Call to Action: Finding Heroes in Science and Engineering

If I ask you how many heroes in science and engineering can you recall, I am sure you will not be able to come up with a good number. It is not your fault. It is because history has never recorded scientists as heroes nor you will find any folklore about them. This fact has been proved in a survey conducted by the Museum of Science and Industry in which more than thousand American adults were asked to name a scientist and surprisingly 44 per cent could not even name one. Among the ones who answered, the top three names were Al Gore, Bill Gates and Einstein.

Let me ask you another question. How do you visualize a scientist? The most likely answer would be a bespectacled man with Einstein-like hair, unkempt facial hairs, lost in his own thoughts, wearing a lab coat and ill-fashioned clothes and most likely to be tagged as a crazy person.

Based on a study conducted by C. Mosely and D. Norris, reported in 1999 in the journal Science and Children it is suggested that the credit of this distorted image of scientist goes to teachers who themselves have a dismal image of scientists and pass those images to the students in their early school days. In the study conducted, though the teachers depicted scientists as hardworking, intelligent and theoretical, many described them as impersonal, boring and nerdy. In general, the participants are of the view that scientists are stern, bespectacled, older white man with unfashionable clothes and unkempt hair and who work alone. The teachers defended this image by blaming that the movie industry and media has established this image of scientists with the public.

The point here is that with this image in mind, very few students will try to enter into science and technological research.  The students view the scientists as a person who never indulges in fun and is primarily leads a dull life.  This shows why interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is fading among students.

In our society we do not celebrate science and technology and hence we do not give the children there science and technology heroes. We also do not provide a platform for the children to interact with the achievers in the science and technology so that the children can emulate them. The importance of science and technology should be restored in the kids by demonstrating the use of science and technology in daily life and how science and technology make our life easier and richer. We have to overcome these deficiencies to ensure that young talents take science and technology as their field of professional excellence and America remains competitive in technological innovations.

The inaugural of 2010 USA science festival is an important step to address these issues. A national event will take place in October which aims to attract and motivate young innovators. Nifty Fifty is also a step to address these issues. Nifty Fifty is an identified and selected group of fifty noted scientists and engineers in the country who will serve as role models and “heroes” in their respective field of expertise and will indulge in interactions with students, teachers and public to set right the image of scientists and engineers in the society.
Scientists and engineers, as most human beings, do not have excellent oratory skill and hence can not talk effectively about their work and about themselves to kids. However, with little help on communication skill, especially on communicating with kids, the scientists and engineers can really interact positively with them and clear the stereotype image built in the society.

The objective of such event is to help the kids find their heroes from the field of science and technology whom they can emulate as role models. Heroes and role models are required to help the kids develop an interest in science and technology and pursue it as a career.