There is no one in my family nor high school friends that has studied any scientific major. Some friends are engineers yes, but not scientists. No one has gone to grad school to pursue a PhD degree either. As such, every time I go back home and meet with them I always get questions about what I do. I try to explain in layman terms my research and I think I do a good job at painting the big picture.
The last time I went home, I was asked a different question: Why do you (as in Charro, not any person) study science? I gave a standard answer: because it is really important for the future of the human race to keep make scientific discoveries and given that my research could have some relevance in the medical field I might (directly or indirectly) save a few lives, who knows. A few hours later I thought about the question again and I couldn't come up with an honest, awesome reason.
I could've say that it is because I can't see myself doing anything else, but that is a lie. Although I like doing science, I actually enjoy other activities to the point were I could've majored on those fields. So, ultimate passion is not the reason. I could say that I do it for the money, but anyone in science can tell you that average science salaries are not that high. You can definitely make more money in some of those other areas that I like. Money is out too. I kept thinking and came up with few other "potential" reasons but at the end they also didn't really make sense to me.
After several days of putting thought into it, I think I found the answer. It is not convincing for many people nor is it a cool answer but it seems to be the truth. I do science because I knew nothing else when I was growing up. No I was/am not a genius and knew science facts since I was a kid, on the contrary my "knowledge" was purely empirical but somehow discovery and experimentation were always present during my childhood. I owe this to my grandpa. As I mentioned already, no one in my family has any science, or engineering, education but my grandfather was a poor farm boy that had to learn how to fix whatever stuff broke at home. This taught him many tricks of course, but I think even more importantly it taught him not to be afraid about a problem, but to get your hands on it as soon as you can and look for the solution.
When I was a kid both of my parents worked and my grandparents took care of me during the day. I had the opportunity to learn from my grandpa how to fix stuff around the house. I am sure many people have opportunities like this, but what (probably) made the difference in my case was that whenever we had a "project" he would show me a way to go about fixing the problem but always ended by saying: This is not the best way to do it, why don't you think about it and try to come up with a better solution.
Thinking about how to fix things better somehow made me think about the factors that mattered the most: use a longer lever to unscrew a stuck screw, use the ground friction to loosen up a tire's screws before lifting it up, unplug the oven before touching the wires (just kidding), etc... you get the point. All of it was empirical, I couldn't explain that the reason why it was better was the torque increases with the lever arm for example. I guess when I had the opportunity to go to college there was only one thing I could do: Physics. It just made sense. Now I can explain all of those tricks I learned when I was a kid. I can even draw fancy diagrams and intimidating (for my family) equations explaining different phenomena.
That is why I do science. Although my grandpa is not with me anymore, I keep trying to come up with better ways to solve problems (I can't let him down, right?). But it doesn't have to be the only reason why someone goes into science. Maybe sometimes I wish I had absolute passion, it might make the journey more enjoyable. Anyways, even though I could have done many things with my life I do not regret the experiences I've had in science. Plus, I save a lot of money fixing everything at home.
So... next time someone asks I'll have an honest answer
Burton Richter Dies at 87
3 hours ago