From time to time, Texas A&M Center for Mathematics and Science Education (CMSE) researcher Dr. Craig Wilson emails us about his adventures, experiences and related insights gleaned as both a scientist and a keen observer of life. Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting (much less working) with Craig will attest to the fact that to know him is to learn from him — a delightful process definitely worth sharing. Given such, we’re pleased and honored that he has agreed to be added to the blog, Here’s hoping you enjoy his musings as much as we do!
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Most people look but do not actually see. I stress powers of observation when working with teachers and students, explaining that observation in science means using all of their five senses and then asking questions. We need to take full advantage of the gifts we are given at birth that enable us to emerge from the womb as scientists but with an inherent ability to be artistic if we choose to develop those talents. Neither is mutually exclusive, although our education system tends to encourage a divide between left and right brain, science and art, academic and non-academic, success and failure.
For example, if you make the effort to observe it, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, would prick your finger when you touch it, would look glorious because of its vibrant colors, would taste as delicate as its petals you may eat and would sound as quiet as a whisper as it sways in a gentle breeze, if you had the auditory powers of the greater wax moth. This moth is capable of sensing sound frequencies of up to 300 kHz – the highest recorded frequency sensitivity of any animal in the natural world.
Humans are only capable of hearing sounds of 20 kHz maximum, dropping to around 12-to-15 kHz as we age. But, do we actually listen? I have lain down in the prairie grasses of The Badlands in South Dakota to hear the wind passing through and over them. I have been fortunate to sit on beaches of the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and a few days ago, the Caribbean, to hear waves crash or roll gently on shore, each with a distinctive sound.
We can all touch people by our actions, but when we touch or feel, we cannot match catfish that are probably the most finely tuned creatures on Earth, as their smooth skin gives them a heightened sense of touch, and they are rumored to be able to detect earthquakes days in advance. When I have actually felt the most is when I was privileged to hold each of our children as soon as they were born in Serowe, Botswana, for each touched my heart in return.
Bloodhounds have the keenest sense of smell of any dogs, as their noses are 10-to-100 million times more sensitive than a human’s. That said, it always intrigues me that when humans encounter certain smells, these odors can trigger a memory perhaps from our youth — for example, the inside of a damp tent that transports me back in time to a hillside in Wales where sheep had invaded our tents while we were away climbing Idwal Slabs. Can a dog do that?
For eyesight, I pick the dragonfly, possibly the most formidable aerial hunter among insects whose eyes are so big that they cover almost the entire head and provide a full 360-degree field of vision. These eyes are made up of 30,000 visual units called ommatidia, each one containing a lens and a series of light sensitive cells. Their eyesight is superb, whereas humans look but rarely see what may be obvious just a few feet in front of them. For example, I can walk down a street in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico and see glorious concrete buildings from the early 1900s with ornate friezes three stories up with ferns growing from cracks but never, ever glance in a shop window to see merchandise.
The average person has about 10,000 taste buds. That number may seem like a lot, but it pales in comparison to, yet again, the catfish that has taste buds not only in its mouth but all over its body, numbering more than 100,000, with some large catfish having as many as 175,000. While in Mayaguez, I tasted pasteles (pork dumplings) for the first time, but I prefer the taste of freedom that my job allows, enabling me to interact with incredible people from friends to research scientists to students with special needs.
If you have a few spare moments, this video appealed to me.