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Space: The Freebase Frontier

November 7, 2010

There’s been a lot of talk in the press recently about ‘helicopter’ parents, or those people who need to control their kids’ lives to the extent that they influence every educational decision that the kids should really be learning to make on their own.  I’m not like that. As far as I’m concerned, my children will be free to study whatever they wish when they get to college, so long as they bear in mind that they need to be good, productive people who leave the world a better place than they found it, and by that I mean that they don’t keep coming to me for money.

I will say, however, that I fully intend to have a discussion with them if either one tells me that they are interested in going into the sciences, because a career in science is clearly not what it used to be. When I was growing up, we had respect for scientists; scientists were the brilliant innovators, the deep thinkers who, as children, probably gathered with their friends, looked up into the night sky and pondered aloud, “I wonder what that tastes like.”

As a kid, of course, that kind of statement can make your social life go one of two ways. Either you become a brilliant scientist because your friends avoid you, which leaves you lots of time for studying, or you become very popular and get invited to parties as the kid that people introduce as “Bobby, the guy who will eat anything for cash.” But from what I’ve been reading at least, the sciences are now a haven for people who are a tad obsessed with the size of their rockets and are most likely dabbling in pharmaceuticals.

I say this because of an article I read recently about a group of astronomers in Bonn who have discovered that the Milky Way galaxy tastes like raspberries. I have no problem with this from a gastronomic point of view — I’m a fruit lover from way back — although I am wondering (1) exactly how this helps us as a species, and (2) what the hell they are smoking.

To be absolutely fair, what they actually discovered was the existence of a gas called ethyl formate, which gives raspberries their flavor. But because the Universe has a sense of humor, they also discovered the existence in the same cloud of a deadly chemical called propyl cyanide. I am paraphrasing here, but those two chemicals, along with some other molecules, could very well create what one of the scientists referred to as ‘Deadly Space Raspberries’, which would also have made a terrific nemesis on Star Trek (“Mah engines can’t make enough Dilithium Whipped Cream to hold them back, Cap’n…”) But my point is, this is what a degree in the sciences does to you.

So when my kids come to me and tell me that they want to major in Ultimate Frisbee with a minor in Beer Pong, it will be A-OK with me. Better that than astronomy.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2010 9:33 PM

    I love the concept of Deadly Space Raspberries! As a mom of 2 myself, I find you raise some very interesting points…besides enlightening me about those raspberries.

  2. ===Dan permalink
    November 7, 2010 5:51 PM

    Sounds just like a poison bait station for species that attain space travel.

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