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Katherine Knight    immunologist
"Science is a continual process with the depth of discovery defined by one's depth of curiosity."
How were you motivated to become an immunologist?

I grew up on a farm and was always curious about nature, wanting to know why plants were green and how birds knew to fly south in the fall. I discovered science in my high school chemistry class where I was exposed to a clarity of thought that I had never before encountered. In college, I had the good fortune of having a chemistry professor who reached out and showed me how much fun working in the lab could be. She showed me that I could be someone that I had not imagined I could be. This experience propelled me to graduate school where I had the further good fortune to have a mentor who helped me develop a scientific mind and shared with me his unrivaled excitement for understanding nature, especially the immune system.

The term immunology refers to the body's organ system that provides both the biologic (bodily) basis of an individual's personal identity as well as the system of defense which protects the body from disease producing invasive foreign agents. That is, the cells of the immunologic organs are the physical site of the body's ability to recognize self from non-self. It is the ability for self recognition that enables the defensive, policing powers of the immune system to protect the body from disease producing invasive foreign elements. I became so fascinated by this phenomenon that I felt literally impelled to study it.

What can you share about your creative process?

My interest lies in the scientific investigation of nature, in particular the study of what controls the number and kinds of protein molecules (termed antibodies) that protect us from disease.

The creative process, as I experience it, has three components. The first component consists of acquiring and maintaining an in-depth knowledge of the specific area to be investigated. The second component is the scientific investigation itself. Broadly speaking, the early phase of this investigation can be characterized as the time at which the "thinking" about the research drives the "doing" of the research and, as the investigation evolves, the "doing" becomes the driver of the "thinking". As I wrap my mind around a problem and the research closes in on the target of the unknown, I discover that my thinking about the problem has become a kind of "thinking without boundaries," and the experience takes one to places one never dreamt of going. This process leads to successive experiments which will in turn drive the thinking which at some point reveals a new level of understanding.

The third component of the creative process is the relationship experience which is comprised of an ongoing dialogue with scientific colleagues. In my case the discovery that relationships are intrinsic to doing science stems from the enriching experience with the professors who mentored my Ph.D. and post-doctoral studies. Mentoring and collegial relationships are at the heart (core) of the creative process because they nurture and support it.

What ideas do you have for a future human community on Mars?

The most important dimension of a Mar's community will be the social makeup that determines and regulates the dynamics of community living. For optimal success one will need individuals who are competent in diverse areas of expertise, such as science, engineering, medicine, household utilities (plumbing, lighting, ventilation, etc.), music, recreation, sports, etc. However, most importantly, all the community members must possess the highest integrity with respect to caregiving ideals which will ensure that everyone will be similarly motivated to do whatever is necessary to make the community function optimally.

Specifically, each member of this group must have the ideal to take care of the group and even more importantly be able to know that the ability for the best caretaking of the group derives from a secure ability to take care of oneself. This frame of mind will be especially important because of the stressful living conditions on Mars.

My hope would be that this community would learn to live a fulfilling life in spite of the adverse nature of the environment which will enforce confined living quarters. And just as importantly, my hope is that they can do this without destroying the environment.

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