These first two weeks of February have been heavy on some really cool science news.
A bionic eye that would help people with a rare sight disorder was approved by regulators, scientists found signs of life deep under a glacial lake in Antarctica, a meteor exploded over Russia’s Ural mountains with an estimated power of around 30 atomic bombs and just around midnight on February 16 (Pakistan Standard Time), the DA14 asteroid passed within some 27,000 kilometres of Earth. (That is around 10 round trips between Karachi and Islamabad by road.)
But perhaps, one of the most interesting science-related news I read this month was actually about a development from 2012.
It was an interview of 15-year-old Jack Andraka published by Forbes.com. The American teenager has found a new way to diagnose pancreatic cancer. His method is “168 times faster, 26,667 times less expensive, and 400 times more sensitive” than the existing diagnostic technique.
I especially liked this reply Andraka had for the Forbes journalist,
“ … my parents would never answer my questions but always helped me to discover or find out answers for myself. So, I learned how to make hypotheses and test them without knowing I was ‘doing science’!”
While the ‘hypotheses-experimentation-analysis’ routine is plain textbook scientific method, it is still a message that needs to be repeated again and again for students at the primary, secondary and high school levels in Pakistan, where rote learning has almost always trounced scientific inquiry.
Andraka won at the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) and I recently covered the national science fair in Islamabad where Pakistan’s 10 representatives for ISEF 2013 were selected.
Those 10 winning students came from as diverse backgrounds as a private school in Karachi and a public school in Vehari, but they had one thing in common: their research-based projects addressed issues most Pakistanis face today (environmental pollution, drinking water quality etc.).
I cannot vouch for the science of the projects that won at the science fair – there was a panel of judges for that – but I hope these young Pakistanis will keep on wearing their researcher hats once they return from the ISEF and maybe inspire their peers as well.