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Is My ADD a Metaphor for the Scientific Process?


In my previous blog post, I showed the results of my surface temperature experiment. It was a great way to highlight some of the practical ways to use science, and it was yet another way for me to talk about my puppy. My experiment and accompanying blog was straightforward enough. I identified a problem, I designed an experiment, collected data, and presented the results. This is how science is done, right?! With years of experiment experience behind me, this should have been a very fast and easy task, but I had one problem that I forgot to account for, my Attention Deficit Disorder.

Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD, affects millions of people worldwide in different ways. For me, it means I get easily distracted. So while I wanted to just focus on the surface temperature data of asphalt, as that was what I was reporting on, I found myself getting distracted by another result of my experiment that I found even more surprising than asphalt not retaining heat after sunset. It had to do with the surface temperature of grass, specifically, how much the surface temperature of grass changed from day to night. While the asphalt saw the biggest change in temperature between day and night, with an average difference of almost 10 degrees C, the grass had the second biggest difference between day and night with about an 8 degree difference (concrete experienced the least dramatic change in temperature between day and night with an average of 6.3 degrees difference).

When designing my experiment, I only included grass for the sake of comparison. Yet, when I should have been writing up my report on asphalt, or even a gone on a more logical tangent about asphalt and the Urban Heat Island Effect, I was busy thinking about that grass. It made sense that grass would be cooler than concrete and asphalt during the day because of evapotranspiration, but at night, without the sun powering that water cycle, evapotranspiration stops. So what causes grass to cool down so much and does it ever reach equilibrium with the air temperature? A brief search on the internet quickly led me down a rabbit hole of photosynthesis and endothermic reactions (endothermic reactions absorb energy from their environment whereas exothermic reactions give off heat).

I had to pull back. I finished my report on asphalt but I kept thinking about how my digression perfectly illustrated the scientific process. One question leads to another question. It is why a scientist's’ work is never finished, even after a conclusion has been made and a paper’s been published. That, and there are infinite things to study, especially when it comes to complicated earth system science.

When looking at the Earth, it is especially easy to jump from topic to topic, even from sphere to sphere, because of how all of the systems work differently but together. So the next time you’re wondering why you would possibly need to include cloud observations with your soil pH measurements, remember that not only does one impact the other, you may be setting yourself up for your next experiment.

The point is, the cycle of science never stops. I may have started to answer my question about the surface temperature of asphalt, but now I have a hundred more questions about the surface temperature of grass because of this one, simple experiment. While, perhaps my short attention span and affinity to go on loosely related tangents may have been at the core of this, it is still reflective of the scientific process as a whole. Inquiry begets inquiry, so let your scientific mind wander!

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