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“The Making of a Scientist” is a story about how a new world of science opened for Richard Ebright. Since childhood, he was captivated by butterflies. He used to collect them and then do a detailed study about the species. Richard always had a peculiar and sharp mind and he looked forward to learning and exploring new things along with several scientific theories. In this chapter, students will get to know how Richard Ebright’s fascination led to him becoming a scientist who received two awards, the Schering Plough Award and the Searle Scholar Award, for his great contribution to the field of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry.
How did a book become a turning point in Richard Ebright’s life ?
The book was called ‘The Travels of Monarch X’. It was presented to Richard by his mother. It told how monarch butterflies migrate to Central America. At the end of the book, readers were invited to help study butterfly migrations. They were asked to tag butterflies for research by Dr. Frederick Urquhart of the Toronto University. Inspired by this book, Richard started raising a flock of butterflies in the basement of his house. It opened the world of science to him. He would closely watch the various stages of a butterfly’s development from the egg. He watched the tiny gold spots on the monarch pupa. He found that the spots were producing a hormone necessary for the butterfly’s full development. This discovery ultimately led to his famous theory on how cells work. It became a landmark of his career. Thus we can say that the said book became a turning point in Richard Ebright’s life.
How did Ebright’s mother help him ?
From his very childhood, Ebright was interested in collecting things. He used to collect butterflies, rocks, fossils and coins. He had a bright mind, and had the curiosity of a scientist. His mother discovered these qualities in him and gave all help to develop them. She encouraged his interest in learning. She would take him on trips. She bought him telescopes, microscopes, cameras and other equipments. When Richard didn’t have anything to do, she would find work for him — not physical work, but that of learning things. Thus the mother helped Richard a lot in becoming an intelligent scientist. But for her, Ebright could never have become such a great scientist.
What lesson does Ebright learn when he does not win anything at a science fair ?
At the science fair he gets a hint of what real science is. He learns that science is not a neat display of something, but doing real experiments.
What experiments and projects does Ebright undertake after he fails to win anything at a science fair ?
The subject for Ebright’s experiments and projects was naturally butterflies. He got many ideas and suggestions for his experiments from Dr. Frederick Urquhart. First of all, he tried to find the cause of a viral disease that kills nearly all monarch caterpillars every few years. Then he tested the theory why viceroy butterflies copy monarchs. He also tried to find out if birds really disliked to eat monarchs. In one of his projects, he found out that the twelve tiny gold spots on a monarch pupa were not just ornamental. They produced a hormone necessary for the butterfly’s full development. Thus Ebright did many experiments one after the other. But his theory on how cells work was the crowning glory of his career. It lead to many other important discoveries.
What are the qualities that go into the making of a scientist ?
A scientist should be competitive, but not in a bad sense. He should not run after prizes. He should work for the right reasons. He should be intelligent and full of curiosity. All these qualities go into the making of a scientist.
How can one become a scientist, an economist, a historian... ? Does it simply involve reading many books on the subject ? Does it involve observing, thinking and doing experiments ?
We have learnt a lot of things from the lesson, ‘The Making of a Scientist’. Let us take the field of science. A person well-versed in the aspects of this field is called ‘scientist’. To become a scientist, the first requirement is the curiosity to know new things. One must be keen to gain knowledge in the field of his choice. This knowledge cannot be gained from the reading books. A scientist has to carry out experiments to establish the authenticity of what he has read. And while experimenting, he must well go beyond what he has read. So the aspirant has to cultivate a fine balance of observing, thinking and doing experiments. A scientist takes upon himself the work of research with a keen eye and a keen heart. New theories cannot be formed without experimenting. If we study the lives of all great scientists, we shall invariably find these qualities in them. Merely reading many books is not of much help.
You must have read about cells and DNA in your science books. Discuss Richard Ebright’s work in the light of what you have studied. If you get an opportunity to work like Richard Ebright on projects and experiments, which field would you like to work on and why ?
The theory of cells and DNA is concerned with the formation of living bodies and their constitution. Richard Ebright conducted experiments in the field of cells and the DNA structure of living tissues. This field is rather recent which has generated immense interest in the scientists world over. Scientists can now not only detect abnormalities in the living beings — especially human beings — but can also effect changes in the DNA structure to remove the defects. They can also bring about hitherto unknown characteristics in the living beings. If asked to work on the lines of Richard Ebright, I would choose to work with human beings in mind. I shall want the future men to be completely disease-free who will be able to enjoy a much longer life span than they can possibly do today. This may well usher in an era of peace and better understanding among peoples of different nations.