In the fifth grade, I won a blue ribbon at my school’s science fair. Truth be told, it wasn’t much of a project—I grew a “popcorn plant” from an unpopped corn kernel. But my teacher, Mrs. Barnes, saw something there.
I treasured that ribbon, and it could be that Mrs. Barnes’s vote of confidence launched me toward my graduate degree in biology. Sadly, though, the rest of my elementary, middle-, and high school years were almost bereft of science, with few good science teachers. The one exception was my eleventh grade chemistry teacher, Mrs. Otwell—a woman with sharp intelligence and charismatic delivery who taught me the “bus seat rule,” to illustrate the orderly manner in which electrons fill atomic shells, and the meaning of a quark.
I wasn’t the only one in my family touched by Mrs. Otwell’s teaching magic. One of my older brothers majored in chemistry in college, and my sister, who as a Star Student in high school named Mrs. Otwell her Star Teacher, is now an academic researcher studying bone genetics.
Who’s to say what might have been had the early spark that Mrs. Barnes lit been fanned into a flame during my later school years? After switching my college major from English to biology, I eventually arrived at a career in science, first in the research lab and now as a science writer and editor. It was the right path for me, though I sometimes imagine how things might have been different.
Clearly, those formative K-12 school years are critical. In this issue of the Bulletin, we spotlight the need in this country for more, and better, science teachers in our schools. In other articles, we pay homage to the increasingly powerful role that chemists play in biological discovery—chemists who no doubt got their start being fascinated by the fundamentals with teachers like Mrs. Barnes and Mrs. Otwell.
Don’t miss the multimedia slideshows and other extras in this issue, which can be found online and in our iPad app. The digital versions of the Bulletin are proving a great way to expand on the stories we offer in print—for example, find new details of Matt Warman’s bone research, first covered in the May 2011 issue. The magazine’s stories continue to have lives long after they land in your mailbox, and we’ll use our website to update them as we go.
Mary Beth Gardiner
Editor, HHMI Bulletin