Simply Science

Rick Reisdorph
Most of us scientist-types are faced regularly with the challenge of communicating with our non-scientist-type family members and friends about about what we do for a living. Many of us have some pretty sharp friends and family so at times the challenge is not that great. In other cases, however the response we receive while we carefully share the details of our professional lives ranges from polite distraction to full scale deer-in-the-headlights shutdown. In these cases, eventually even the most interested and caring loved ones will quit asking. And eventually we scientist-types will quit caring that they no longer ask.

The bulk of the responsibility for this disconnect rests on the scientists. After all one of the skills we are supposed to have learned is how to communicate our goals, setbacks and discoveries to lay people. In fact, this skill is critical for our survival. But you, our non-scientist acquaintances, must accept some of the responsibility. After you ask about what we do, listen with confidence, assured that you will understand enough about what is being said to come away at least partially enlightened. And if you don't? Press on as if the fault is not yours for failing to understand, but the rather the science nerd's for failing to communicate effectively. Confidence is important. Often after I tell people what I do, the response is "Oh, I could never do that! Well the truth is, I couldn't overhaul a Cummins deisel engine, or get a plant to grow in my kitchen for that matter. That doesn't mean that I couldn't learn. It simply means my interests and skills have taken me in a different direction. The same, more often than you might think, is true of you and science.

The link below will take you to the first of a series of articles designed to both hone my communication skills, and impart scientific concepts to those of you who would like to understand them better. I hope I am successful in both regards. If you have time, email me at and let me know how I did.

Baseballs and Blenders    A primer on mass spectrometry
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