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Video: Untold Life Stories of Scientists
Presented by: Francis Ayombil, PhD
Hello everyone! Welcome to our presentation titled: The untold life stories of scientists. This presentation is inspired by the misconception that all accomplished scientists live lives remotely distant from what we perceive to be ordinary in our society. I hope by the end of this presentation you would appreciate that, this may not always be the case and that scientists are normal people too. They are our fathers, our mothers, our relatives and our neighbors. Further, I hope that this presentation will enlighten especially young people who are interested in science that you too can do it, living your life the way you want it to, without compromising your contributions to improving the lives of humanity and in our understanding of the universe. There isn’t necessarily a set way of life for scientist really.
The outline of the talk will include a brief introduction of some famous scientists that you may or not know. I hope you can use opportunity to refresh your memory about those you already know about as well as get new insights on others you may not be too familiar with during the presentation. This talk will also highlight interesting differences between some of the scientists including how spent their day from breakfast until sleep time. I will then wrap up the presentation with a summary which will include key takeaways from this presentation.
To begin, I would like to ask the question: Who are these diverse group of famous scientists shown here? You could pause the video a few seconds and take a guess. For the purpose of this talk, I will provide a brief overview of their scientific contributions without elaborating too much. Further resources are found on the last slide for those who might be interested in getting to know more.
To answer our questions, the first picture again shown here is that of Stephen Hawking and I hope you got that right. Arguably one of the most famous scientist in recent memory, Stephen Hawking was born in the early 1940s and passed away quite recently. He was a theoretical physicist who also made significant contributions to the field of cosmology. For many people, he will be remembered and credited with the ability to explain many of the mind-bending principles of particle physics that made it easier for the common person to comprehend.
The next Scientist perhaps is the most famous in my opinion. Albert Einstein was born in the late 1870s. He was a theoretical physicist and is credited for developing the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics.
Shown here on the right is Marie Curie. She was born in the late 1860s and was a renowned physicist and Chemist. She was the first woman to win a Noble Prize in physics and later in Chemistry. Furthermore, she was the first person to win the Nobel honors twice, an outstanding achievement. She is a role model to many in science and is famous for pioneering the work on radioactivity. She discovered Radium and Polonium and also championed the development of X-rays.
Last but not least, Alice Ball is the scientist on question D. She was the first African American to graduate with a masters in chemistry from the University of Hawaii. Following her graduation, she got a teaching and research position at very young age of 23. She developed what is called the Ball method. A technique that was used to produce the first injectable leprosy treatment in the early 20th century. So far, we have looked at a sample of a diverse group of scientists, I will use the remaining time of this presentation to discuss the daily routine of other scientists.
In the morning…Should you rise and shine or have a lie-in?
The famous neurologist Oliver Sacks is up from bed by 5am in order to pack in some breakfast. He then takes a swim and ready for business by 9am. In order to observe crucial animal behavior for her study in Africa, the primatologist Jane Goodall would wake up at 5:30am, and hike a mountain on a breakfast of coffee and a slice of bread. Albert Einstein would get in his breakfast at 9am followed by work at his Princeton office from 11 am. The morning routine of these scientist highlights two things -- First, the time is work is not fixed or rigid as long as you have an agenda. ----Secondly, as long as you can executive your goals of the day it does not matter when you start work.
So what did some of these famous scientists do at lunch time?
It turns out that for Charles Darwin, lunch time was more than a meal. He would often take a walk with his dog gathering his thoughts for the day. This is then followed by reading his favorite Times news paper before replying to his letters. Nikola Tesla walks about 10 miles a day thinking through ideas for new inventions. For Marie Curie, dedication to her work meant that sometimes she forget to eat lunch and was once found passed out in the Library. The take home message from his slide is that illumination comes in different ways. Sometimes you need to take a step back, walk a ways and some great ideas might come to mind.
So what was the routine like for some scientist in the evenings?
Stephen Hawking and Astronomer Sandra Faber shared a common theme of stepping back from work and spending quality time with friends and family. For some like Dorothy Hodgkin, a dire need to end the suffering of diabetics meant that she worked deep into the evening during her ground-breaking research on insulin. She however would take a break each day to write to her husband whom she saw during the weekends. For others like Alexander Bell, deserving intervention by his wife meant that he has to stop at 7pm, have dinner and spend quality time together.
So how much sleep do some scientists get?
The recommended hours of sleep per day for adults is about 8 hours. It turns out that Charles Darwin was in bed for almost 9 hours every night but it’s been suggested he was bad sleeper. Einstein on the other hand, had about 10 hours of sleep every night in addition to taking several naps during the day. Marie Curie worked for most nights and its thought he often kept a small jar of the radioactive element at home leading to some health issues. This slide highlights that’s we may not define a person’s level of commitment and dedication based solely on their hours of sleep. For our own physical and mental well-being it is important to always have some rest so you are fresh to take on the tasks of the next day.
In summary, I think you would agree with me that scientists like others in many professions do not live like out of ordinary despite their diverse contributions to our understanding of nature and in the promotion of human health. We also learn from this presentation that each person has a unique work schedule yet their time at work did not undermine their contribution to science. And the final take home message is that for many it was not all about being a hard worker, it was about working smart as well.
We have come to the end of our presentation. This final slide contains some useful resources if you are interested in further expanding your knowledge about the scientific contributions and personal lives of some accomplished scientists from many walks of life. Thanks for your attention.