublin!
Perfect cadences, airborne Irish dancers, heart-stopping percussionists all set the welcome tone this evening, counterpointed by the lyrical native Irish language of President Michael D.Higgins and Commissioner Máire Geoghegan Quinn. New and old, intertwined in a spiral of enquiry and imagination.
Our future as a nation lies in being educated, informed, hard working and enlightened based on the solid Irish foundation of enjoying it all too.
It’s all there for the taking at ESOF 2012