Science Day

Ridgeview is sometimes disdainfully described by its critics as a school for the study of literature and poetry. We are unashamed of that, but we hasten to add that we are a liberal arts school that equally values the study of the natural sciences and mathematics. We exhibited something of this enthusiasm for the sciences this past weekend at what was our inaugural Science Day. We welcomed back Ridgeview’s alumni, who presented original research that ranged from the effects of polyunsaturated fats on overall health to artificial intelligence and neural networks to the practical application of hydrogels and the design of experiments destined for outer space. We heard from our faculty on a wide variety of topics that explored Darwin and music, the brain and memory, computer-based data acquisition, epigenetics and junk DNA, the faculty of reason in pre-modern and modern peoples, volcanology, Van de Graff, melittology, the human microbiome, and cryptography. In three hours, we saw the past and the future; we surveyed the geology that predates us and the applications of discoveries that will transform us.

Events such as our Science Day emphasize what it is that we mean by liberal arts. We saw the sciences and the humanities enter into conversation and overcome Snow’s complaint of two cultures divorced from one another. As Goethe wrote in his reflections, “Scientific knowledge helps us mainly because it makes the wonder to which we are called by nature rather more intelligible.” In the blizzard of concerns about college admissions, grades, and standardized curricula, wonder and awe are too often lost in education, but this is something that is unnecessarily so.

In Ian Leslie’s recent book on curiosity, he notes how slowly human beings mature. “Foals are tottering around the paddock within a half hour of leaving the maternal womb; babies aren’t toddling until they are about eighteen months old,” Leslie writes. “Birds are evicted from the nest of their mothers within a couple of months; humans move back into the parental home after college.” Leslie continues on like this at some length, but he arrives at an important point: “Our extended infancy has a hidden upside – it bequeaths the mature human a child’s capacity to love, learn, and wonder why.”

It is wonder that we should foster since it is wonder that begets knowledge. Students, youthful and mature, were invited to the school to wonder. Some would suggest that it was a surprise that they should have come in such numbers on a Saturday morning, but I think it more likely that we yearn for outlets such as these and find such a paucity of them in our busy lives.

Thank you to all of our alumni who returned home to share their work with us, to our teachers who gave up a part of their much-deserved weekends, and to our parents and students who showed that a liberal arts education need not end at 3:00 on a Friday afternoon. Special thanks is owed to Mrs. Kristen Carvalho who first suggested this event and then worked hard to see it realized.

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