By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"Entertainment culture actually helps a lot. A lot of things we want to do as scientists show up in movies. Even the flapping-wing ornithopter shows up in movies many times, although they have no idea how to make it. When we write proposals and there are reviewers reading our proposals they've already been influenced by visions from the movies. It is, a lot of times, a closed-loop kind of thing. Scientists produce some crazy ideas and then they make it into the movies, and then the movies make more people believe those things can be real. A lot of these things are not just crazy ideas. I think they will become real."
Space Cowgirl DR. CLAUDIA ALEXANDER, research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Project Manager and Project Scientist of the U.S. Rosetta Project, and a science coordinator on the Galileo Project
"Most people at JPL multitask. The days where scientists go in the lab and putter around all day just do not happen anymore. You've gotta be productive. One project I'm working on is the Galileo Project mission. We're on our last and final encounter before we plunge into Jupiter. I've been associated with the project for almost 16 years. It's a great source of pride for me to be on the flight team for this fantastic mission, and to be here when we're getting ready to close out the flight.
"I started out representing two of the 11 instruments on the payload. I write the instrument commands. I work with the science teams to figure out, down to the thousandth of a second, exactly what the instrument is going to do, 24/7. That's been a wonderful challenge.
"When we started the mission, it was exploratory. People would ask me, what are you going to do? And the answer was, we don't know. We are there to see what can be seen, feel what can be felt, explore an unknown environment so we can learn about it.
"When the first data started coming down, we saw things that we never expected to see. Moons with magnetospheres. We still don't have an explanation for that. Moons that were supposed to be frozen solid that actually have plate tectonics and icy volcanism going on. We still don't have a good explanation for that. Why are these moons not frozen solid and dead?
"At the end of the prime mission, we said, my God, this moon, Europa, may actually have water and oceans underneath, with life or potential life.
"We want to find [life]. Absolutely. And even now it's really disappointing when you think that, if there is extraterrestrial life, it's probably bacteria and microbial life. Because you want Star Wars. I want to meet Spock. I think that, as intellectual beings, we fantasize about meeting other intellects similar to our own. It's just a basic human desire."
The Thinker STEVEN R. QUARTZ, Ph.D., director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at Caltech in Pasadena, recipient of the National Science Foundation's CAREER award for young faculty, and author of Liars, Lovers and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals About How We Become Who We Are
"The world-view that science presents is one in which, ultimately, the world has a deep layer of randomness. Why the world [exists] is kind of a random consequence of initial conditions that don't care about people and don't care about making the world coherent. And that comes deeply, I think, into conflict with a brain that has evolved into being rewarded by coherence in our life. I think we do science because we want to find coherence in the world around us. We want to find out why things work.
"The question of where our own mind ends and the world begins is a fuzzy one. We are always engaging in the world, and increasingly we're putting more and more of the brain's mechanisms into the environment. Computers are a good example. We take the things that our brain is bad at doing, like mathematics, and we build calculators and computers, and that allows understanding, to really visualize information that we couldn't just do mentally. The Internet, too, is a good example of how we offload into the world.
"But I think at the end of the day scientists want their work to try to relate back to the more general kinds of questions that I think everyone asks themselves. There's this idealized notion that science is insensitive to the culture, that it's purely driven by rational kinds of facts and explanations, but science and culture interact with each other increasingly. I think scientists are interested in engaging in issues of culture, of how scientific understanding feeds into the world and how the world feeds back into science. Science fiction is ultimately the integration of science and its possibilities."
The Humanist STEVEN DOWELL, research criminalist at the Los Angeles County Office of the Coroner
"As a criminalist it's my responsibility to examine, collect and analyze certain items of physical evidence. The two areas that I work in are the areas of gunshot residue analysis and tool-mark analysis. The puzzle of it is the interesting part. It may be that I'm the one who has the piece that completes a certain part of the puzzle, but it's only because whoever was in front of me -- the initial police officer who comes to the scene, the coroner's investigator, the transport person, the detective -- did their jobs correctly and preserved the maximum amount of information. Forensic science is a team effort.