Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Life and Learning Part 2: Outside Box Town

by Emma-Kate Prout

Emma-Kate Prout will soon begin her final year as an undergraduate in Earth Science and Geography at Durham University. She is delighted to be back to blog during a hectic yet happy summer spent making music, studying the science of seaweed and cereal, and appreciating the art of annoying alliteration.

In my previous post (Part 1: Poetry, Pebbles and Poo), I began with biscuits and ended with an epiphany. Clearly they were good biscuits. I admit that the Why was never quite extinct on Planet Prout, but the science species was critically endangered for a while….

Imagine trying to drive a car as a child. Forget the legal and safety aspects; it’s an analogy (just don’t try telling that to the police). At first you push buttons and pull levers, wanting to know everything about how everything works and why, why it works and how and so on. Then after a few years you become a bit blasé about the whole car thing and just tootle along to work, humming to yourself. You concentrate on the road ahead, keeping an eye on other drivers and admiring the landscape. You start to take for granted the vehicle and its workings, and the millions of complex things happening in the world outside. Then, eventually, you turn a corner and pull in for a quick stop. You open the dashboard compartment where you stash snacks and old ideas. As you grab some biscuits, you spot a Rubix cube you haven’t worked on in ages, and pick that up too. You climb out of the car and suddenly start to think more critically again. You contemplate how the engine works, and what fuels it; someone else has been filling it up for you for all these years and it could be run off Digestives for all you know. You wonder how efficient it is, what the emissions are. Then you remember, after all the summers you spent sweltering in your seat with no air con, that the windows open; they’d just jammed shut with the frost a few winters ago. You hop back in, noticing that you’ve absent-mindedly solved the Rubix cube as you ate your biscuits, and making a mental note to cut down on the metaphors. The weather’s glorious on the next leg of your journey. As you make your way to your new home outside Box Town, your brain breathes a breath of fresh air.

Rather than solidifying the magic and mystery of one’s surroundings and self into a slab of logic, science seeps through even the most seemingly mundane of objects and actions, imbuing them with small, sparkling drops of awe, and leaving the world dripping with the stuff. I am guilty, as are many fellow students, of occasionally forgetting the awe as it’s bottled up and crammed into the corner of a room full of deadlines. But before too long, the fizz blasts the cork from the bottle and I go through a sort of science re-epiphany.

On the desk in my new flat sits a small tray filled with sea-smoothed gems of nostalgia: a selection of the finest pebbles and shells, unearthed from the debris of a decade or so in the back of a wardrobe. I sit at my desk, engrossed in writing for work and leisure alike, with the windows open.

In the coming autumn - what feels like the blink of an eye since I picked up my first pebble - I will begin my third and final year as an undergraduate. Somewhere along the way, I seem to have become a ‘scientist’.

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