Monday, February 19, 2007

Reaching for the stars

Note: I have been thinking about a particular issue ever since this semester started and its always been there at the back of my mind… every minute of every day… confusing me a lot… so now I have decided to put down these thoughts in my posts here… they are kinda fragmented. So to suit the need, I have decided to write the different thoughts (and memories) in different posts. This first post (in what I hope will turn out to be a 4 part series), is just a memory, but something I will never ever forget.

It’s been an obsession. Actually, not just one, but two! I have been obsessed with finding more and more information to understand volcanoes and outer space better, ever since I first came across them in books! At one point, I was very seriously considering Volcanology as a career, but later abandoned the thought (looong story. Perhaps I shall write another post about that some other time!! :P). And to think it all started when I accidentally stumbled onto the topics in books! Here’s a post dedicated to the memory of how the madness began…

Part 1: Astronomy

Our relatives were supposed to visit us. They were bringing their son along. He was my age. He’s not exactly my cousin, but for convenience sake, I shall call him so in this post. Anyways, my dad thought it would be great if we bought my cousin a gift. So off we went to the book store. There, my dad came across two books… one titled “What is it?” and the other “Why is it?”. They looked great, had beautiful pictures and seemed interesting. He decided to get those for the boy.

Now the thing is my cousin wasn’t coming until a week after our trip to the bookstore. In the meantime, I decided to see what was so great about those books. Mind you! I was in first standard back then and my knowledge on the world and beyond was extremely limited! Each book was sub-divided into different topics, such as, Plants and animals, general science, Outer space, Geography, Culture and History. Oddly enough, till this day, I never found the “plants and animals” section all that interesting… this is coming from a girl who took biology group in school and is now majoring in Life Science :P As I flipped through the pages, looking at the pretty pictures, I came across the “outer space” section. I was spellbound! Imagine a little girl stumbling upon pictures of the planets, the sun, the moon and the stars as never seen before by the naked eye! The awesome pictures inspired me to read the topics under that section and I was even more amazed. Its not everyday that a 6 year old gets to know that the surface temperature of Venus is hotter than a baker’s oven turned on full, that one day on Jupiter is equal to 9-10 earth hours, that Saturn’s rings are not totally solid, that Jupiter is so big that thousands of earths can be squished inside, that there exists a planet (or rather “existed as a planet”) called Pluto which takes 235 years to go around the Sun once, that the axis of Uranus is titled so that its almost parallel to its plane of revolution, and so many other things! To me back then, having a 24 hour day, a 30-35oC temperature and just living my life in my hometown was everything normal. Outer Space seemed so… abnormal! I mean… seriously! I’d weigh less on the moon than I do on earth but weigh many times more than my earth weight on Jupiter??!!! That’s like… WOW! I totally fell in love with those books (just because of that topic :P)! So my dad let me keep those copies and bought another set for my cousin.

That’s where the obsession started. And to add fuel to the fire that the book had kindled, my school took us on our excursion to the Planetarium! I was dazzled by the show.

Since then, till today, I have always tried to gather as much information as I could about outer space. The fact that everything is just so… out of this world (pun intended) has always fascinated me. It puts things in perspective sometimes. I must admit that at times it’s been scary… I find it scary that the Sun will age and might become a red Giant someday and swallow the inner planets (though I wont be around then), I find the fact that Jupiter’s surface is not solid scary, I find the water hidden beneath the icy crust of Europa scary (don’t laugh! We all have our own things!), I find it scary that the universe is just so damn huge, that its hard to put THAT into perspective… the numbers involved in trying to describe the size and age of the universe as just so huge, that they lose all meaning and significance. All in all, learning about the universe just reminds me that we are just a spec in space. There is just so much more to explore and so much more to learn about this universe, our galaxy, our Solar system, why, even our neighbours down here in the Solar System!

This semester, I am doing a module called “Understanding the Universe”. And it just reminds me about how much I enjoy reading about the Universe. It sometimes makes me wonder, “What the heck am I doing studying life sciences?!” :P. That’s the module which reminded me of how I first came across all the interesting stuff on Outer Space…

Part 2: Volcanoes

This must have been when I was in second standard… I guess. I was bored. REALLY bored. My parents decided to help me out by giving me this book we had. It was a National Geographic book called “Our World”. A sort of fancy and extremely colourful atlas. The first few pages were all general georgraphy. Two pages were dedicated to Volcanoes and earthquakes. My parents sat by my side and explained to me what a volcano was, what was under the earth’s surface and what earthquakes were. I was stunned! Such awesome power on this planet! Nature’s fury unleashed! I fell in love with the topic, though I suspect not as much as I loved astronomy. Whatever books we had at home related to volcanoes, I read them all. Then I bought more books and read. When my mom bought an entire Encyclopedia set (26 books!!! A wealth of knowledge in the absence of google! :D :D :D), the first book that I touched was the volume “V”. The first topic I read about was “Volcanoes”. At that point, I had gathered so much information that I could have easily given a two hour lecture on the topic! I simply loved it. After we got internet at home, I searched for sites on Volcanology and read almost all of them! At that point my mom was even looking through the programs in universities for her daughter who was so spellbound by earth sciences! That’s pretty much how much I enjoyed learing about volcanoes.

I thought about becoming a volcanologist.. but decided against it because back then, my primary ambition was to work in India and do something for the country. I didn’t think volcanology was the field. Also, it was written in the websites that a volcanologist doesn’t earn much… just about enough to make (barely) ends meet. I knew I’d never be happy with that kind of life. So I decided to keep volcanoes as a hobby. Since then, till today, my aim is to save money when I start earning, so that some day I can visit all the famous volcanoes around the world, then camp at Hawaii for a while and try to see a volcano in action! I really hope that happens…

Well folks… that’s pretty much it… looking back at these memories, I do wonder sometimes, why didn’t I just do astronomy or volcanology. Its not that I don’t like Life Sciences or that I am struggling with it. Life Sciences also fascinates me… but it wasn’t a childhood dream or obsession. Life sciences is interesting, but it wasn’t my passion. Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t regret my decision of majoring in Life Sciences. I am perfectly happy.

I just sometimes cannot help but to wonder…

Would life have been different (better or worse) studying the stars and volcanoes instead of cell and molecular biology?

Damn! I think too much and worry unnecessarily! :|


Clueless said...

Oh, the wondering of every student who ever studied anything! Don't worry, the "What if?" question was bound to come up sometime or the other, heh. :)

I'm also absolutely fascinated by Astronomy. And language. And music. And...oh, well. You know the list is endless. I wonder too, sometimes, what on earth I'm doing studying Life Sciences. But then again, if I was actually doing one of those other things I'm fascinated by, I'd be thinking, "What if I was actually doing LS?" It's all about experimenting, I guess. We have a long life ahead of us (hopefully!), and it's never too late to start learning something. Who knows, 10 years from now, we might actually be doing something completely related to Life Sciences (a very good chance of that happening in my case!). Dunno, only time will tell. Till then, it's alright to dream. :)

P.S: When you mentioned the "V" encyclopedia, my mind immediately jumped to Friends and I spent a good few minutes wondering if you'd be able to spout stuff about the Vatican and Venus if I asked you to. Heh. A show for the ages, indeed. ;)

P.P.S: There ya go, a super long comment to a super long post. Satisfied? ;)

Thenraj said...

Both are still unknown and raise lots of questions to the man kind.. What ever u do by digging and doing research on them and find answers in them will bring you more questions only. Anyway its worth doing both the things..Do well what ever u do!

soleil said...

The "What if?" question not only applies to what you study but also many other aspects in life. I've been asking myself that question quite a lot the past few months especially and sometimes it's best to just accept and cherish what you have now. But that doesn't mean you can't do the other things you'd like to do. We're still young! :)

double head said...

When it comes to anything that is so huge (as an universe) and anything that is so tiny little (like a cell or a molecule), we, humans have a limitation in our understanding. Philosophically speaking I think it is a God given limitation to human kind. Astronomy relates to the former kind and life sciences relate to the latter kind. You have chosen wisely to do life sciences where you will end up exploring life's mysteries at the sub molecular level. YOu can always keep astronomy as a hobby (or passion as you call it) and explore the mysteries of the universe. There are plenty of problems and unanswered puzzles out there (universe) and within (living systems). So look deep within and look far out. You will reach the same point and you will reach the same conclusions. Deep thinking and asking questions will raise more and more questions than answers. Welcome to the world of research, in the material world and in the spiritual world!!! (About making money with either of the subject, forget it. You should have become a lawyer or a chartered accountant, full stop!! Not many scientists can afford or a benz or a ferrari, but I know of many lawyers and accountants who own private jets!!!, too late kid)

Confused Soul said...

I loved reading this post.. too good! :) I wish there was a video of baby you - the crazy little macho girl... flipping pages of huge books piled up beside her.. :)