What does science smell like? Dry-erase markers
Most people associate science with technical equipment: goggles, lasers, microscopes, or knee-length lab coats.
For me, science really can’t be done without a far more basic piece of equipment: the dry-erase marker.
Practically every time I visit a laboratory or scientist’s office, I see a white board filled with diagrams and sketches. In the sleekest new biomedical research buildings, scientists’ scribbling is so in-your-face that whole walls are covered with ideas born and then erased. Eric Lander, the founding director of the Broad Institute, once told me that the floor-to-ceiling write-on walls at the Broad were inspired by an experience earlier in his career when he began explaining an idea at a meeting. In his enthusiasm to get his point across, he began sketching directly on the wall.
It wasn’t until fairly late in life that I realized white boards weren’t ubiquitous in people’s homes and work places. I grew up with one bolted within close range of the dinner table, and my parents — a polymer chemist and a molecular biologist — would not hesitate to use it as an explanatory aid.
Doodling is not typically part of science education, but some people think it should be. Felice Frankel, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has for years worked with scientists to help them create visual representations of their work that more clearly communicate their results. A few years ago, she launched an effort called “Picturing to Learn” in which students would use drawings to explain scientific concepts, ranging from Brownian motion, the random movement of particles suspended in a liquid or gas, to chemical bonding.