Shivang Patel is our April 2017 Volunteer of the Month. He can be found in our Spark!Lab almost every weekend, inspiring invention and discovery with hundreds of guests each week. Read his own very moving words about why volunteering at the Science Center means so much to him, and how inspiring learning and curiosity and progress gives him hope and helps him cope with depression:
Depression is something that is part of the everyday way that I live and have lived for as long as I can remember. For most of my life, I’ve lacked the architecture for good feelings. To say I have low self-esteem is not true. I have no self-esteem. And though my depression has never been life-threatening; it has been life-dampening. Medication helps but doesn’t always help enough, and that’s why I volunteer. Volunteering and giving back has proven far more effective in bringing me joy than any drug ever could. It wasn’t long ago when I realized what really made me happy or what kept me in the moment:
It wasn’t the big things… It was the unnoticed joy I would get from the news of a scientific discovery. If you don’t have much day-to-day involvement with the world of science, it can still be charming to come across a news item reporting a breakthrough in pure research and the fact that the details of the story are pretty much incomprehensible somehow doesn’t seem to matter: A dust cloud has been detected in the Lagoon nebula; progress is being made in understanding the neural networks in the brains of fish; the existence of a particular subatomic particle has been confirmed; or scientists have discovered that at ultra-low temperatures chemicals can react with each other at much greater distances than is possible at room temperature.
The announcement of these scientific breakthroughs occurs side by side with the regular dramas of the news: a government policy adviser was involved in a money laundering scandal; the German economy is not doing what it was expected to do… All the normal things are happening. And somewhere in the background people have been quietly finding out about galactic dust and the surface temperature of an exoplanet. We might not really grasp the special meaning of these discoveries. And we’re not necessarily imagining possible practical applications. But there seems to be a distinctive pleasure circulating around them, which is linked to a powerful, but nebulous, idea: progress.
Every new story about a scientific advancement, is a tiny step in a vast and very long process. Each small piece of scientific news is a point of contact with the grand vision of the advancement of understanding and the rolling back of superstition. We’re struck by the grandeur of the collective effort, the strategic patience and the successful pitting of intelligence against a mystery. We may not, in all honesty, care very deeply about how fish process visual information or what happens to Barium at-270 degrees Celsius. But news of scientific advancement is a pleasure because it edges into our minds the idea of such carefully arranged progress occurring in other areas of human life. Just the profound understanding and appreciation of such news items bring me solace and joy. And I am here to spread that joy. My goal is to make your every visit to the science center an intriguing, evocative mix of small pleasures that will heighten your senses and return you to the world with new-found excitement and enthusiasm for science.
Volunteering is therapeutic for me. It’s helped me fight back against depression. It’s better than medication because the only side effect is inspiring the inventors and scientists of tomorrow.
Much in the way that CNN’s coverage of the Opportunity Mars rover landing sequence first inspired me to follow the educational path of Aerospace engineering, the amazing moments of STEM discovery at MiSci will set children on their own journeys.