Invention and Discovery in Science

It’s been a busy and beautiful fall filled with reflection and strategic intitiatives. But as we approach the end of first semester and head into our December break, I’m looking forward to coming back to this space and sharing insights and ideas from my daily interactions on campus. There’s no better way for me to process all that I see and hear in this vibrant community than with some reflection and dialogue.

Imagine seeing sound. Imagine seeing magnetism. Hard to imagine? Of course it’s hard to imagine because our ability to imagine is limited by our ability to perceive. We don’t perceive sound as a visual, nor do we imagine magnetism as a tangible thing. But when Swiss artist and photographer Fabian Oefner turned simple scientific experiments into works of art, he changed how I perceived science. Sound was no longer something to hear; rather, it was something to see. Magnetism was no longer the attraction between two objects; instead, it was the blending and structure of colors.

Every educator and head of school has been talking about STEM or STEAM. The students and citizens of the future need to be well versed in critical thinking, but they also need to have the ability to combine and synthesize Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. They need to be able to find bridges and links between the subjects and discover new ways to imagine and understand once isolated topics. This is what Fabian Oefner did, and it’s exactly the type of thinking and experimentation our science teachers are asking our students to undertake.


Liz Gottlieb leads her class in a discussion about DNA.

I’ve had the good fortune of seeing all of the science teachers teach. It’s one of my favorite subjects to watch because here at MA, STEAM synthesis is happening in our science department every day. As science teacher Liz Gottlieb demonstrates with her students in the summer and throughout the year, becoming a citizen scientist is the best way to not only learn about science but also see its practices and principles in the living world. It’s more than just learning in the classroom; it’s about bringing the classroom out into the world and discovering new things. I’ve also seen this kind of experimentation and discovery in the chemistry classes. As the students maintain Chem Journals and research and read about others’ experiments, they are starting to understand and learn how to conduct and execute those same experiments themselves. In her anatomy class, Randi Bakken lets her students discover and explore through dissection and modeling. Both are skills that require the students to tinker, to question, to reimagine what they once thought was certain. All students are being asked to bring together their understanding of science, their knowledge of math, their love for creativity, their ability to think critically, and combine those skills in new and exciting ways thanks to technology.


But now it’s time for us to take that even one step farther. To really allow our students to experiment and play, our new Science and Technology Center will facilitate our students’ production of even more original research, more ways of re-imaginging science and how it interplays with other subjects. What I’m most excited for is how this building will increase our students’ ability to see, and increase their ability to imagine and understand the richness of our world. As they have done for so many years in the arts, our students will be able to practice creation and perception beyond the self in the science classroom and laboratory. It is exciting to imagine all of the possibilities that lie ahead as we plan for this new space and imagine how our students will redefine and understand the world around them, how they will further their skills of invention and discovery.

Girls in science


About Travis

Head of School, Marin Academy.
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