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Springboard Science

Springboard Science
Just some of the MANY articles I've read in the last couple of weeks

A long long long long time ago, someone discovered how to start a fire. This person taught others and many years later, someone used what they already knew to bring fire into our homes in fireplaces. This person taught others and many years later, someone used what they already knew about indoor fire to invent an oven. Instead of having each new generation re-discover how to build a fire, the old knowledge was passed down and acted as a springboard for new discoveries.


That is exactly how science works. It builds little by little over time, thanks to work done by many different scientists. Scientists publish the results of their experiments in academic journals to share their findings with the world and to allow other scientists to use their results as a springboard for their own projects. We don’t want to make other researchers rediscover how to build a fire, we want to tell them how to do it so that they have the time and information they need to take another step in creating new knowledge.


And that basically brings me to where I am now: reading scientific articles to learn what I can in order to help move science a little bit forward. My project this summer is focusing on the shinnery oak - an oak shrub that only grows in a few small regions in the American southwest. It can produce seeds to grow new plants, but most of its reproduction is through cloning. Some scientists say that the same single genetic individual (so not the same physical plant, but a clone of a clone of a clone) might live on for more than 40,000 years! The shinnery oak's population is shrinking, and sadly, we don’t know very much about the shrub. We need to do research on this oak now, before it’s too late, so that we can better understand how to protect it.


Me, sitting at a computer reading articles
Reading articles takes a lot of concentration...
I’m starting off by trying to figure out how to get DNA out of the cells of the shinnery oak’s leaves because once we isolate the DNA, we can learn a lot about the oak's genetics. However, there are a lot of obstacles in the way. That’s why I’m reading so many scientific articles! I’m trying to gather as much information as possible about methods other scientists have tried to work around these obstacles. From reading, I’ve learned a lot about what does and doesn’t work on other oaks, so it gives me a good idea of places to start when working with this specific oak.


I’m so glad that other scientists share their findings with the rest of the scientific community, so that I can learn from them and then use that knowledge as a springboard to create more knowledge - which I hope someday someone else will use as their own springboard. No re-discovering how to build a fire for me this summer!

Me, sitting at a computer reading articles while laughing
... but it can still be a lot of fun sometimes!