Posted by: COSI | January 6, 2009

Sources of Inspiration

I used the holidays to search the web in some of my areas of interest. Several articles reminded me of my first impressions about the proposed appointment by President-elect Obama of Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Laureate, as the new head of the Department of Energy, as well as another Nobel Laureate in the President’s science advisory.

chuBut reading more of Chu’s background—a Nobel Laureate who stepped away from his research to focus on our energy problem out of a sense of need and commitment—sparked my thinking. I have a science background and a longtime interest in seeing the U.S. achieve an energy future in a sustainable fashion (both from the hybrid mix and the environmental impact improvement we need). Dr. Chu’s selection was very intriguing. It is a strong statement of the renewed federal respect that science has a critical role in our country’s future.

Growing up I had role models and influences of scientists and innovators who made a great impact on my interests and aspirations. Albert Einstein and his incredible leaps of imagination in physics, the undersea explorations and technology development of Jacque Cousteau, the myriad of engineers working toward the Apollo lunar goal, the invention of the LASER by Schawlow and Townes, and more. A little later youth had the first American woman in space, Sally Ride; the first American woman to walk in space, Kathy Sullivan (my COSI predecessor), who played a role in deploying that technology wonder, the Hubble Space Telescope; Guy Bluford, the first African-American in space; and more.

Yet more than ever it seems that today there are fewer scientists that the public can point to or name, there is less celebration of science in society and communities, and our youth have much more of a tendency to relate to entertainment and sports celebrities than scientists or inventors.That’s why I hope that Dr. Chu can be at least a first step toward lifting the profile of scientists and their importance both to helping meet our societal challenges and as role models.

What scientists, inventors, engineers are there to inspire today’s youth? How should COSI help celebrate and support the recognition of scientists and researchers who make a difference? I’m open to suggestions. I think this is an important issue and one that COSI needs to help address-do you?



  1. I’m not exactly today’s youth…being 29…

    …but I find Cynthia Breazeal inspiring!

  2. I’d heard of Dr. Breazeal’s work and glad that she is having an impact as a role model–it’s easy to see how her work would appeal to the public.

    How did you get to be aware of her and her work? Is there something that a place like COSI could do to enhance the ability for the types of connections that brought you into awareness and respect for Dr. Breazeal’s work?

  3. I think I first became aware of her work through a program on WOSU/PBS on Artificial Intelligence.

    What’s compelling about her for me is the aspect of social exchange and communication between her creations and humans.

    Today communication is changing. We can have a blog conversation like this, or over facebook, or twitter that we couldn’t have had before now. I appreciate you are asking follow up questions on your blog to further engage me, and other readers who comment to have a deeper conversation.

    So often I hear from adults that their kids can no longer have a face to face conversation. I hear frustration in their voice when they discuss how their kids sit at the computer and chat all night. I understand that fear. In some ways, it’s the fear that nonverbal social communication will cease. That humans will lose the ability to “be around” each other socially.

    Perhaps instead we should be greatful that our kids are reaching out at all. They are reaching out and building communities across boundries, both real and imagined. They are letting us know what they are interested about, what they fear, what they want to be further engaged in…

    COSI is a great place for exploring where fear and progress intersect. It’s also a great place to meet “real scientists”. Maybe Dr. Breazeal might visit us a COSI for an evening? Or maybe she might visit us for an hour electronically? I don’t know. I’ll leave the programming design to the experts.

    I would love to hear who else people find inspiring… is there a “dream team” of scientists that inspire people of the next generation?

  4. I don’t think they get enough press, but planet hunters like Geoffrey Marcy would top my list. When I was growing up, no one knew if there were any planets besides the ones in our solar system. Today, we know of thousands of extra-solar planets, and soon we will know which of the nearby stars have Earth-like worlds. That’s an amazing leap to make in just a couple of decades, and the story of how those planets were found is both fascinating and accessible.

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