I'm not sure if I mentioned it before, but this past school year I have been doing a part-time internship for museum presentation of science. For the past several months, I have been entrenched in my final project. We had to come up with an original idea for a small exhibit or demonstration, write a proposal, and if your proposal was accepted (not everyone's was) implement it, evaluate it, and write a final paper which was due in yesterday and give a final presentation today.
Lab work? What lab work? You mean I'm supposed to be working on a thesis project?
I wrote a proposal for a demonstration on chicken embryonic development. I preserved 4 and 6 day embryos (gestation is 19-21 days), bought slides, tested microscopes, did a prototype demo, did evaluations, and wrote the report. I wrote the proposal alone, but did the rest with the help with two other students and a coach. At times, it was intense. I was working on the report while in Boston, if that tells you anything.
Yesterday, I was telling one of my labmates that I would be glad when it was all over. I was exhausted. I was tired of trying to divide my time between lab and museum work. I was tired of having group meetings. I was tired of chickens. I just wanted it to be finished.
Today, we set up all of our projects in a room in the M*useum of S*cience and Ind*ustry. It was kind of cute--like a mini-science fair. People from our partner museums and from the university came and looked things over and we each presented our projects to the group as a whole. And I gotta admit, I was feeling a little, well, unsure of myself because what did I have? Some dead embryos and slides. My colleagues had cool computer programs that would take you on tours of constellations in our galaxy or a program that taught you about the affect of frequency on sound and you got to wave a little wand and make waves on the screen and their was a voice-over and everything.
But they liked it! They liked my embryos. And not just in a polite, oh she worked hard so I'm going to compliment her sort of way, but in a I overheard the director of education for MSI saying what a great demonstration it was and that he loved the fact that it brought together two museum icons (the chick hatchery and the human prenatal exhibit which consists of human embryos that they've had since the World's Fair), and that they really thought that they could use it and were interested in it.
And that was when I thought, "It was all worth it."
Most of what I do in lab has no lasting tangible thing at the end of it. I mean, there are pictures, there are graphs, but none of it feels like it's going to be this thing that will really make a difference to anybody. But this, this feels real. People will come to the musuem and see it and learn something and even if they don't learn something they'll think how cool it is to see a real embryo and not just a picture or a model but the actual thing. And they won't know who I am, and my name won't be associated with it in any way except to the staff of the museum, but it will still be something that is mine that affected people--everyday people, not super-specialized scientists--in a way and it will make them think, "Science is cool."
It was great interacting with the public and it was rewarding to see their enthusiasm, but this is even more exciting because it means that my work will survive after I'm gone from the museum. And that means a lot to me.
Not that I'm going to be gone from the museum for awhile. I'm taking a break for about a month, then I'm going to work with the musuem directly (only a couple hours a week because, hey, I have to graduate) to see that the demonstration really becomes a permanant part of the musuem. They have a group of high school interns who have been studying development and I'm going to teach them to do the demonstration for the public.
So, that's it. That was my day today. It's definitely going in the books as one of the best days of 2006.