Where is the wonder in science?
This has been sitting on my desk for a while waiting to be blogged about and I finally got that grant in so it seemed like a good time.
This editorial, and this issue of PopSci, in general address a growing problem of lack of students entering science and engineering as a career. We have an identity problem, a serious one. There was a similar editorial this month in one of my trade journals that suggested that maybe we should stop calling ourselves scientists and go by our more specific titles (i.e., geologist, chemist, physicist) to distance ourselves from this stigma (the article was tongue in cheek). But the facts are that China is putting out 40% of its UGs in Engineering and we are not even close (5%!!!) If we assume that technology is crucial to out economic future, which I believe is true, we will have to do something more.
I have long been a proponent of science and science education. Science is the kindergarten leaf project, science is the 3rd grade volcano, science is when you blow the straw paper off of your straw, when you make a paper airplane, when you examine an ant on the ground, and when you cook something in the oven for the very first time. Science is used to make ipods, cell phones, shampoo, make-up, cars, gasoline to run the cars, and even the pigskin used in the Friday night game. Science is such an integral part of our lives, I often have difficulty understanding how we as scientists could end-up with the stereotype of the gray-haired white guy with crazy hair in a lab coat with a pocket protector. Yet, every time I tell people about my occupation they always say that it must be hard or I must be smart. I guess my job is more challenging than flinging burgers at the Burger Barn, but it is infinitely rewarding. This is the enthusiasm that we must convey to the future generations. By the time they reach college it is too late. We have to go out to the elementary schools and middle schools and show students how they can turn their innate joy of discovery into a career that provides a lifetime of possibility.