Renaissance Thinkers

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In a world where science and technology are evolving at a more rapid pace than ever before, the importance of interdisciplinary research has never been more pressing in the field of science.  We now have the tools to understand the universe more fundamentally, be it discovery in the fields of physics, biology, or nanotechnology.  What has always distinguished a few scientists who make life-changing discoveries (the kind that earns you an SI unit named after you) is that these men and women did not limit themselves to one field of study.  They instead looked for factual answers, aided by the scientific process, in every facet of the world around them.

Take Sir Isaac Newton as an example. Although most famous as a pioneer in the world of physics, Newton had countless other scientific interests. Newton concocted numerous proofs and theorems which contributed to the development of mathematical studies of calculus, all in an effort to quantify the relationships he was discovering in the world of physics.  He was also a dedicated astronomer who created the world’s first reflecting telescope.  Newton improved on several other advances in the fields of particle physics and optics thanks to his intuitive understanding of light waves and how they behave.  Finally, Newton published his Three Laws of Motion which are still fundamental in the study of mechanics today.

For me, Newton’s real genius lies in how he used the results of the countless experiments that led him to his numerous scientific discoveries.  Sir Isaac Newton blended his knowledge of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and simple observations of the world around him. From this amalgamation came the staggering developments that made Newton a man of history.

A modern day Newton who has taken the same principles of academic diversity to heart is Dr. Rakesh K. Jain, a professor of Tumor Biology at Harvard Medical School.  Dr. Jain has recently focused his research on the physical forces exerted by tumors on the blood vessels that keep cancerous growths oxygenated.  Dr. Rakesh realized that as the cells in a tumor grew uncontrollably, they constricted the blood vessels with “solid stress,” resulting in poor oxygenation of the tumor.  These tumors actually proved to be some of the most lethal.  Chemotherapy and radiation treatment have only a marginal effect on poorly-oxygenated tumor growth, and tumors of this nature often metastasize to other parts of the body.  Dr. Jain’s research has spanned many disciplines of science, from constructing mathematical models and digital images to map tumor growth to discovering that a drug already in mass production could be used to alleviate the stress on blood capillaries in dense tumors. The drug is an antihypertensive drug, and Dr. Jain found that it interferes with the formation of collagen and hyluronan, two connective tissues that can barricade a rapidly growing tumor. Dr. Jain’s research will be improving patient prognoses everywhere in the near future.

As we advance in the academic world and our studies become more and more focused, it’s important to remind ourselves that there’s a lesson to be learned from just about anything.  Although some may disagree with me, we may be better off because Newton didn’t just stick with doing algebra and geometry.

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