We’re going back to A Wrinkle in Time today. So this is me & my mum when I was about 6 years old:
That’s back when I was cute. The middle school years were Meg Murry level frightening — I had an overbite and braces and giant glasses with beige frames. I was hideous. My mum, of course, looked the same.
My mum, like Mrs. Murry, is also a biochemist. I knew this when I first read A Wind in the Door when I was seven and begged and begged and begged to see pictures of mitochondria. Having her seven year old say mitochondria and know what it did freaked my mum out (it was my Charles Wallace moment), but she pulled out her Campbell’s biology textbook and showed me pictures and then was thoroughly confused when I asked her for pictures of the farandolae who lived inside the mitochondria and sang.
Like Meg, I did math. I was a midget spreadsheet. When I was seven, my mum would give me columns of numbers and let me use the calculator that plugged into the wall, and I’d punch in the equations she gave me and crunch data. When kids on the playground threw down with the biggest words they knew, they usually had a made-up word as their longest — supercalafragalisticexpialadoshus. Mine was cis-diamminedichloroplatinum. It wasn’t as long, but it was a real word, and I could spell it.
I grew up in labs and started working in one when I was fifteen. I was too young to go to radiation safety, so the lab where I worked had my mum fill out a permission slip saying I could handle tritium, which all things considered was pretty minor. I wouldn’t drink it, but if I did, it wouldn’t make my spidey senses start tingling. I’d pretend to be a grad student. I had a student ID that said I was a grad student. This may be why I spent so many years in grad school.
My mum has been working with high school students for a long time now. They spend summers in her lab, and she lets them do real work on actual projects, so they don’t simply shadow grad students but get their hands dirty running experiments and mixing reagents. One of her summer students just won the Google Science Fair — the Grand Prize for 17-18 year old students — for research she did in my mum’s lab. It’s insanely competitive at the national level. Shree won a 50K scholarship and a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic. My mum’s super excited for her student, and I think it’s awesome for both of them. My mum’s a researcher because she believes in learning by doing. You aren’t going to get everything out of a textbook — you have to try things. That’s something she passes along to all of her students.