Last night I volunteered at my local elementary school’s Family Science Night. I was assigned to the simple machines table. Levers, ramps, wheels, and pulleys were prepared for the curious hands of children. There was just one problem. After years of not-so-careful play, some of the simple machines—as simple as they were—were failing.
The pulley, in particular, was in rough shape. I nearly set it aside, tired of fixing it from one child to the next. But then I had an idea. Rather than relegate the pulley to the plastic bin under the table, I made an announcement that we had a problem. I told the large group of children that we needed to redesign the pulley to make it stop falling apart.
The atmosphere changed immediately. The children shifted from apathetic stares into focused engagement. One child grabbed the pulley, and a small group huddled around shouting out potential changes to the design. Just like that, they were working in a small team, stepping through attempts to improve the system, observing each outcome, and then trying again with a slight change when it wasn’t quite right. In the crowded room full of chattering children, I said as loudly and clearly as I could: “Now this is science!”
What a beautiful experience. I have to imagine that’s what an investigator feels like on a daily basis. Young minds, eager to solve frustrating problems, pass through a PI’s care and then out into the world to build their own careers in science and other sectors of society.
I tell this story in honor of Dr. Chris McBain’s designation as the new scientific director of the NICHD Division of Intramural Research. This year marks 30 years, exactly, since Dr. McBain joined NICHD and began shaping the minds of trainees as an intramural investigator. We’ve followed up with a few of those trainees (from the famous Pinky and the Brainslicers NIH relay race team) to see where their careers have taken them and to find out their most important lessons learned while in the McBain lab.
The science at NICHD is a bit more complicated than pulleys, levers, and ramps—just a bit. But the scientific process—so innocently demonstrated by a group of excited school children—now that, that’s exactly what NICHD training is about.
Your Editor in Chief,
Shana R. Spindler, PhD
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