Science & Technology

Science: Exploring our world

By Phil Roberts
Holy Heart of Mary
St. John's, Newfoundland

Let's face it. Science is life! It might not be obvious at first, but if you really think about it, almost everything has at least something to do with science. That is because science is the study of the world in which we live, and everything in it.

   Biology is the study of all living things, from the paramecium to the blue whale. Chemistry is the study of the composition, properties, and phenomena of elementary substances. Physics is the study of the properties of matter and energy. Geology is the study of the history of the earth through its rocks and minerals. There are countless divisions and subdivisions, such as botany, biophysics, and volcanology, which eventually cover everything that can be studied.

Through science, we can learn to understand the world in which we live. One of the most basic understandings of life is simple physics: "Ball goes up, ball comes down". We don't make commercial airplanes out of cardboard, because we know it isn't strong enough. How do we find a material that will work? We look at the properties of different substances so we can create something strong enough to build an airplane with. Chemistry saves the day once again. If you get an infection in your stomach and you go to the doctor, how can he help you if he doesn't know what is going on in your stomach? Biology solves that problem. It lets the doctor find out what's wrong with you, where it came from, and how to get rid of it.

So, why is it important for Canada to know how well its students are doing in science? We have seen that no matter what you do, science is always present. In order to compete in the international job market, Canadian students need to have a good education in science. Canada needs to know how well students are doing in science so it can help them be more competitive.

However, this is not as easy as it may seem. In Canada, education is a provincial jurisdiction, which makes it very difficult to offer national standards. Students in Alberta could learn different things than students in Newfoundland, so in a national exam, results might be uneven due to provincial variation in curriculum. That doesn't mean that one province has a poorer science curriculum, rather that the subjects on the exam didn't fit what one province's students are being taught. National exams can't test the overall knowledge of Canada's students because of the differences in curricula.

In order to solve this problem, Canada would have to set and successfully implement a national standard curriculum for science education, so all students in all provinces would have a more comparable education. However, there are things that aren't reasonable to teach in certain provinces. For example, the forestry module that the Holy Heart Biology 3201AP class just studied might not be taught in Regina. Also, why teach Newfoundland students how to grow corn and wheat? On the other hand, studies about ocean biomass seems less compelling in a prairie curriculum.

So, while it is important for Canadian students to do well in science, it's just not possible for that knowledge to be universally tested nationally.

Science is great fun. It is enjoyable for so many people because no matter who you are, you are bound to find some division of science that you like. Also, science is frequently a hands-on education, as opposed to a sit-down-in-your-desk-for-an-hour one. One thing I've found quite fun is that you get to talk about ordinary things in a new and different way.

Another great thing about science is that there is an endless list of careers in scientific and science-related areas in the international job market. Here are just a few of the many careers offered by science.

All medical careers are science-related. Biology, chemistry, and physics all deal with medicine. Their important combinations are biochemistry and biophysics. Biology, as the study of the body itself, contributes through research ever increasing knowledge of how human anatomy functions. Chemistry is used primarily for the development of drugs and medications. Physics is used to explore the mechanical functions of the human body both as it relates to such things as sports medicine as well as in the design and construction of prosthetic devices. Both biochemistry and biophysics have become more specialized branches of medical study.

Despite all the attention being paid to science, the arts are actually the fastest growing job market in Canada. However, science plays a critical role in gaining an understanding of much of the artistic process. For example, in order to design a good concert hall as well as a good quality instrument, one needs to have a superb understanding of the physics of sound. In designing brass instruments, scientific knowledge in the field of metallurgy is required to select or manufacture the best metal alloys for use in the construction of these instruments. In the design of concert halls, the physical properties of the hall's interior surfaces plays a significant role in attaining a workable acoustical environment. Scientific studies of playing practices for both instrumental as well as vocal production have recently had a profound effect on performance practice. In much the same way as the physics of sports has improved our athletes' performance, scientific investigation has made an important impact on the way we play instruments and sing.

From these three basic sciences, various sub-specialities have arisen. Botany, the general study of plants, is important for agricultural and nutritional studies. Geology, the study of the history of the earth and its changes, especially as recorded in its rocks, is important for the mining and metallurgy industry. Geology also subdivides into specialties such as climatology and volcanology. Applied sciences such as engineering provide the interface between pure scientific knowledge and its application to everyday life.

Science is not only an intriguing study for students since it permeates our whole way of life and allows students to question and explain the way things are, science also is an important background study for many careers in society. It is present in all aspects of the world from medicine to the arts, from steel and concrete bridges to the very food we eat. Science study lets us understand the world in which we live. Let's face it, science is life!