Francis Collins, MD, PhD, credits his scientific career to a sealed black box given to him as a 10th grader on the first day of chemistry class at Robert E. Lee High School in Virginia. Each box had an unknown object and the students were given a half hour to think about all the different ways to figure out what was inside. That was the defining moment that inspired an interest in science, he says.
Sitting in the middle of his lab in Bethesda, Maryland earlier this week, the National Institutes of Health Director answered questions from Ms. Kauffman’s science class at Johnson Creek Middle School in Wisconsin. “Science is a lot of black boxes, of things that we don’t understand yet,” he told the students. “But the opportunity to design and carry out experiments and then learn the answers — [to] open the black box— is just an exhilarating way to spend your life."
During the 35-minute chat, Collins answered questions about DNA, scientific advances, roadblocks to research, and financial resources for students, and he encouraged the preteens to get involved in STEM by starting science clubs, learning how to code, and looking for opportunities to get inside a lab.
My favorite question came from twelve-year-old Elizabeth, a budding young scientist who dreams of becoming a geneticist. “Do you think there won’t be anything left to research when we’re adults?” she asked.
“There’s so much we don’t know,” Collins assured her. “There's no chance in your lifetime that we're going to run out of interesting scientific questions to explore…When you’re ready for a job at the NIH, let me know.”
The entire chat — available on the NIH’s Facebook page — is delightful and worth a watch.
Screenshot from Facebook