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Science Poetry

Duly Noted

“The crucial first step: observation,
In the process of science vocations.   
Finding favor with chance,
Prepared minds will advance
Into questions; experimentation.”   

The next chemistry-themed poem from NaPoWriMo 2020 was posted on 14 April 2020 and highlighted a quote from Louis Pasteur, in the context of the scientific method.  

“The crucial first step: observation, /
In the process of science vocations.”
The scientific method (a.k.a. “the process of science vocations,” periphrastically) is complex and, in actual practice, defies the easy categorization that leads to many science fair posters!  However, some universal themes can be identified.   One is the centrality of the “crucial first step” of observation.      

“Finding favor with chance, /
Prepared minds will advance /
Into questions; experimentation.”     
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) was a renowned scientist whose insights and interests spanned many fields, including chemistry and microbiology.  In a lecture at the University of Lille, he once stated: “In the fields of observation, chance favours only the prepared mind.”  The third line here is a reframing of his famous quote to fit the limerick form (the Twitter poem cited him via hashtag).    

Scientific history contains many seemingly serendipitous “aha” moments that can be framed cinematically in retrospect.  Even within this website’s limited space, for instance, I’ve mentioned several such stories.  However, as Pasteur points out, each of these moments rests on a foundation of years of preparation.  If the observer did not have the prior knowledge to frame their observation via a theoretical context, or to communicate with other collaborators who could, the moment would pass idly by.          

The last three lines of the poem emphasize that both the observation and the knowledge to put that observation into context are vital prerequisites for other universal steps of the scientific method: asking a question, forming a testable hypothesis (one that empirical data can either support or disprove), and then exploring that hypothesis via experimentation.