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Beauty,Spring 2005
Second Web Papers
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Science is Beautiful!

Krystal Madkins

*This paper is quite bizarre. I've actually written it as if I were an old, acerbic scientist frustrated by the way that many people view beauty.*

"Renoir's 'Bathers'!"

"Tarentino's movies...the latest ones...the Kill Bill series!"

"A vase of red roses!"

These are some of the things that I hear people exclaim when asked what they find beautiful. I have to contain my laughter when I hear such nonsense. Ancient paintings? Tasteless and gory films? This is what people find beautiful? Is this the best that they can find in the majestic world in which we live? How have bona fide works of beauty such as Boltzmann's equation, laws of thermodynamics...the very formation of the universe been overlooked? I can appreciate things such as Ravel's compositions and the majesty of the Iguaçu Falls but I would not go so far as to call them beautiful. Such a descriptor would be reserved for that which makes one gape and cry out in amazement. The human body and the way it functions so efficiently and harmoniously is an example of something worthy of being called beautiful.

The human body is constantly working. Rain, sleet, or snow your body can be counted on to be home to mind boggling amounts of reactions. Glycolysis and the Krebs Cycle in creating ATP for your body to use as energy, meiosis and mitosis in reproducing cells, and the replication of DNA in cells are just a handful of the many reactions occurring as you read these words thanks to the cones and rods in your eyes and the central nervous system. With all of the reactions that occur, there are relatively few problems with the processes. For example, consider that during DNA synthesis, DNA polymerase makes one mistake for every 10,000 nucleotides formed. This is an amazing feat that many man made machines cannot lay claim to.

Such accuracy is possible because of the simplicity of most reactions that take place in the human body. For example, mitosis is a relatively simple process that is necessary in replicating DNA which is the building blocks of life. First, the homologous chromosomes in a cell condense and spindle begins to form. Next, the nuclear envelope surrounding the cell begins to break down. Sister chromotids (smaller sections of chromosomes) begin to separate and are pulled towards opposite poles. The sides of the cell then pinch at the middle of the cell so that the opposite sides eventual touch before the cell separates in half. In place of the original singular cell, there are now two new cells with material from the parent (original) cell.

The essentiality of cells would suggest that a more complex process would be necessary but this is not true. Even the other method of cell reproduction, meiosis, which has more genetic material to partition into four cells, is not very complex. I find the fact that these amazing processes, which are integral, can be explained in relatively simple terms that even the 'layman' can visualize and understand to be beautiful. The symmetry of this cell splitting evenly to become two cells with matching material is also awe-inspiring and quite beautiful. The fact that this process occurs, much like other reactions within our bodies, with relatively few errors and without humans consciously thinking about it, strikes me as beautiful. I doubt that there is any 'machine' or 'work of art' as beautiful as the living body and the numerous reactions.

Evolution, however, is another phenomenon related to science that comes close to matching the beauty of the living body. Like mitosis, it illustrates the simplicity to be found in the realm of science. In evolution, the characteristics and traits of animals that are most useful to their success with reproduction and the enlargement of their species' population are maintained and passed to their offspring to continue the process. The traits that are not helpful in procreation are simply lost over time to save the energy and commitment for the necessary traits. New and necessary traits are usually the result of random mutations that happen to help living things which are passed down to next generations.

One example of evolution at work could be occurring on the very surface of your skin now. When soaps are used that proclaim to 'kill 99.9% of germs' they obviously kill most of the bacteria but the bacteria with a difference in gene make-up which allows it to live go unaffected. Soon these bacteria replicate and their offspring, carrying their anti-bacterial mutation, populate your hands. There is also the example of male birds that have brightly colored feathers to attract females. While bright and extravagant displays attract the opposite sex (witness the male peacock) if the display is too much of a burden for the bird and affects its health, the display is no longer effective nor is it likely to be spread due to the weakened health of the bird. This example reinforces the idea that greater simplicity offers greater chance for success rates and less errors in various reactions and processes. The simplicity and organized methodology that can be found in the complex world around us and within our complex selves never ceases to amaze me. There is great beauty in these simple, structured processes that I just cannot deign to compare to the cinematography of a movie or technique utilized to create a 'masterpiece' painting.

To avoid appearing to be an elitist or a grand intellectual I would like to actually defend and explain the appeal of certain things, such as particular songs, paintings, or movies, to which people seem to equate beauty. As ridiculous as it may sound to some, these 'arts' are beautiful because of the science behind it or the science that is involved. Show me something that you find to be beautiful and I will show you how science is the key to enjoying these things. Just take a second to consider a song that you may enjoy or think of as beautiful. The song is beautiful because of the vibrations that it sends through the air and to your ear. The different wave vibrations and pitches reach your inner ear (where it is intercepted and reflected among other things) and are interpreted by your brain. Keep in mind that this all happens at extremely rapid speeds and that various mechanisms are involved which let us concentrate on certain sounds or makes it possible for us to hear low volumes of sound even with the presence of louder sounds (think of trying to hear an friend's voice over the crescendo of a song). Without the magnificent and beautiful way that your ear 'hears' sounds, there would be no way for you to appreciate your favorite songs or the sound of birds chirping and leaves rustling in the wind on a summer's day.

Science, and all the theories and equations that are associated with it, is the truly beautiful aspect of our world. No 'pretty' colors or drawings are needed for it to be so either. Science's beauty lies in the symmetry, simplicity, and logic that are often involved in explaining the ways of the world. If one finds it absolutely necessary, however, science can be viewed as beautiful in terms of the physical or tangible. Just look outside your windows and witness the splendid scene or look at a mosaic by your favorite artist; science is involved and the reason for the appeal of these things. I only wish that more of the people I come in contact with on a daily basis realized the great beauty and awesome nature of science. Oh the joy I would experience if instead of the snippets of conversation listed at the beginning I heard things like:

"Wow! The way that cells communicate is beautiful! Simply outstanding!"


"I have never seen something so beautiful as the reduction-oxidation in or outside of the lab!"

Honestly...there would be no greater joy.

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