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What Is Best About Science

22 January 2013

This photo gallery is part of the eJournal USA issue "Science: The New Frontier."

Several recipients of the 2010 and 2011 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers reveal what they think is best about science.

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ALT: Barack Obama in front of group of people standing on risers (White House)

CREDIT: White House

We asked several recipients of the 2010 and 2011 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers what is best about science. Their answers follow.

Here, President Obama addresses the winners of the 2011 awards.

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ALT: Scott Gaudi at desk (Courtesy of Scott Gaudi)

CREDIT: Courtesy photo

Scott Gaudi:

We are all incredibly fortunate and privileged to live in a completely unique time in human history. For the first time, the scientific pursuit of some of our oldest and most profound questions is possible: Are there other solar systems? Do they look like our own? Are we alone? I am incredibly grateful and honored to be able to participate in the effort to find answers to these questions. And I am astonished that I am, in fact, able to provide some answers. How cool is that?

Scott Gaudi, associate professor of astronomy, Ohio State University in Columbus

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ALT: Close-up of Curtis Huttenhower (Courtesy of Curtis Huttenhower)

CREDIT: Courtesy photo

Curtis Huttenhower:

When I finish a task, my two highest priorities are that the results be correct and that they add to our understanding of human health. There aren't a lot of jobs that have such great priorities. As an added bonus, I get to work with some of the smartest people in the world, and to help myself and others learn from each other every day. That's a privilege.

Curtis Huttenhower, assistant professor of computational biology and bioinformatics, Harvard University

Bioinformatics: The use of computer technology for organizing, storing and analyzing biological and biochemical data.

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ALT: Ali Khademhosseini (Courtesy of Ali Khademhosseini)

CREDIT: Courtesy photo

Ali Khademhosseini:

I think that there are many great things about doing science. However, aside from discovering new things that can potentially improve people's lives, I really enjoy making a very direct impact on the lives of my students and inspiring others to pursue a career in science and engineering. I have now trained a few individuals who have become scientists themselves, and it is always very satisfying to see them develop their own careers and make an impact in the world.

Ali Khademhosseini, associate professor, Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School.

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ALT: David Noon in polar clothing next to scientific equipment (Courtesy of David Noon)

CREDIT: Courtesy photo

David Noone:

Science is about discovering how things work. Searching for answers is outrageously exciting. There are few things more exhilarating than examining newly collected observations, or seeing measurements that no one has seen before and asking: “Does this show the world works in a way that is different from what I expected?” My research takes me to spectacular places like the top of volcanoes in Hawaii, the ice sheet in Greenland and alpine forests near my home in Colorado. We look at the movement of water molecules between snow, air and leaves to discover how the land, atmosphere and clouds are connected at the scale of the whole planet. Water is so critical for our shared environment, agriculture and societies. Helping solve important problems is rewarding. But science is also great fun, and more than a little addictive.

David Noone, associate professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder

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ALT: Portrait of Yuri Shprits (Courtesy of Yuri Shprits)

CREDIT: Courtesy photo

Yuri Shprits:

When I travel by plane, I often see people working on puzzles. They are really excited when they find solutions. We are solving puzzles for a living. That's our job. Our puzzles are harder but solving them is also more rewarding. We have the best jobs in the world.

Yuri Shprits, research geophysicist, University of California, Los Angeles

Geophysics: The study of the subsurface conditions of the Earth and the quantitative observations of its physical properties.

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ALT: Pawan Sinha looking up (Courtesy of Pawan Sinha)

CREDIT: Courtesy photo

Pawan Sinha:

Humans are, by nature, empathetic beings. We feel badly when we see suffering. To my mind, the best thing about science is that it gives you the training and tools to do something concrete to alleviate human suffering. Think about the happiness a mother feels when a medicine, created through the process of scientific discovery, cures her child of a dreaded illness. Imagine the joy a person feels when she reaches out to her friend who is feeling lonely in a strange foreign country; science makes that communication possible. One can come up with countless such examples.

We feel good about ourselves when we do one good deed. As a scientist, one has the opportunity to do many. Every day of a scientist's life is filled with the possibility of transforming lives near and far for the better. No wonder scientists are a happy lot!

Pawan Sinha, associate professor of computational and visual neuroscience, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Neuroscience: The study of the nervous system, including fields such as neurochemistry and experimental psychology that deal with the structure and functioning of the nervous system and brain.

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ALT: Close-up of Mariel Vazquez (Courtesy of Diane Fenster/San Francisco State University)

CREDIT: Courtesy photo

Mariel Vazquez:

The best thing about being a scientist is the fun you have. Science is fun. Math is fun. I use math and computers to tackle scientific problems which involve DNA and the interactions of proteins with DNA. In my work I get to draw a lot of pictures. I play with rope and with ribbons. I also create cool movies that help me understand and solve the problems I am working on. As a scientist, I also get to travel a lot, to meet people from all over the world and to work with them. What is wonderful about science is that it provides an infinite source of challenging problems to fit every taste and passion, and it inspires us to work hard to understand our world.

Mariel Vazquez, associate professor of mathematics, San Francisco State University

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ALT: Close-up of Brent Waters (Courtesy of Brent Waters)

CREDIT: Courtesy photo

Brent Waters:

For me the best thing about being a scientist is that I get to choose what problems I work on. If there is a problem that interests me or piques my curiosity, I can make it my job to understand it and solve it.

Brent Waters, assistant professor of cryptography and computer security, University of Texas at Austin

Cryptography: The study of writing in code and deciphering such writing, often used to protect computer systems.