What the word "Scientist" means

"Formatting information in new, accessible ways is just as important as making it open- Isaac Stockdale, University of Washington VISIONS 2013 Student


My interest has once again peaked of what it truly means to be a scientist. I've sporadically thought about this question throughout the years, knowing as a freshman in college that I wanted to be one, but without knowing what field of science I would fall into.

An earthquake, by definition, is the result of a sudden release of energy in Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. I feel this pretty accurately charts my veracity in my basic question over the last few days. I have read heartbreaking articles of the horrifying effects of the magnitude 7.8 quake in Nepal this past week. With an increase of earthquakes on the seafloor off the coast of Astoria, Oregon, I have been reading articles and interpretations, analyzing bottom pressure tilt graphs, and looking at earthquake frequencies.

Does this make me a scientist? Not in the least. 

A few years ago, I was on a ship floating in the ocean for a few weeks, for an expedition called VISIONS 2013. At this moment in time, I was coming off the high of a summer spent traveling around the Western US and South America. It was an immensely fun summer spent doing exactly what I wanted to do - mainly, learn. I flew to Seattle to learn and work onboard the R/V Thompson for the remaining bit of summer.

Anyone who has spent anytime on ship or at sea will tell you that it is some serious reflection time. I adore being on the water partly because of this. You know your job, you deal with arising issues, and the crew becomes like family. It had been the first time I was able to think and reflect on the summer without much distraction, other than ogling at the crazy rock structures and charismatic fauna a mile below our ship. This time forcibly made me stop, think, and stay a while, in a good way.

We were cabling the seafloor so we could monitor ocean processes in real time for future studies. This would be accessible to the public, and took years and years of planning. The BPT graphs I've been looking at? They are the direct products of that expedition. Seismometers are tracking the earthquake rates of the area, and these rates have increased dramatically. They tell us when deformation and activity is happening on the volcano, so we can predict an eruption. Seismic activity in this area could potentially have effects on the Western seaboard one day, as tectonic plates move & adjust, so it is incredibly important to track and monitor. 

The energy of the scientists, the engineers, and the educators on board the ship was palpable. They worked tirelessly on getting the updates out there for the rest of the world to see and hear. In my time of reflection, I began to wonder why I was drawn to such a study as this and what in fact it meant for me to be a scientist - this had been the third extremely different geologic environment I had ventured to that summer. It was truly an exciting expedition to be a part of, but I still did not yet understand the enormity of what we we're doing.

The number of scientific studies that affect us overall is immeasurable. When I was at sea, it was difficult for me to capture the grand picture of what we were doing, but it had a huge purpose. Learning and coming up with explanations based off factual data is part of what it means to be a scientist, but I will take it even one step further. Creating something with this data that is accessible and open is the other essential facet of being a scientist. I think scientists often get a bad wrap that they are "hoarding" what they are investigating, and so often that is simply just not true. Generally people don't understand it, don't want to understand it, or there is a barrier in how it is being presented. The desire to get research out there, to educate, and to continue to learn and grow into your topic is what it means for me to be a scientist.

The research & educating of scientists - whether they be engineers, lawyers, retailers, doctors, or anyone, is quite possibly one of the most amazing things anyone can do. It can save lives and inspire thousands if we really put science into the world in a new way, just by simply making people aware.

At the time of that ocean expedition, I understood only a fraction of what was going on. As I investigated and created presentations that following year, I learned more about the region's in's and out's. I enjoyed studying geology, and I also enjoyed telling anyone who would listen about it. It is a distinct challenge to present something that will not sing and dance in an exciting way, and I commend all my professors and educators throughout school on getting ( and keeping ) us interested. Sometimes you can't help what you become passionate about, and it just so happens that I became very passionate over something inanimate and totally underrated in the world - rocks. I'm currently working on getting their good name out there.

GARB was not only created to show beautiful, exciting prints, but GARB is most importantly a means for scientific communication. Each print is truly curated from what is out there in the world. It is worth looking at, and looking into deeply. Each rock and small biological organism tells a story of pressure, force, and change. It may not save anyone's life directly, but I deeply hope it gets folks excited about science and starts a conversation about what science has the ability to do. The possibilities are endless. Go and do your own science.

Everyone can learn from the communicators who take different approaches to how they teach - whether it be visual or audible. I am incredibly thankful for the scientists who spend time working so hard at getting this scientific data out there. You guys don't hear it enough!