(Or at least physics. But I reckon it’s pretty much the same for the other disciplines as well.)
It is said that Thomas Edison failed 999 times while inventing the light bulb. So, it is obvious that your journey to the next metaphorical light bulb will be riddled with failures. These can be as simple as ‘oh the polarity of my battery is wrong’ to as mindbogglingly confounding as ‘well, theoretically this should be working.’ Below, I have outlined a few approaches that are usually taken during the course of a science experiment. Rest assured, if you follow any or all of these, you will break Edison’s record of number of consecutive failures.
1. The Pshtt-I’m-above-this approach
Let me tell you something. Never, and I mean never consider a project ‘beneath you’. Projects can be simple, in the sense that they require a few components. But the moment you think that you’re too smart for a project, trust me, all of eternity will conspire against you to wreck said project. Smugness has never led to great discoveries.
This also leads to the second point on our list..
2.The all-hail-google-our-supreme-commander approach
This is the exact opposite of the fist approach. You are working on a project. You run into a problem. You rush to the nearest device with internet access. You search your problem on google. You click the very first link (or the second if you’re feeling adventurous) and proceed to copy the entire thing.
Though google has undoubtedly made our lives easier it is cowardly to just look for answers to our problems. Cowardly as a scientist, that is. Not to mention, it kind of beats the purpose of doing science. Give the problem at least a couple of hours of rigorous brainstorming before tapping into a resource that contains all of human knowledge ever. And of course, it is always fun to come up with explanations of the unexpected.
3. The four-hours-to-deadline-let’s-start approach
I realize that productive work can be done only with either the threat of approaching death or a looming deadline. Then again, what’s the difference.
The point is, don’t put off science projects to the very end. Even if you have them all mapped out in your brain. Because more often than not, the actual physical experiments would require extensive troubleshooting. Even if you’re just recreating an experiment from a trusted source (and by that I mean google) step by step you’ll still end up fiddling with it to make it work.
And believe me, it’s not fun when you have five minutes to a demo and you realize your power source and input terminals are incompatible.
4. The chuck-it-outta-the-window-and-become-a-hermit approach
And then there comes a point when you’ll spiral into the deep, dark world of confusion. This usually happens after your tenth mug of coffee and approximately the same number of hours of continuous head-scratching.
“But if electricity is the flow of electrons,” you’ll catch yourself thinking, “where do the electrons go in the end? Like when I charge my phone, do the electrons go into my phone?”
This is a pretty dangerous place to be in. Because at this point everything short of jumping from a cliff seems a viable alternative to figuring out why the heck your two-component circuit does not work. It is now that you start envying the hermits and their seemingly serene lifestyles.
The only way out of this labyrinth is a break, another cup of coffee and a Ludlum novel. Trust me.
Final word of advice: experiment with your experiments because only experimenting can get rid of the non-functionality of your experiment.
Until next time.