Winning Essay

Congratulations to the winner of the second Yale Scientific-Synapse High School Essay Contest, Amita Sastry, a student at Jonathan Law High School in Milford, CT. This year’s prompt required writers to discuss how scientists have attained success by breaking convention. Additionally, writers were asked to propose their own scientific innovation that encourages creativity in the face of opposition. In this essay, Sastry comments on the historical hallmarks that have shaped modern science.

Breaking Convention

By Amita Sastry
1st Place Winner, Yale Scientific Magazine National Essay Competition
Jonathan Law High School
Milford, Connecticut

Many revolutionary scientific discoveries initially received their fair share of skepticism. When looking at these discoveries, the results of breaking conventions can be appreciated. Daring to persevere in the face of opposition has, in the past, redefined modern science, and continues to encourage creativity and improve upon existing standards.

Breaking with tradition can often promote ingenuity; that is, by challenging the nature of existing things, scientists can add a creative touch to an ordinary item. Take, for instance, the invention of the electric car. At first glance, the thought of a car that could be plugged in and operated on battery power seemed absurd, since people were accustomed to filling up their gas tanks frequently. However, due to the commitment of many scientists and engineers, that vision is, today, a reality. According to National Public Radio (NPR), electric cars can be three times cheaper to fill up than gas powered vehicles. Because people thought beyond the ordinary, we now have cars that decrease dependence on gas, an expensive resource.

Other technological advances such as the development of smart phones also represent inventiveness. Previously, touch-screen and Internet capable phones were deemed as ridiculous ideas. Nonetheless, scientists developed this technology, which allows for increased convenience in several ways. According to CBS, 56% of American adults own smart phones – a claim that illustrates the overwhelming utility of these phones. Thus, the progression from the minimal design of the cell phone to the initially disputed “smart” phone showed the creativity that can arise out of departures from convention.

Improvement upon existing standards is also facilitated by the proposition of novel ideas. The proposal of the vaccine was originally thought to be an implausible idea. People believed it was preposterous to prevent illness by injecting a mild form of the virus into the body. Consequently, until the late 1700s, the standard and widely used prevention method was to quarantine people. It wasn’t until the 1790s and early 1800s that Louis Pasteur and Edward Jenner produced the first vaccinations for chicken cholera and smallpox, respectively. Critics argued relentlessly that inoculation did not adhere to the religious beliefs at the time, and questioned the morality of the practice. The issues regarding the effectiveness and safety of vaccinations were also raised. In spite of these protests, Pasteur and Jenner pursued their ideas with relentless determination. Today, thanks to Pasteur, Jenner, and other scientists’ courage, it is possible to prevent over two dozen deadly diseases. It is clear that the development of the vaccine greatly improved the previous standards of preventive health, and modernized the medical field.

A series of people who have dared to be innovative in proposal of concepts have shaped modern biology throughout the years. Hooke, Leeuwonhoek, Schwann, Schleiden, and Virchow, among others, contributed to the cell theory. Before this proposal, scientists believed in spontaneous generation of life. The development of the cell theory redefined the fundamentals of composition of organisms. Decades later, Darwin found himself in a similar situation, where the predominant belief was single ancestral sources, and Lamarck’s theory of passing on acquired traits to offspring. After suffering agony from skepticism regarding his new idea, Darwin finally proposed his theory of evolution in which he stated that organisms undergo gradual change over time through natural selection. This proposition had a monumental impact on evolutionary biology and redefined the way scientists researched the origin of species.

The impact of breaking conventions is apparent in modern scientific settings as well. One such example is the human genome project. At first, people believed that this project would be far too expensive to be realistic, and would have no place in modern medicine. In April 2003, however, scientists were able to sequence the entire genome, identify the location of genes, and interpret this information to a certain extent. The human genome project will provide the basis for gene therapy, and help geneticists and doctors detect predisposition to disease. The development of the cell theory and evolutionary theory laid the groundwork for an extensive amount of research of the fundamentals of science. The human genome project is evidence of how far the research has come, and how much further it can go.

While researching all of these innovations in science, the spirit of curiosity inspired me to offer the idea of storing images seen with our eyes and the ability to transfer them to a computer. This proposal is subject to skepticism because it is a concept that requires advanced technology that has not yet been developed and it seems out of scope with what is scientifically possible. While this concept would require further research to develop, this idea has several benefits in various facets of society including criminal justice and social media. By storing images seen by the eyes, we can nearly eliminate the process of court trials and uncertainty of witness testimonies; eye-witnesses can truly become “eye”-witnesses. That is, the images they see in real time can later be stored and used to convict criminals without ambiguity.

Moreover, society today is characterized by the use of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Social networks are used to capture photos of memorable events and share them. Often, the most memorable moments happen when we are without cameras. Using our own eyesight to take pictures without needing to use a camera would make capturing memories more natural and significantly more convenient. People could then take these pictures and share them on social networks at their leisure, without the hassle of connecting a camera to the computer to import these pictures.

Promoting creativity, enhancing current standards, and changing fundamentals of science are just a few advantages of breaking conventions. Challenging the norm and expanding thought past the obvious is extremely important to the future of science. Many major discoveries in the past have been a result of breaking conventions, and the same will hold true for future breakthroughs. Breaking conventions are an important aspect of the scientific world, and it is crucial that the scientists of tomorrow be courageous enough to do so.