Your alarm goes off attempting to wake you from a deep slumber. You can hear the alarm, but your brain is trying to incorporate the monotonous beeping of the alarm into your dream while your conscience takes over urging you to awaken. Half asleep, you roll out of bed and walk to the bathroom to brush your teeth. Your stomach growls, pleading for you to head to the kitchen for your routine breakfast of cold cereal and toast. Later that morning, you step outside on your way to work. Taking a deep breath of crisp morning air and letting out a regretful sigh, you notice your exhale is visible smoke. The season is changing from fall to winter.
We go through our daily routine and forget what it’s like to be curious about the world around us. We lose interest in discovering the vast phenomena that lie before our eyes every minute of everyday. In our youth, we found ourselves asking all sorts of questions, inquiring of the world around us to reveal its secrets. We would ask such things as, “why is the sky blue?” or “why do leaves change color in the fall?” and maybe even “why can’t I tickle myself?”
If you were a particularly bright child; once you discovered that the sky appears blue because you are seeing reflected light which has been scattered by billions of tiny gas molecules in the atmosphere; that leaves on a tree contain complex photo systems that can sense the change in the amount of light they receive from the sun so they change to a more optimal “pigment” (color) for the reception of lesser daylight; and that you cannot tickle yourself because you’d have to trick your brain which is capable of predicting every tiny intricate movement you make; you still weren’t satisfied and continued to ask good questions and search for more discoveries. Unfortunately, something terrible happens to us once we reach a certain age. We put on our glasses of apathy and acquire a fixed mindset when it comes to the world around us. We become solely concerned with what we already know.
So why green tinted glasses? As a biologist, I am very much interested in all living things on this planet and their individual roles in whatever ecosystem they call home. As a science teacher, I am very much interested in how to portray the science of our everyday lives in compelling ways. I was not always this interested in a scientific field. In fact, I would not have called myself that “bright child” described above who so masterfully discovered the answers to those difficult questions. My interests in science grew in college when I picked up a job for the Biology department. My job was to catch butterflies, breed them in the lab, and study their behavior. In short, my eyes were opened to an incredible world I had never seen before. The process a caterpillar takes in life as they literally alter their DNA through the process of metamorphosis to become a completely new creature defied my view of life on this planet. I became obsessed with butterflies, wanting to know how they communicated with other butterflies, how they found the right food to eat, how they survived in harsh environmental conditions, how they conserved energy…I had finally put on green tinted glasses. I was starting to see the science behind the natural phenomena around me and I craved for more. My hope in writing this blog is that you will dust off that lab coat from college, put on those green tinted glasses and finally discover the beautifully intricate and finely crafted world in which you have been taking for granted these many years since reaching the ripe old age of ignorant adulthood.
Let’s go back to when you woke up this morning, put on those green tinted glasses, and view the living reality of your pre-work routines….
You have been trying to learn a new computer program for work and as you dream, your brain is adding new knowledge from your training into your long-term memory. This is one reason dreams and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep cycles are important. But your necessary sleep is interrupted by the monotonous beeping of your alarm. Muscle memory takes over as you instinctively reach to turn off your alarm and walk to the bathroom half asleep. Muscle memory creates short cuts so your brain does not have to work so hard doing common everyday tasks. After driving the same route everyday muscle memory takes over and we can make it home without any recollection of driving in the first place!
Once you make it to the bathroom, you begin to brush your teeth. You scrub hard to fight off the plaque which builds on your teeth. Plaque is a biofilm that coats our teeth and contains bacterial colonies. If left untreated, plaque can cause cavities, gum disease, and other dental dilemmas. You’ve already been to the dentist two times this year so you scrub even harder in hopes of avoiding another trip to the dentist and, coincidentally, another hit to your pocketbook.
Your stomach orders food in your kitchen as it moans and groans while you open the fridge. Each person has their own unique gut microbiome, or colonies of beneficial bacteria taking up residence in our stomachs. These bacterial colonies aid in the digestion of our food and may even influence our food preferences or intolerances.
After you finish your breakfast, you walk out the door on your way to work. As you breathe in and exhale, you realize it’s cold enough to see your exhalations. This occurs due to the water vapor we breathe out condensing in the cold air to form a sort of fog. All animals and humans breathe in an invisible gas that aided in the generation of life billions of years ago, oxygen. Plants need two other gases we cannot see with our eyes, carbon dioxide and water vapor. They take in water vapor and carbon dioxide and release oxygen. The precious oxygen they release, we take advantage of as we breathe in. To officially complete the cycle, we exhale the necessary gases that plants eat up, carbon dioxide and water vapor. Plants and animals have been doing this gas exchange waltz for a long time.
You now start driving to work, muscle memory and unconscious effort taking over. You are deeply satisfied that you know the deeper scientific phenomena behind your morning routine.
Now I invite you to put on green tinted glasses with me and explore your world with new insight. I hope you will gain a deeper appreciation for the little things in life that are currently invisible or meaningless. If you have made it this far in my blog post, welcome aboard and thank you for joining me!