Can Science Change the World?

Many people will read my blog title, and without thinking say “Obviously. Penicillin, space flight, and don’t forget the Internet.”

But, those are the outcomes of science, not the actual science. That’s like saying a plate of spaghetti and meatballs is cooking. It’s not. That’s food. That’s the outcome of cooking.

Science, just like cooking, is a process. And a pretty damn tough one too. Weighing information, throwing out ideas that might seem great but the data won’t support it, finding holes in your logic, admitting when you don’t know enough or where you might be wrong. This is what science is actually all about.

Last week I got to watch science happen on a grand scale. The Waterloo Global Science Initiative, hosted at the Perimeter Institute, brought together dozens of scientists and policymakers from around the world to hash out some ideas on how to solve the energy problem we are now facing.

You can read all about my experiences at the Equinox Summit here, and of course check out the Communique that was finally produced.

But, what I found most surprising and inspiring about the Equinox Summit is that science is not a cold, calculating machine. It’s a people thing. It relies on the knowledge, passions, and visions of people.

If I had to bet on a single project after the Equinox Summit, I wouldn’t bet on engineered geothermal systems, thorium nuclear generators, or smart grids. I would bet on the innovative power of smart people doing sound science.¬†Individual projects and technologies may fail, but the people who believe in a better world never do.

Dazzled by Science

ScienceLilyToday I took my 2 year old daughter to the Kitchener Children’s Museum. Every day when she wakes up, the first words out of her mouth are “bubbles, bubbles.” This is because her favourite part of the museum are some large water columns that bubbles trickle up. Lights, plastic fish, and even marbles help to make these bubbles magical.

Besides being a cool place to hang out with pre-pubescent individuals, it is actually a neat example of how science can be made friendly. Kids learn about currents from a very cool water table…ah, who am I kidding, I’m the one playing with the water table. It’s a great way to learn how fluids react to manmade structures and see what works and what doesn’t in a mock-up sized world.

Up one level from the water table is a shuttle flight simulator. The chairs shake, the engines roar in your ears, and you can see a whole dashboard full of gauges and buttons as the shuttle launches into space.

On the same level is an infrared video camera that projects your body heat onto a television. When my wife joined us later, her hands were a dark blue from the cold walk to the museum. And, just beside the infrared video booth is a glow in the dark room. The wall glows in the dark, and when a bright flash of light goes off, you can see your shadow projected on the wall. A great way to show kids (and adults) about various types of light.

But, I have to wonder whether it is good to advertise science as kid’s play. Science museums are incredibly popular with children, and it’s no wonder with all the dinosaur bones, robots, and volcanoes. With adults it seems that art museums are more the norm. Why has science, imagination, creativity and the quest for knowledge been relegated to kindergarten? Why do we subconsciously as a society tell our kids to grow up and forget science?