IDEA #65. Find a local scientific or medical laboratory (try a college or university) or a company whose work is primarily involved with science or engineering. See if you can spend a few days observing, or perhaps even offer to volunteer.
Science and technology form the backbone of the American innovation economy, and many institutions and companies, small and large, are deeply engaged in research and development. In some cases the work is “pure” science, tracking down basic knowledge, while in other cases the work is applying scientific know-how to specific practical problems. In any case, somewhere relatively close by should be a commercial, educational, or medical laboratory that the interested youngster could approach about observing science at work.
There are likely to be practical or even legal restrictions on any such activity, but the chance to spend a few days simply watching scientists or engineers at work should be well worth any time that is involved. Some places may welcome questions, while others will be less receptive to interruption, but if the youngster displays an active, thoughtful curiosity, a supportive relationship could grow. Depending on the nature of the work and the age and capabilities of the young observer, it might also be possible to parlay this interest into an opportunity to volunteer or intern.
Most school science classes do a good job teaching students about the theory of science, and the best of them include realistic laboratory exercises that give students the chance to perform procedures, record data, and actually apply some theory. But until a student has seen a real laboratory in action and shared some of the day-in, day-out routine of science—especially when the science being done is original work directed at answering important questions—he or she can never fully appreciate the complexity and the richness of authentic scientific inquiry.