scientific research takes place at "observatories,"
which are havens for science. The locations we visited represent
a wide array of scientific environments, each one different
from the other. What binds them together is the role they
play as hubs of scientific pursuit.
Some observatories are created to serve an instrument. At
CERN, the boundaries of the observatory are defined by the
particle accelerator, an
aerial photo shows
that those boundaries even cross an international border.
A photo tour of the
Hubble Space Telescope’s Mission Control reveals
that while there’s a wide variety of labs and activities,
all are devoted to collecting and disseminating information
from the telescope.
In other places, researchers have set up camp in naturally
existing environments that provide them with unique opportunities.
In Antarctica, for example, the harsh conditions produce organisms
with unusual adaptations—such asfish
with antifreeze—that give
scientists clues to the process of evolution. The rain
forest of Belize is a field biologist’s
dream, with one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth.
Each of the locations we visited displays, in some way, a
history of science and human curiosity. In Antarctica, the
story begins with the efforts
of explorers, scientists, and traders simply trying to reach
the place, and continues as
an experiment in
international scientific cooperation. At
the Natural History Museum in London, modern tools such as
electron microscope build on the
knowledge obtained over hundreds of years from vast
collections of specimens gathered
for study. The legacy of Barbara McClintock’s genetics
research is embedded in the very landscape of Cold Spring
Harbor, which includes the farm
where research on her Nobel-winning
corn hybrids continues today.
This environment of science goes beyond
the physical, and becomes a culture within each of the observatories.
The halls of
Cold Spring Harbor buzz with research
talk during conferences, CERN
has its own rock band, and
in Antarctica is an experience that
bonds the few who share it. While it’s the science that
brings most researchers to these locations, perhaps it’s
the camaraderie that keeps them coming back.