Debbie Knight

What it’s like living with a scientist…

In observation on March 5, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I have a confession to make. Not only am I a scientist, but I’m married to one.

And not only do I live with a scientist, I also work with him. That’s quite a bit of time spent together. But it works. For the most part.

As you can imagine, we talk a lot of science – at work and at home. I’m not saying that’s the only topic of conversation, but it does occupy our thoughts more than many couples I know (excluding other scientist couples, of course).

It’s nice having someone who asks how my day went and they actually know what I’m talking about. No glazed eyes, no feigned understanding. There’s even meaningful feedback. “Well, it sounds like you might need to use a higher dose of the drug to see an effect.”

I wasn’t getting that from my former boyfriends who included a history major, a mechanical engineer as well as a foreign language major. They created a challenge at communication.

And it worked both ways.

He said, “Hey, brown eyes, I just learned how to tell someone off in a Swahili. Isn’t that exciting?”

She said, “Um, sure. But I just isolated cells from a newborn baby’s umbilical cord this morning. Isn’t that cool?”

Being scientists certainly makes for lively pillow talk, at least between two science nerds. And it might go something like this: (smooch) “Hey, I just thought of this. You could try adding another layer of controls to your experiment if you just …” (smooch) “Really? Well, I was just thinking about adding another slide to my Powerpoint presentation. What do you think about ….”

To many of you out there, pillow talk like this might incite heavy eyelids and snoring. But to us? It can keep us awake and talking into the wee hours of the night And, no, there’s no double entendre here, I really mean talking.

Like I said, we’re a couple of geeks.

I will say that living with a scientist has taught me to say things … precisely.

Dinner preparation, for example.

He said, “How would you like these carrots cut?”

She said, “Small slices.”

He said, “How small?”

She said, “I don’t know, maybe quarter-of-an-inch slices.” (indicating size with her thumb and index finger)

He said, “Longitudinally or transversely?”

She said, “You know, sliced” (making chopping gestures with her hand)

He said, “Longitudinally or transversely?”

She said, “Here let me do it.”

And that’s the way he used to get out of Sous-Chef duty.

Now, I’m more specific. “Could you please cut these carrots into half centimeter transverse sections?”

Such is our kitchen talk.

Another example.

He said, “Could you scratch the medial border of my scapula.”

She said, “Where?”

He said, “The medial border of my scapula.”

She said, “Yes, I heard what you said, but what do you mean? What’s medial?”

He said, “The side.”

She said, “This side?”

He said, “No more toward my spine.”

She said, “Why didn’t you just say between your shoulder blades?”

He said, “That is what I said.”

She lets out another big sigh as she pulls out her unabridged medical dictionary to throw at him.

Of course, it’s not all about our conversations. It’s also about a shared curiosity about how the world works.

We’ve conducted many little experiments and investigations exploring the world outside of the laboratory – some successful, some not.

We’ve successfully solved the age old question: “what’s that funny sound coming from inside the family room wall?” I realize that many home owners have asked this very question. And I don’t know about your house, but at our house it turned out to be, of all things, a starling. It took us a while to figure out how the bird came to flutter it’s way into our family room wall, but we eventually found the exhaust vent it had wandered into and fell out of. And, yes, you can barely tell where we had to patch the hole in the wall we made to successfully extract the startled starling.

At present, we have several open “investigations.”

One of them is figuring out why the exhaust fan in the shower only makes a thumping noise in the winter but not in the summer. The answer has eluded us thus far – probably because neither of us is willing to climb into the attic to find out.

We’ve resigned ourselves to let the phenomenon we’ve named “Harvey” (after the large imaginary rabbit in the movie of the same name) remain a mystery even though we have several hypotheses. Such as, there is indeed a non-imaginary bunny who thumps his leg happily when we turn on the exhaust fan (he leaves in the Spring to frolic in the fields with other bunnies).  Another hypothesis, perhaps a little more realistic, is a wooden board changes warp depending on the season causing the exhaust fan blade to bump slightly against the fan’s housing. Whatever the reason: Thump on,Harvey. Thump on!

Another unanswered question is more my husband’s query. He doesn’t interface well with technology — both at home and in the lab. He posits, “Why do we have so many buttons on the TV remotes and what do they all do?”

So, life with a scientist may sound boring to many of you out there, but I can assure you it isn’t – assuming you’re another scientist.

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