Today I was asked by Florida Atlantic University to speak in front of a group of 300 of Palm Beach County’s bright middle and high school kids in a couple of weeks. My task: to inspire future engineers.
It’s something I’m excited about, can’t wait to do, but I am completely aware that getting people as psyched as I am about science and engineering isn’t easy. As far as math and science is concerned, in my opinion, much of America has its head in the sand. Science is viewed as geeky. Boring. Dry. Uncreative.
When I worked in New York, I had a Chinese friend from Shanghai. She told me that in her high school, the cool kids were the ones that were good at math and science. That’s a hard concept for me to to get my head around. When I think to my high school, the cool kids were usually those who organized keg parties in the woods.
Think about the cool kids from your high school. Can you imagine them engaged in a scientific discussion?
American pop-culture disdain for math and science is pretty wide-reaching, even as we can’t put down our iPhones and Droids.
Consider this: six years ago, a space probe called Huygens landed on Titan, one of the most fascinating objects in the solar system and Saturn’s largest moon (Saturn is a planet).
Engineers launched Huygens in 1997. It slept dormant during its interplanetary journey, just like Jake Sully in Avatar. It woke up on cue, nearly 7 years later, and separated from its rocket. It landed on its target, 1.3 million kilometers away from the launch pad. It took a picture of what’s believed to be an alien shoreline. That’s right. A freaking alien shoreline.
The same day Huygens landed on Titan, Brad Pitt broke up with Jennifer Aniston. Guess which dominated the news for the next year.
Fast forward to March of 2010, when scientists achieved the first planned particle collisions in the Large Hadron Collider. The Hadron Collider is a particle accelerator 17 miles in diameter. According to Wikipedia, it “will address some of the most fundamental questions of physics, advancing humanity’s understanding of the deepest laws of nature.” It took engineers 9 billion dollars and 15 years of wizardry to bring this thing to fruition.
The same day particles collided for the first time in the Hadron Collider, Ricky Martin came out of the closet. Those sounds you heard last year on March 30th? That was me weeping. And not because of the lost virility of Mr. Martin.
So that’s why, when the president lectures us about the need to emphasize science and math in this country, I get swept up in the enthusiasm, idealistic as it may be. And I’m going to do everything I can to bring the mystery and creativity of science and engineering to our next generation of professionals.