I’ve always been taught to look at ideas and concepts through a critical lens before trying to change them. For me, challenging an idea doesn’t necessarily mean changing it in its entirety; it can mean amending, building on, or refining an original theory.  

This was illustrated to me in my chemistry class last year when we studied the history of the Atomic Model. John Dalton, in his “Atomic Theory” posited that all matter is composed of atoms. Although this theory was widely accepted, British physicist J.J. Thomson believed something was missing. He delved deeper into the subject by shooting atoms through a cathode ray tube and discovered that they had a partial negative charge. He believed the charge was caused by a component within the atom, and deduced that there must be sub-atomic particles. The modern understanding of the electron was born.

Thomson didn’t challenge the inherent validity of Dalton’s Atomic Theory. Instead, he sought to build upon Dalton's idea. Thomson wanted to delve more deeply into the theory, not knowing what he would find, or if he would find anything. Ultimately Thomson didn’t invalidate Dalton’s theory by challenging it; he simply enhanced it.

I recently had my own ‘Thomson’ moment. There is an infamous braised short rib recipe in my family that I have known and loved forever. I recently decided it was time to be inducted into my family’s culinary tradition by attempting to make it. I had to find the spices listed in the recipe. I started looking for the jars but my family did not have the necessary paprika. I found cumin instead, and decided to challenge myself to use the recipe as a guideline. Since the only required ingredient I had was the short ribs, changing the recipe was imperative. Instead of onions I used shallots; instead of carrots I used parsnips; and instead of beef broth I used vegetable broth. The only things I kept consistent with the original recipe were the ribs, cooking time, and temperature. After an anxiety filled hour and a half I turned off the stove and took off the lid. The short ribs looked delicious but I knew the true test was taste. My first bite brought pure joy when I realized that I had not only carried on a family tradition, but I improved it, too.

I realized following formulas, equations, and recipes will yield the same result, but experimenting and challenging the limits can produce something equally as good or, as in my case, even better. My lack of ingredients might have been the impetus for changing the recipe, but the underlying premise of taking risks and challenging the status quo have been consistent themes throughout my life. The ease involved in following recipes might satisfy some, but I seek to challenge, amend, and ultimately leave my mark in the way Thomson did. It is important to challenge accepted norms and customs even if they work because, like Thomson, I believe there might be something deeper lying within.