UCMP Profiles
Carole S. Hickman: On Science

Finding inspiration in the order of nature
Carole Hickman’s scientific career began before she even learned how to speak. Since childhood, she has sought to understand the nature of the beautiful patterns around her. At the age of six she began collecting and identifying natural objects, starting with leaves and butterflies. Her parents and teachers had encouraged her to become an artist because of her love of drawing, but she chose to study science because she wanted to understand the origins and utility of patterns, in addition to its aesthetics.

Hickman cannot remember when her love of nature translated into a career in science, but recalls, “I knew that I simply could not stop wanting to observe, compare, discover, and find out everything there was to know about the patterns in nature.”

She notes, “Becoming a scientist won’t make you rich. It won’t make you famous. But if you feel passionately fired up about it, it will bring you a lifetime of thrills and happiness. You have to feel that spark of passion—if science doesn’t thrill you, you need to find something else that does.”

Striving to understand the nature of the beautiful patterns she observed around her inspired Hickman’s career in science.

plate of images from publication
Typical “plate” of images from one of Hickman’s publications.

magnified image of snail shell
CaCO3 “landscape” on a larval snail shell.

The nature of “good science”
Hickman believes that “good science” does not necessarily require a heavy emphasis on quantitative analyses; her own research relies on imaging techniques (e.g., scanning-electron microscopy [SEM]) and observations of animal behavior. “There is this notion that science is this cold, objective pursuit that dissects and reduces,” says Hickman, “and that you’re only doing good science if you’re putting numbers on things. It’s absolutely not true. Some of the most brilliant science that’s been done during the last century has been done by people who are not measuring, quantifying, and doing statistics on things.”

She asserts that beauty and aesthetics are an integral part of science, and that science is not always “about finding solutions to the problems of humanity.” Hickman’s example demonstrates how an appreciation for nature can drive a career in science. “The organism is a thing of beauty,” she states, “and the puzzles of science enable us to use the problem-solving capacities of the human mind to the fullest possible extent.”

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