By Mario Rivera-Chavarría
While getting my undergraduate degree, my fear of math made me go into the biological sciences. My terrible first contacts with math probably led me to make that decision. If I had been aware of the fact that math is as easy as you are interested in and without math you cannot solve problems, I would have probably got started as soon as I entered the superior education. Bad for me. Time wasted.
Anyway, for a biologist, it is very good to know about taxonomy, anatomy, physiology and something that is teach that I call “anecdotic ecology”. But in the real world, that is thirsty of proves and solutions, you may ask yourself in some stage of your career: where is all this knowledge leading me to? All I know about animals is a ticket for me to step into the science train? So it is when you realize that knowing the scientific name of a fish is good but quantifying its biological characteristics and translating them to engineering is even better. This thinking level does not come suddenly: it is a process, a philosophical process catalyzed by my contact with philosophy and specially ethics -this could be confused with a sort of good living but it is not: ethics is about ethos=customs.
My long story made short: at college, my problem solving cryptic skills brought me a lot of problems with some scientists (“the real scientists”), who thought that science should not be applied. No matter what you study, it’s useless in direct relation with their science quality. I really couldn’t understand why learning thousands of species names could improve your level of thinking…
Finally I got out of that world. After a couple of jobs as a filming technician, I realized how limited it was what I knew. The film industry is made of results, same as modern science. So I just contributed with a couple of facts about natural history and then my presence was useless. In my family (some of them are scientists and MD’s, by the way) there’s nothing more unpleasant than the goods for nothing, so I volunteered carrying cables and other stuff. I wasn’t aware that I was meeting the first love of my life: Technology.
All those cameras and recorders really obsessed me. Soon I found out how they worked and how useful they could be to answer some scientific questions. Moreover, they could be even more useful if they had the capability to minimize subjectivity. Then, I got in love with acoustics. An epiphany came to my mind (I’m not saying that I was the first who thought of this or handled the idea): The correct interpretation of waves (not limited to aural studies) could be integrated into different kinds of automatization levels that may lead to the removal of human interpretation from sampling techniques. In my opinion, this will probably happen in the next 50 years (with or without me, but I hope it’s with me). I met engineering. I definitely liked it.
With the help of my advisers and professors (and scientists and engineers around the world) I started dealing with some skills up to now, considered (quoting a biology professor) “a proof of an unfocused character”. These skills (programming, electronics, signal analysis) have led me to be goal-oriented and productive (at least for Latin American scale and, believe it or not, with my own equipment and resources). Proudly I can say I’m in the path of developing things. Big? Small? Developing.
Are these things that I do to be called a pioneer? No, it’s just in order to feel that I’m doing useful things, and because I find engineering captivating and its relation with biology promising for all fields of human knowledge. Thank goodness I met it! Happy for that and optimistic about the future.