Sayari Ghosh‘s essay Celebrating Science

I have always been a fan of science, there is no doubt about that. My childhood dream was to be an astronomer and I spent long hours after dinner trying to stargaze in the smog filled polluted skies of Calcutta. I followed spacecraft launches, kept the whole family awake to watch the Leonid Meteor Showers, and randomly showed up at a family friend’s house to watch the rings of Saturn through his powerful field glasses. Then I grew up…astrophysics was not a suitable subject based on my restless temperament. I was not that good at maths, and it just wasn’t practical given the society I was growing up only wanting to see kids become doctors or engineers. It is true that I enjoyed being in engineering college because after the strenuous board exams, semester-wise studies looked very easy. To quote a friend, “so we can just study for 6 months and forget everything after the exams?” Engineering was the easy route, and my actual interest in science took a back seat.

Life happened. I graduated from being a student to an employee, and also into a wife and mother of two. There was too much adulting to be done. Setting up the house, looking after the pets, showing up at work, and the necessities we relate to being a normal functioning human (though I don’t know what that really means) slowly engulfed life. However, what I already learnt stayed somewhere. Like once in Hawaii, when we went on an astronomy tour (nearly) on top of Mauna Kea, the guide asked us, “can you spot the Pole Star?” I replied, “Yes, if you can find the Big Dipper and join the first two stars of the saucepan part, then draw a straight line through them. Five times the distance of the two stars is where the line will reach the Pole Star.” The guide was very impressed and he asked the group, “did you get it?” One older woman said, “no, I didn’t but I know I want her to be with me if I ever lose my way, because she can navigate looking at the stars!” These are the types of compliments I like.

The night sky has always been a source of awe inspiring wonder for me. It makes me feel humble, and at the same time gives me strength to face my troubles. The view of the Milky Way stretched end to end over Mt. Rainier is a sight I equate with spiritualism. I have never felt a deeper connection with the Earth and Space at the same time. It was just a few weeks before my IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) embryo transfer was scheduled and naturally the uncertainty was bothering me. As I looked up to the Milky Way that night the ranger at Mt. Rainier National Park asked us to close our eyes and feel the connection with our home planet. I could feel the strength of humankind in me. No wonder I ended up with a science baby.

As the pandemic is raging and scientists and doctors all over the world are working hard to find a cure, even sacrificing their lives to save patients, my respect for science grows. The fact that vaccines are available in such a short time is incredible and it just shows the resilience of the human mind. To just think how the scientific mind works to find solutions – be that a live saving vaccine, building a bridge that no one thought would be possible, figuring out if an embryo can be created in a petri dish outside the womb, or bringing all of us together though the invisible mesh of the Internet – the scientific mind just makes me feel proud to be a human being. I would always celebrate science and those scientists who keep inspiring generations to challenge themselves and push the human race a notch higher.

Back home, in my little cozy niche, Minnie, my toddler daughter, is looking at a book about planets. By the time she turned two, she learned about the Solar System by reading books about the planets, sticking planet decals in her play area (The Little Planet Zone) and I helped her decorate the playroom with glow in the dark planets hanging from the ceiling and more glow in the dark space objects all around. She has been introduced to the Hubble Space telescope and to satellites. Now when she points to a tomato and calls it Mars, or looks at a silver Christmas decoration and goes “that’s just like Mercury” I feel proud. Though I must admit, when Minnie pointed to something beyond our backyard and said, “I see another Makemake!” her dad asked me if I am going a little too overboard with her STEM education! (I don’t know of many adults who know that Makemake is a dwarf planet of our solar system.) No, my intention isn’t to make her or her sister become space scientists, but I can inspire my two kids to love science. That is where I will be a successful person.

PS: The second little one is barely four months old now, so her STEM education hasn’t started yet! Minnie’s favorite planet is Neptune and she made a song about the ice giant.

Sayari has been an amateur astronomer and an engineer by profession.

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