Thus, when we have information, we like to share it. Even if it's trivial. Who doesn't gossip? Who doesn't like to be the bearer of news? Who doesn't like to show off some new insight? Everyone loves to talk about themselves, share their viewpoint, make their opinion heard. Quora and Facebook and telephones and books and movies are all about sharing our points of view and seeing the world through another's eyes and experiences.
At this point, I could make up some evolutionary 'just so story' about how sharing our perceptions with others made us successful as a species. And you would like it, because it would make sense. And you would like it because I shared it.
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And we would all feel good about it, even though it's complete nonsense that I just pulled out of my ass. It doesn't matter. Both artists and scientists strive to see the world in new ways, and to communicate that vision. When they are successful, the rest of us suddenly 'see' the world differently. Our 'truth' is fundamentally changed.
Both scientists and artists with nothing new to reveal are failures. Scientists and artists who cannot communicate their insights are failures. It takes both skills to make a successful scientist or artist. Scientists who can communicate but have nothing new to say are frauds and hype-sters. Artists with new views of the world but who cannot communicate them effectively are crackpot fringies. Scientists tend to struggle more gaining the new insights. Artists tend to struggle more with the communication. Both often work hard to gain the background and skills that will help them be successful.
That's why there are prestigious schools of science and art. Scientists do experiments over and over and over, trying to pin down some new aspect of reality.
Once they have their new understanding, there are pre-arranged traditional modes of communication that make that part easier. Artists often start with the new vision, then work through 'periods' in which they explore how best to get the message across. They have shows. They seek feedback to help them understand what works. But imagine what it was like for 19th century scientists who didn't know anything about genes or chromosomes or DNA to try and answer this question.
It was just too big to tackle all at once, so scientists began using their imagination to break up the problem into more specific questions. There are many smaller and more specific questions that one could ask about how heredity works, such as:. Scientists also have to imagine how to investigate such questions using different research methods see our modules on Research Methods.
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Given the research techniques and knowledge that was available in the mids, one question that could be addressed was simply, "What patterns can we observe in inherited traits? Gregor Mendel , an Austrian monk, looked systematically at patterns of inheritance. Mendel had been trained in physics and mathematics at Vienna University, but he had a passion for biology, and was inspired by a biology teacher at the university to try to "reduce the phenomena of life to known physical and chemical laws" Schwartz, see our Scientists and the Scientific Community module for more information on people who influenced Gregor Mendel's scientific career.
Mendel started performing secret crossbreeding experiments on white and gray mice — a practice not fully endorsed by the church at the time — as well as more public experiments with various flowering plants at his monastery. By , Mendel had settled on the common garden pea, Pisum , for his experiments.
Why peas, and not mice? Primarily, peas were simply easier to breed.
Inspiring Quotations about Creativity in Science
Mendel was also able to produce varieties of Pisum that bred true for certain easily recognizable characteristics. For example, some varieties produced only yellow seeds, while others produced only green; some produced red flowers, and others white, and so on. If he crossed plants that produced yellow seeds with plants that produced green seeds, he could confidently predict that all the offspring of this cross would produce yellow seeds.
Thus, the offspring still retained a characteristic from the parent with green seeds even though they themselves did not produce green seeds. Mendel thus proposed a simple model , in which two characteristics, one from each parent, are inherited and involved with determining traits Figure 3 see Genetics I for more on Mendel's laws. Even though Mendel clearly showed that his model applied to seven traits of garden peas, other traits do not exhibit such simple behavior.
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In fact, he later performed similar experiments on other plants and did not always get the same results — heredity is just not that simple. Still, enough traits of various organisms were shown to follow the patterns recognized by Mendel that eventually scientists came to believe he had identified something important about heredity, even if there were other complicating factors Schwartz, The story of Mendel's peas illustrates two important points about creativity in science.
First, creativity involves abstraction. That is, even though the real world is very complicated, a creative person can mentally carve away some of the complexity to reveal simple principles that mostly account for his or her observations. Mendel's laws aren't perfect, but he is considered a great scientist because he was able to identify important patterns in his data that other people might have missed by getting too hung up on the details.
Second, creative scientists can often see through the complicating factors to see the essence of a problem, allowing them to pick the simplest cases to study first. This is not a sign of laziness. Instead, the idea is that by studying the simplest cases, scientists can build simple models and add the complexity to them later. This is exactly why Mendel chose Pisum for his study, and it is exactly why he was able to identify such an important pattern in his data.
Mendel's simple model of heredity was not immediately accepted. In fact, his work does not seem to have been widely known for some time. But the patterns of inheritance he identified were crucial in the quest to answer another question: What is the physical material that passes heritable traits from organisms to their offspring? Identifying the material that carries hereditary information would allow scientists to study that material in more detail and perhaps understand exactly how traits are passed on.
Again, scientists began with simple cases — single cells. By , the microscopist Robert Remak had collected evidence that new cells are formed by the division of previously existing cells Remak, During the process of cell division, the nucleus appears to dissolve into the protoplasm of the original, and then two nuclei reappear, one in each of the two cells produced.
Breaking down the big problem
In , Leopold Auerbach, a German physician at the University of Breslau, showed that the nuclei of two cells appear to fuse when an egg cell is fertilized, and then cell division begins Auerbach, When Oscar Hertwig, a German zoologist, read Auerbach's paper, he realized that the second nucleus might belong to a sperm cell. Therefore, an exchange of genetic material from both parents might occur when the nuclei of sperm and egg cells fuse together. When this idea hit Hertwig, he immediately dropped all his other projects and began studying egg cell fertilization in sea urchins Figure 4.
Why sea urchins? As a zoologist, Hertwig knew about a lot of organisms , and he chose sea urchins for a very practical reason: Their egg cells are large and translucent, so it would be relatively easy to see what goes on inside a sea urchin egg under the microscope. Hertwig's and later studies showed that during cell division, the nucleus dissolves into strings called "chromosomes," which then split apart along their lengths and segregate during cell division.
It was soon recognized that if chromosomes carry the hereditary information in cells, Mendel's model might provide a mathematical description of their behavior during reproduction Schwartz, For a more complete description of chromosomes, see our DNA I module. You might be asking where these flashes of creative insight come from that send scientists like Oscar Hertwig rushing off to study odd things like sea urchin eggs.
It would be easy to take a romantic view of this kind of creativity, and vaguely explain it as a product of Hertwig's or Mendel's "genius. Once scientists had concluded that chromosomes carry genetic information, they were able to study them more closely. Chemists in the early 20 th century found that chromosomes are made of proteins and a substance called deoxyribonucleic acid , abbreviated as DNA. Subsequent experiments showed that DNA, rather than protein, must carry the genetic code Schwartz, However, it still was unknown how heredity works.
It was still not quite possible to address this big problem directly.
Instead, scientists began asking more specific, but related questions. A big break in the case came with the question asked by a few scientists, "What is the molecular structure of DNA? They often visualize the atoms as little balls and the bonds as sticks connecting the balls together.
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How could scientists possibly know how things as small as atoms fit together? It turns out that if you crystallize a substance, you can shoot X-rays at the crystals , which diffract the radiation into different patterns depending on the arrangement of atoms. During , Rosalind Franklin , a chemist at King's College, London, obtained what were then the highest quality X-ray diffraction patterns of crystallized DNA ever produced. Using these and other data , she was able to quickly figure out important aspects of the molecular structure Elkins, In , James Watson and Francis Crick , two of Franklin's colleagues at King's College, expanded on Franklin's data and insights to build a more complete model of DNA structure out of actual balls and sticks.
They put the pieces together in different ways until they had a structure that accounted for all the information they had about DNA, and it looked like the now-familiar double helix. Once the structure of DNA was known, understanding how material was passed on during cell division became more accessible. In other words, they recognized that the structure could "unzip" into separate strands that each contained the full genetic code in order to replicate, an observation made by the scientists studying chromosomes.
The discovery of the structure of DNA allowed scientists to then go on to map out which parts of individual DNA molecules regulate different functions and traits. Scientists involved in the Human Genome Project, for example, worked from to catalog the sequences of over three billion base pairs that make up human DNA.
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