Scientific Roots in London and Paris

Name: Haroune Mahdi

Type of Project: Study Abroad in London and Paris

The STEP Signature Project I pursued was an analysis of scientific roots in Europe and over spring break an excursion to London, Paris, and in my case, Brussels would be made to engross ourselves in the society that cultivated the greatest minds known to man. This trip was accompanied by a class that met twice a week wherein speakers would be invited to come discuss various paradigm-shifting scientists (Newton, Pasteur, Darwin, etc).

Before taking this class and going on this enlightening trip, I was perhaps a bit incredulous about the discoveries, derivations, and experiments of esteemed scientists as we learned about them in school. A major evolution in my thinking about these pioneers is they were people just like us. Visiting Charles Darwin’s home in Down, England truly opened my eyes to the personal lives of awe-inspiring figures of science as it allowed for a glimpse into his life rather than his theories. An unfortunate outcome of learning out of textbooks is the notion that discoveries compound on themselves and if one “does science” for long enough, they will derive or discover the next biggest thing. This phenomenon does not occur in reality as almost all well-known paradigm-shifting ideas occur in a “scientific revolution” format as the famous American physicist, Thomas Kuhn, puts it.

Beneficially, and rather cliché, my fragile and naïve view of the world was shattered when just roaming about the cities during my free time. It dawned upon me that the people living here were going through the same struggles, conflicts, and taking life one step at a time as we do back home. Often, we put the lives of those living in “grand” and “romantic” cities upon pedestals because they are so lucky to be living in such a beautiful place; however, those same “lucky” people do not feel this way and probably think the same about those of us living in the quiet, Midwestern suburbs. Truly, it puts how one views the world in perspective and as the popular saying goes, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” This does not mean I did not enjoy and/or was not enlightened my brief excursion across the Atlantic but it does mean one’s views can transform rather dramatically while in a different place.

The first transformative experience was when I visited the Pasteur institute in Paris. Widely regarded as the father of microbiology, Pasteur pioneered, rather unknowingly, modern treatment of viruses utilizing old and weaker strains of said virus. His usage of outstanding science and experimentation set the standard for many years to come in the medical field. Additionally, Pasteur developed the universally used method of pasteurization which kills microbes in food and drink with the most popular example being milk. These rather impressive achievements in one lifetime can be daunting for a lowly student just completing their undergraduate studies; however, during the visit of the Pasteur institute one would get the impression Pasteur was a human just like the rest of us but he kept his mind open and his wits about him.

Second, when exploring the British museum in London, we had the benefit of traveling through the ages and witness the transformation of the old to the new. It truly is fascinating to experience the shifts in ideologies, in religions, or even in the human spirit as we learned about the Vikings who were notorious for being violent to the Greeks who valued culture over bloodshed. Moreover, the Rosetta Stone is displayed in the British museum and looking upon that stone and marveling at how this slab unlocked the mysterious language of Egyptian hieroglyphics. These experiences contributed to my transformation of broadening the mind and being more accepting of cultures different than mine. What may seem normal to me may be chaos and confusion for someone across the world.

Finally, the interactions with the people in both cities, mainly in Paris because of the language barrier, and the big city atmosphere were shocking at first. Not being able to drive to destinations due to legal and monetary reasons makes the experience much more different than living here in the United States. Therefore, one is forced to step outside of their comfort zones and ask the local people for directions or just general advice on the best eateries or attractions in the area. This allowed me to garner more experience in being an outgoing person who is not afraid to step out of their boundaries deepening the experiences to be had abroad. Additionally, I had lengthy conversations with those in London, Paris, and Brussels to explore how a person’s day-to-day plays out in these big cities.

The changes and transformations that occurred during my study abroad trip has had a significant impact on my professional goals and plans. After learning so much about the scientific roots embedded in Europe and discoveries made in dubious circumstances, it has compelled me to attempt to pursue research during my undergraduate career. As mentioned before, I believe it is important for every person to travel and broaden their contact with people much different than themselves. To have finally immersed myself in another culture is a gift of immeasurable value and I will always cherish the experiences and knowledge I gained while abroad.