During the IYBSSD 24-hour online event, a team from European XFEL prepared a series of interview with early career scientists
Hello, everyone. My name is Camila. I am a Brazilian astronomer, and I am currently finishing my PhD at the European Southern Observatory in Munich. Today, I’m going to talk a little bit about basic science and diversity.
Why is basic science important to society?
As an astronomer, I hear a lot about: “why do we need basic science as a society?” I just want to bring up one example that I think is very good to illustrate this. In 1800, Herschel, who was an astronomer, was studying the colors of the Sun. More specifically, he wanted to understand different temperatures for different colors in the Sun. To do this, he used different filters, and basically he created a rainbow, and he analyzed the temperature in each color of this rainbow. What was interesting is that he realized that where you had no color, where you shouldn’t have any change in temperature, you actually still had some increase in temperature. Basically, this is how we discovered that the light is more what we can see. This is how he discovered infrared. He was not looking for applicable reasons to use infrared, but this is how we, for the first time, realized that the light is much, much more of what we can see. And then today we use infrared broadly as a society, 200 years later.
Basically, we need basic science to build knowledge to discover things, not necessarily to apply it technologically or not, but we need this basic science to discover new things, and then maybe in the future we can apply those things for new technologies, new solutions for medical problems, or even solutions, for example, for global warming. This is why we need basic science to build knowledge that, well, in the future we can use in different ways.
Another good example is that when we were studying electromagnetism, no one was necessarily trying to improve candles or how to live in the dark. Then today we have electricity, internet, and all of this, and this phone that allows me to record what I’m saying and to send it to you. This is one thing why we need basic science.
How can we build a more diverse scientific research community?
Another thing is why we need diversity in basic science. So basically, diversity can make science and everything else more efficient. When you bring different people to the table, when you bring different people with different views, with different experiences looking at the same problem, you will try to solve this problem in many different ways, and then you will find the best way of doing it. If you imagine a room with 10 Albert Einstein, of course, he was a genius, but all 10 of them will find the same solution for the same problem. But if you put a room with 10 different people, we might find different ways of solving things, and we might find some things that are more efficient than others. This is why we need diversity, not only in basic science, as I said, but anywhere in life.
How can we increase diversity? Well, I believe some policies are necessary, because especially in science, especially in the STEM areas, it’s very eurocentric, and dominated mostly by men, and especially white European men. We do need policies to bring people together, to bring people from different places. Like me, I come from South America. And you put all these people together, and you do a better science, basically. But to do this, you need policies, public policies to start making this change, because it will not happen naturally. People will not simply come from their countries, from their background to a place that they don’t feel welcome, or where they are not heard. You do need places that welcome these people, that bring them together, and make it possible for them to thrive. This is my view on basic science and diversity.