Why Enthusiasm Matters


When you think of science what comes to mind?

Colourful Coral by David Yu via flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Colourful Coral by David Yu via flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Atmospheric Lab by nasamarshall via flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Atmospheric Lab by nasamarshall via flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Hubble Extreme Deep Field by  Phil Plait via flickr.   (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Hubble Extreme Deep Field by Phil Plait via flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Maybe, but the image resonating with me contains a whole lot of THIS:

Drowning under a mountain of paper by wheatfields via flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Drowning under a mountain of paper by wheatfields via flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Studious Simon [Cat] by Michael via flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Studious Simon [Cat] by Michael via flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Sometimes it’s easy to forget, what we’re being taught is BRILLIANT. Remember, some -likely long dead- scientist devoted A LOT of time to understand what we cover in a lecture.

Learning shouldn’t be reduced to memorizing a list of facts for an exam. Instead, consist of a love for learning, because the way nature expresses herself depicts beauty.

All too often the message is lost in translation from lecturer to student. As power point presentations and monotone vocalization isn’t exactly awe inspiring.

This type of teaching doesn’t spread enthusiasm. So when we interact and communicate science to the public, it is often dull and clinical. Ensuring a bleak view of the back of heads while people wobble away, when you start talking science at a party.

The following people constitute my favorite scientists, because they inspire in me, what lecturers cannot. Passion and enthusiasm.

The pleasure of finding things out:

Richard Feynman (RIP). If the mention of that name doesn’t give you all kinds of jiggly motion; you’ve either never heard of this eccentric genius or, you’re dead inside. If you prescribe yourself to the former, you’re in for a bit of a treat.

Richard Feynman by tlwmdbt via flickr. (CC BY 2.0) [Adapted]
Richard Feynman by tlwmdbt via flickr. (CC BY 2.0) [Adapted]
Richard Feynman - Payne Mansion Woods 1984 by Tamiko Thiel via  Wiki Commons. (CC BY-SA 3.0) [Adapted]
Richard Feynman – Payne Mansion Woods 1984 by Tamiko Thiel via Wiki Commons. (CC BY-SA 3.0) [Adapted]

Richard Feynman, a Nobel Laureate, physicist and overall Fine-Man  (get it *nudge nudge*) is my hero for three reasons:

1. His uncanny ability to solve complex problems using his algorithm.

– Write down the Problem.

– Think very hard.

– Write down the Solution.

2. His ability to be at the center of adventures:

– Cracking safes while working on the Manhattan project.

– Playing the bongos.

– Working physics problems on the back of napkins in topless bars.

– Trying to visit Tuva.

3. Being the Great Explainer, no doubt helped by his unique personality:

– What’s going on with trees? And what’s fire all about?

Richard Feynman on Fire:

Watch the full interview, “The pleasure of Finding things out,” simply illuminating (hint: It’s on youtube).

Feynman’s undying enthusiasm reminds us why we study science; because it’s beautiful, interesting and there’s always another question.

A bit of a wild man:

As variety is the spice of life, I present a scientist at the opposite end the spectrum. A zoologist, although you may not know him by that title.

When one thinks of the giants of science communication and education, the late croc hunter, Steve Irwin (RIP) does not often come to mind. The fact is though, this national treasure, famous for his television series “The Crocodile Hunter,” was anything but a wild cowboy.

His love of nature and wildlife –big and small- shone through the screen. Oozing of gooey enthusiasm and sheer unpredictability is what made him captivating.

One of my favorite things about the beloved ‘croc hunter,’ is that he knew all too well that in order to educate an audience, you must first entertain them. A lesson some university lecturers have heeded.

Check out a website one of the students made of our side-splittingly funny Engineering Computation lecturer [Sir Alistair Moffat]. A student with too much time on their hands. [WARNING: Turn your volume down!]

The equivalent in Irwin’s case was tackling the biggest crocs and throwing in a science fact every now and then. Whatever the method, enthusiasm in science only leads to better education and communication to the public.

But don’t take my word for it,

Passion by Michelle via flickr. (CC BY 2.0) [Adapted]
Passion by Michelle via flickr. (CC BY 2.0) [Adapted]
With his signature cream short-shorts and vibrant personality, Steve shows us why we wouldn’t want him any other way.

Steve Irwin Tribute – Wildest Things in the World – by Melodysheep

Quirky, enthusiastic and unpredictable with a few screws loose. What a true blue aussie. That’s a mate you’d crack open a stubby (VB of course) and fire up the Barbie for.

That’s why enthusiasm matters – because without it, we take for granted what we know and teach. If we -as students of science- don’t get excited about it, who will?

22 Responses to “Why Enthusiasm Matters”

  1. jfoleti says:

    @knielsen Who says you can’t have that special relationship now? My fondness for Richard Feynman -in particular- only manifested after I binged on hours of his interviews and public lectures.

    If you want to join the Feynman fan club, you need only watch some of his interviews. “The pleasure of Finding things out” is my suggestion.

    On the Irwin point – he was a severely underated scientist. A great loss indeed.

  2. jfoleti says:

    @mcorrey Although interesting (keep in mind I am a lover of maths) my enthusiasm for reading the proof (googled it) ended in tears. Nevertheless it kind of shows how rigorous mathematics is and the careful thinking it takes just to show what primary school kids (and I included) take for granted!

  3. knielsen says:

    Great, gripping and excitement-inducing post!

    My fondness for science have never had anything to do with any great man/woman in science, be that at the Einstein, Schrödinger, Maxwell, Fock, Heisenberg, Pauli (etc) or Feynman level or teacher one might have had the pleasure of running into. But reading your post and watching the videos you posted made me sad that I’ve never had that special relationship – a meeting with such enthusiastic, brilliant and compelling (and more or less excentric) people like Feynman and Irwin would definitely have an impact on most people. Which of course is why they were able to communicate across barriers the way they did.

    Also can I just add: when Steve Irwin died I did not think much of it and haven’t since. But the tribute clip made me, even though he’s been gone for years, feel sad. He was a character, something of his own, and boy oh boy was he dedicated!

  4. mcorrey says:

    I had a thought similar to all of this the other day in my mathematics subject. There we were, sitting in a lecture hall learning how to PROVE MATHEMATICS! Can you imagine the struggles that somebody had in the past in order to lay out a direct proof for why 1+1=2? And yet, we sat there considering it boring and a bit dry. You’re exactly right, it’s important to remember that science is brilliant and to maintain your enthusiasm!

  5. jfoleti says:

    @Ashton_Dickerson I never knew sooooo many people knew Richard Feynman! During high school I asked EVERY science student I knew and not a soul knew about this magnificent man (apart from my crazy physics teacher). After posting this blog my faith in humanity has been restored. So no need to thank me, Thank You!

  6. jrowland says:

    @jfoleti That’s brilliant! He totally breaks it down in the chorus…pun intended!

  7. Ashton Dickerson says:

    Awesome post Josh. I feel inspired to share my love of science with the world now.

    *And just so you know, I definately got all kinds of jiggly motion when you mentioned R. Feynman! Such a great youtube clip you posted. Thank you!

  8. jfoleti says:

    @jrowland Loved Brian’s appearance on QI & he makes a wonderful appearance in one of my favorite ‘Science based songs’. It features many of my scientific heroes and has a catchy tune!!

    Check it out: “Symphony of Science – the Quantum World!” (Youtube it).

  9. jrowland says:

    Great post Joshua! I completely agree. Studying science shouldn’t be dull or about memorising facts. It should be about having a desire to learn and understand. There are so many amazing characters in the world of science who really open peoples eyes to just how fascinating science is. For me it’s Prof. Brian Cox. His enthusiasm and love of learning about life and how it works is infectious!

  10. jfoleti says:

    @brema Trust me I have that cosmos playlist saved. Will watch it over the holidays!

    As for Sagan, I love that great man! Something about his voice (just like Morgan Freeman) that makes me weep. Although I haven’t seen a lot of his work (yet), I have huge respect for him as he started it all (Science communication wise). I mean Bill Nye (The Science Guy!) was a student of his!

    Carl Sagan: We Humans Are Capable Of Greatness (youtube it)

  11. jfoleti says:

    @ruthd1 Glad you liked them! As for ViHart, I love her because she makes maths fun. My favorite video of hers is “Wind and Mr. Ug”. Shows the beauty of the Mobius strip!

    Since you mentioned a math-based youtuber check out singingbanana & numberphile (sb often makes an apearance on np). If you are mathematically inclined (like myself), “23 and Football Birthdays – Numberphile” it discusses what the probability of two people in a group sharing a birthday is. Unfortunately one of his lowest veiwed videos :-(.

    Fantastic application of probability, just for the fun of it!

  12. jfoleti says:

    @jbreadsell Totally agree with “even if it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, having a go at explaining it is a crucial step, as long as you’ve got enthusiasm!”

    My year 10 maths teacher fits this perfectly! If it wasn’t for her (I was a below average student pre-Y10) I wouldn’t have found a passion for science and wouldn’t have come to MelbUni.

    Regarding Feynman’s problem solving style, he loved to “play” with things and find things out “for the fun of it” and relate it unsolved problems in physics. Check out this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kirzr6lnSs at about @3:30 to hear the fascinating story!

  13. jfoleti says:

    @Frenio_Redeker I have never heard of Ralph Waldo Emerson but I’m fascinated by interesting people with interesting stories. This gentlemen certainly qualifies! This is also the reason why it’s sooo hard not to love Feynman.

    Since you raised chemistry, I am reminded by a great video surrounding Feynman’s distain for ‘honors’. He defends chemists @~2mins https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f61KMw5zVhg but the whole video is worth a watch!

  14. jfoleti says:

    @Alex_Cameron No worries. We all need a helping hand every now and then!
    “THE FEYNMAN SERIES – Beauty” (youtube it) for anyone else needing a pick-me-up!

  15. brema says:

    Great blog mate! My inspiration for science came from the one and only Carl Sagan. I can safely say that his Cosmos series truly inspired me to admire and appreciate the beauty of science and our universe- if you have a spare 13 hours lying around, I thoroughly recommend it to everyone!

    “The following people constitute my favorite scientists, because they inspire in me, what lecturers cannot. Passion and enthusiasm.”
    I feel you’ve hit the nail on the head here. Too often science teachers and communicators are regurgitating science textbooks to their high school (and uni) science classes. Even though I truly loved science, I often found myself struggling to pay attention and learn science in a school setting. Be it because of the content, the teachers or the way it was presented, I’m not entirely sure.

    It’s nice to see so much discussion in the comments regarding YouTube! I’m working on a blog post about this and hopefully will have it up by the end of the week!

  16. ruthd1 says:

    @jfoleti, I’m so glad you know them! Youtube is so incredible. It just has everything, and can be such a force for good.

    I hadn’t heard of either of those channels! Outrage! They’re both amazing. I got especially hooked on Veritasium. I cannot believe how cool the double slit experiment was.

    Another incredible channel (if you don’t know it already) is Vi Hart. She explores maths by doodling! Her Fibonacci and hexaflexagon videos are definitely a favourite.

  17. jbreadsell says:

    My inspiration came from one of my lectures in my undergrad course at UWA in Perth: Karl-Heinz Wyrwoll. He taught climate science, specialising in paleoclimatology (Earth’s past climates) and he had such passion for the topic that even if you had no idea what he was talking about some of the time, he’s enthusiasm for it was really contagious. He had great stories for any topic and could come up with some good, simple explanations for the topics we were learning. He’s passion let me know that it was ok to be passionate about something that was a) complex and b) a bit unusual, and that even if it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, having a go at explaining it is a crucial step, as long as you’ve got enthusiasm!

    I love Feynman’s algorithm, it is so obvious but we (scientists/researchers/people) always get caught up in the details in between and need to keep sight of the overall problem we are trying to solve.

  18. Frenio Redeker says:

    I’m a big fan of Richard Feynman. I also utilise his legacy to remind me of my own enthusiasm for science once in a while. Recently, I had to study for an exam in theoretical chemistry. At a point where my boredom threatened to get out of hand, I decided to watch „Feynman on Quantum Mechanics“ on youtube. That really gave me a boost of motivation, even if it didn’t necessarily help me with my studies.

    The following quote might be appropriate at this point:

    “Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

    – Ralph Waldo Emerson

  19. Alex Cameron says:

    You’re absolutely right. It can be easy, I find, at times to start to feel like that cat, but it’s nice to be reminded of the enthusiasm that got me into this degree from time to time. Thank you for helping that cause.

  20. jfoleti says:

    oo Big lover of the vlogbros and youtube in general! Not only because they directly contribute soooo much but because they support other channels like TheBrainScoop (great dissection videos). Youtube is just a whole other beast for educational videos.

    But my favorite education channel on youtube has to be Veritasium. He interacts with the public directly, take a look at (Misconceptions About Temperature & The Original Double Slit Experiment) if you haven’t seen them.

  21. ruthd1 says:

    You’re absolutely right, there were all sorts of jiggly motions going on with the mention of Feynman, as well as a big smile to go with Steve Irwin. Great blog post, thanks for reminding me to be enthusiastic, even when in the throes of study! It’s such an important thing, and definitely, the best way to renew your exuberance card is to surround yourself with your heroes! My inspirations/heroes have to be Feynman (obvs) as well as Hank and John Green. Those three beautiful people all have this exuberance when they communicate their thoughts and passions, they not only love their topics, but they love teaching. I think that’s the most important thing, a passion for what you’re talking about and a love of effectively communicating that to other people. But that’s what we’re all here for, right? 🙂

  22. jfoleti says:

    Who inspired/inspires you? What makes them so mesmerising?