People who denigrate science either have their heads in the sand or concrete between their ears. PBS’s programs this past month offered an astounding array of insight into current scientific discoveries that really blew me away. I wonder what my Mom, with her master’s in bacteriology, would think of it all.
So much has happened in my lifetime to change our entire concept of our world and universe. When I was young, the atom was defined as the smallest unit of matter. Was I (and the world) in for a surprise at the end of WWII. By the time I was in high school, I learned further that an atom had a nucleus, varying numbers of protons, and electrons that moved around them. Even then, I had only part of the picture since scientists have now discovered a number of other little rascals romping about inside atoms.
Recent scientific programs told of discoveries and progress that absolutely boggles my mind — especially three-dimensional printing. The process has been carried far beyond just duplicating machinery parts and making jewelry into the realms of the medical and veterinary, construction, creating art, and duplicating guns. There now exist, throughout the world, entire buildings of all sizes constructed entirely of printed parts using very, very large, on-site printers making metal and concrete parts of all sorts. The scope of materials used is enormous.
Doctors and medical technicians are now duplicating body parts, making custom, affordable prosthetics — especially for children who grow out of them so quickly — and using three-dimensional parts in dental procedures. I have an example of the latter in my mouth.
Not long ago, my dental hygienist discovered that the enamel on an upper front tooth was loose and needed a crown. I watched my dentist grandfather fashion porcelain crowns, and the process was complex and time-consuming. First he made a plaster cast of the original tooth in place, then sculpted a porcelain copy to match the old, let it dry, then baked it in a miniature electric kiln. For my new crown, I envisioned at least two long sessions in the dentist’s chair a week apart while wearing a temporary replacement.
Since few dentists these days do their own lab work, it could have taken longer than a week. I was pleasantly surprised to learn otherwise. After taking a picture and measurements, the dentist excused himself for about 15 minutes. When he returned he prepared the tooth stub to receive the crown. He again left the room and returned with the new porcelain crown, ready to install. I was flabbergasted, and also pleased. I was in and out in less than an hour, and it’s beautiful.
The discoveries in the past few years about our universe made possible by these new high-tech telescopes that we sent into space have also completely upset our previous concepts of our universe. We’ve learned there are millions of galaxies, maybe billions or trillions or even quadrillions. To learn that we amount to less than an atom in the total picture is humbling. It has also significantly enlarged our concept and definition of infinity. I now wonder if infinity might indeed have boundaries somewhere — both infinitely large and infinitely small.
This knowledge reinforces my conviction that, if there is only one God, he (she, it) has got to be way, way too busy to hear prayers and solve our individual problems, or even govern every aspect of our individual beings. I suspect this is why so many deeply religious people are unwilling to even concede that science might be useful or even correct. I still see churches as useful as communities of like-minded people coming together in mutual support for those troubled souls.
I’m wondering what the next big surprise will be and what kind of game-changer will result from it all.
Lenna Harding lived her first 20 and past 43 years in Pullman. A longtime League of Women Voters member, she served on the Gladish Community and Cultural Center board. lj1105harding@gmail.