Science Merit Badges

This entry is a break from the all-baby all-the-time content of the previous days (Live Granades: Like a Blog, Only Babier). I was a Boy Scout, and collected a number of merit badges. My favorite was the one for computers, which was very easy to get if you had a computer — the badge requirements had been written in the late 1970s or so, when computers were hard to come by. Otherwise, though, science-oriented merit badges were hard to come by.

Thankfully the Order of the Science Scouts of Exemplary Repute and Above Average Physique have badges to fill this void in my life. Aaron pointed them out to me, and now I share them with you!

Talking Science. Goodness knows I’ll do this at a moment’s notice. My favorite example was when I interviewed for my current industry job and had to explain cooling and trapping of neutral atoms in as simple terms as I could. “Okay, imagine that atoms fill up staircases when you cool them down. Bosons have a giant grand staircase that opens up into an immense ballroom. Fermions get a narrow staircase and at the bottom is a blank wall.”

MacGyver. My most commonly-used MacGyver knowledge is how hot water plus using your left hand makes opening metal-lidded glass jars much easier. Yeah, I know, it’s not that impressive, but it is useful.

I’m pretty confident around an open flame. More importantly, I can do hard-line plumbing with a propane torch.

Inappropriate nocturnal use of lab equipment in the name of alternative science experimentation / communication. Mostly explosive, from liquid nitrogen in closed two-liter bottles to sodium in water.

My degree inadvertently makes me competent in fixing household appliances. Having a physics graduate degree means knowing enough plumbing, electrical wiring, and electronics to be dangerous.

I’ve touched human internal organs with my own hands. Once upon a time I thought I wanted to do something with medicine or biology. Then I touched some lungs and passed out.

Will glady kick sexual harasser’s ass. The women’s bathrooms in the Duke physics department’s building were converted broom closets. During my tenure there I knew of two or three cases of blatant sexual harassment. That’s just not cool.

Has frozen stuff just to see what happens levels I, II, and III. Level I is freezing with a freezer. Level II is freezing with dry ice, something that inevitably happened whenever we had dry ice for a play or for a haunted house. Level III is freezing with liquid nitrogen. Duke physics has several groups doing low-temperature work, and so had a bunch of liquid nitrogen around. Ask Seth, who had the misfortune of being the physics department’s sysadmin, about the time we came into his office and poured a bunch of liquid nitrogen on his desk.

I bet I know more computer languages than you, and I’m not afraid to talk about it. I don’t have the three-page-long list of some of my friends, but I know plenty.

Worship me – I’ve published in Nature or Science. K. M. O’Hara, S. L. Hemmer, M. E. Gehm, S. R. Granade, and J. E. Thomas, “Observation of a Strongly Interacting Degenerate Fermi Gas of Atoms.” Science 298, 2179 (2002).

I will crush you with my math prowess. I’m not a patch on a real mathematician, but I do know enough to scare off a number of my co-workers.

I’ve done science with no conceivable practical application. Fundamental physics is important, dammit.

I know what a tadpole is.

Experienced with electrical shock Level I — shocking an organism. Once upon a time I took zoology courses.

Experienced with electrical shock Level II — shocking a human. We used a portable tesla coil to start the CO2 laser, and it had a button that got stuck often.

Experienced with electrical shock Level III — shocking yourself. We used a portable tesla coil in the lab.

Totally digs highly exothermic reactions. Essentially the Mythbusters badge.

I’m into telescopes astro Level I — I’ve looked through a telescope.

Statistical linear regression. Not that I use it that often these days.

I’ve set fire to stuff Levels I — III. Burning stuff; burning stuff while knowing the combustion principles behind it; burning stuff while knowing the thermodynamic principles. This ties in nicely with the exothermic reaction badge.

Works with acids. Not any more, thank goodness. In between doing biology and doing physics, I did chemistry. Then I realized how much titration and cleaning glassware sucks.

I build robots Level III — a fully-autonomous robot. For a high school science project I built a robot that was attracted to light and repelled by dark, and so would navigate down hallways and back out from under tables.

What I do for science dictates my having to wash my hands before I use the toilet. Again, I once was a chemist.

Astronaut Level I and II. I’ve both used a spacecraft simulator and been in an actual spacecraft. Thanks, Space Camp! And, yes, it was exactly like the movie.

So, science friends: what badges do you qualify for?



  1. Mike G
    on May 14, 2007 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    May I point out the need for (and the fact that you’ve earned):

    Fire Level IV—“I’ve been set aflame during scientific pursuits”

  2. on May 14, 2007 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    I’m wondering if that shouldn’t go in a different merit badge: “One remaining eye,” for anyone who’s been injured (in whatever form) by a laser.

  3. Mike G
    on May 14, 2007 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I think they each deserve their own badge (lucky you—you get two!). Although they coincided in your case, one shouldn’t assume that injury by fire and injury by laser will always be correlated.

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