Professor Labcoat & Superhero Scientists!

Hello girls and boys, parents and friends! Professor Labcoat here!

I work at The Children’s Museum of Atlanta as the Science Educator. This means that I get to do all kinds of activities here at the museum as well as in classrooms all across Atlanta and the surrounding area! Whether I’m mixing up a chemical reaction to make foamy bubbles, making my hair stand on end with static electricity, or using invisible ink to show how germs move around, I’m always having fun!

Science is all about trying to figure out how stuff works, from the tiniest pieces of the tiniest speck to the biggest things we can see out in space – as well as everything in-between, including you and me. No matter what you’re interested in or what question you have, there’s probably a scientist somewhere trying to figure it out. And the best part is that, one day, that scientist could be you!

You see, all scientists get their start the same way everyone gets their start: as a kid. I, Professor Labcoat, am no exception. I was a kid who wanted to be all sorts of things when I was growing up. At different times I wanted to be a garbage man, a puppeteer, a veterinarian, an actor, a doctor, a teacher, a scientist, and an architect. It was tricky to choose, but after I finished high school, I decided to go to college at Georgia Tech and study something called Materials Science and Engineering, or MSE for short. People who study MSE learn all about different kinds of metals and plastics and other stuff that things like cars, spaceships, sandwich bags, and comfy chairs are made of. They learn how to make things, measure things, and sometimes even how to break things! I enjoyed figuring things out and working in a laboratory, but as it turns out, my favorite thing to do is to share what I’ve learned with other people and show everyone around me what a cool world we live in.

One of the coolest things about the world is the fact that I know a lot of wonderful people who are working to make the world a better place. These are my Superhero Scientist friends, and I’d like to eventually introduce you to all of them! For this special first blog post of mine, however, I’m going to start with my friend Kathy Silver.

When I was in college learning how to be a scientist, Kathy was in some of my classes with me. She’d started working in the laboratory before I did, and when I came along, she helped to teach me how the different tools and machines worked. Even grownups don’t know everything, and we all have to help each other figure stuff out sometimes. Nowadays, Kathy works at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, or GTRI for short. There, she works with other scientists to try and solve all kinds of problems, and figure all kinds of things out. I decided to pay my friend a visit, so I went down the street to Georgia Tech to visit Kathy and see the buildings where she works. I decided to ask her some questions so that you could learn about her and her job. Girls and boys, allow me to introduce: My friend Kathy Silver, a Superhero Scientist!

Prof. Labcoat: How old were you when you decided you wanted to be a scientist?

Kathy Silver: Probably about 10 or 11.

PL: Was there anything else you wanted to be growing up?

KS: A medical doctor.

PL: I thought about doing that too! What is your favorite thing about your job now?

KS: Learning about new things happening on our campus that help others.  For example, some researchers are looking at less painful methods to deliver vaccines/medicines traditionally delivered via shots.  No more painful shots at the doctor’s office!

PL: I’m sure a lot of my friends would like that! But sometimes things that are no fun are necessary. What is the hardest part of your job?

KS: Deciding when an experiment is not working as expected and knowing when it’s time to move on to another approach

PL: That can certainly be tricky. I once spent six months trying to make one measurement, and after all of that time it didn’t work and I had to start all over! I eventually figured it out, though. What are you working on right now?

KS: Some of the work we are doing in our lab includes materials analysis (determining how and why something broke, for example), lithography (a method of printing) on very small objects (called micro-lithography) and viewing objects at the atomic level with special microscopes.

PL: That sounds cool! What kinds of special tools do you use?

KS: Liquid nitrogen (temperature of about -320 F, more than twice the coldest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica) , optical and atomic microscopes, and lasers.

PL: Wow. That all sounds really interesting! Is there anything you’d like to tell my friends who might want to have a job like yours?

KS: Do well in school, do math and science homework (don’t get discouraged when it seems too difficult – seek out help from your teacher), read for fun and most importantly, be curious.  Curiosity is not only the first step in the scientific process, it is also a scientist’s best trick for keeping their work fun and rewarding!

PL: That’s some great advice! Thank you so much, Kathy!

I’m so happy that I got to introduce you to my very first Superhero Scientist friend. Keep checking the blog to hear more from me and I promise to show you some cool stuff, answer your questions, and introduce you to even more Superhero Scientists!

Thanks for reading!

-Professor Labcoat