Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Imagination and Scientific Method

Experimental science as practiced by scientists requires imagination and creativity. Sometimes, one does an experiment out of sheer curiosity, "What happens if I do this?". The data are collected and analyzed. This is how insights and discoveries are made. Afterwards, the scientist writes up his/her paper and lays out the problem and an orderly logical framework to put the experiments and data into context concluding with a refined, or even new, hypothesis, which incidently is the reverse order in which he or she came to the conclusions and results in the first place. The creativity of a scientist lies in his or her imagination and intuition which flows into the experimental design and more so in picking the appropriate problems to study. Yet, that imagination and curiosity which spurred the discovery are downplayed and the results are discussed in a logical and argumentative mind-based context. In other words, discovery takes a backseat to argumentative debate and proving one's results. One can only appreciate the imagination's role from inference. One exception is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

Initially, PCR used an E. coli DNA polymerase I derivative called Klenow Fragment. Enzyme had to be added every cycle because the enzyme was destroyed by the heat necessary to unwind the DNA molecules so that the primers could anneal to them to create more copies. Once they used a heat stable version of Klenow fragment from a hyperthermophilic bacterium, was the technique easy to use and economical. The imagination lies in the use of repeating cycles of denaturation (heating) of the DNA template(s), of renaturation (cooling) to allow annealing of excess primers to the DNA strands, and of a heat stable DNA polymerase to generate new copies of DNA, thereby allowing one amplify any sequence of DNA one wants. The bacteria and enzymology were known in the late 1960s. The piece of technology that held everything up was the oligonucleotide polymerization chemistry . That technology came along in the late 1970s-early 1980s. The heat stable DNA polymerase was a just an elegant, key refinement to the technique. PCR was thought up in 1983, but, it didn't become ubiquitous in the biochemical or molecular biological labs until the late 1980s. Now, everyone uses the technique. No scientific methodology was involved, just pure imagination and creativity for the initial idea.
John, this material is immense, super stuff, i downloaded it to read leisurely, you are sure on a roll and hitting on all cylinders. thanks.
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