The promotion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is critical for our future.
Science is the study of how things work. Physics involves the physical universe, chemistry involves the interaction of atomic elements to form molecules and biology involves the way molecules interact to make and support life. As some of you know, I have made some important advances in subatomic physics that will greatly change the future in science if they are true.
Mathematics is the language of science. You often hear the term that its not true until the math works. The mathematical proof is that tangible description that enables scientists to fully understand and appreciate any proposed solution to a scientific discover. I have never considered myself great in math, but my education in math has enabled me to make some significant discoveries about how the universe really works.
Engineering is the process of using the results of science to create technology to improve the way people live. Needless to say, I love engineering. Being a systems engineer, I have developed a great talent for seeing how to apply science in a wide range of technologies. Some of my creations have made significant impact on how we conduct scientific research.
Technology provides the tools people need to accomplish complex tasks. Advances in technology enable people to improve their quality of life. I still remember the smile on the search and rescue pilot's face after he test flew one of my avionics devices. He knew that what I created would save many lives from danger.
Face it, everything you use today came from advances in STEM.
So where does Art fit in? Well to tell you the truth, Art is part of the Engineering process. Art is also a developed skill that too few STEM practitioners fully appreciate. I know my artistic skills are limited, but I know good art when I see it. My awards for photography proves that I am not devoid of artistic appreciation, I just lack skills in creating traditional forms of art.
Every piece of technology we develop has both function and form. Most engineers, myself included, mostly focus on the function of the technology we develop. Artist, take the technology and focus more on the form to enhance its function. The aesthetics of technology greatly influence how easily and how well it can be accepted and used by the general populace.
Usability is a major part of product development so that the product is quickly used and accepted as a normal part of your daily life. The advance of human factors studies in engineering has tried to address this area. The challenge is that everyone views usability differently, which drives product designers to some extreme solutions.
The smart phone represents a major product developed with both function and form. There is no technology inherent in the smart phone that we did not have before, but by packaging it into an integrated audio/visual hand held device, the technology was quickly made available in a portable and more usable form. The rest is history as the smart phone has evolved into one of the most essential pieces of technology most people own and use, some all day, every day. The fact that I do not own one is not an indication that I do not appreciate the technology. It is just a reflection of my being an introvert who does not need to be in constant contact with others or the web to survive. The laptop I am using to write this does a very good job satisfying my connection needs.
So why must we push people into STEM? Well, it is essential for our future. Our current technology has convinced a lot of people that we do not need to push STEM education on our students when they have access to abundant information over the web. The problem is having the information you need when you must make life decisions.
The problem with ignoring STEM education is that we end up with a population that is functionally illiterate and overly dependent upon information access. In effect, they are at a critical risk should the technology fail, and yes, that technology is very vulnerable to misuse.
I admit, learning STEM is sometimes difficult, mostly because those who teach it, do not really understand it, so they inject a bias during its instruction that dissuades students from becoming enthusiastic about STEM. That and most students are told that it is "too hard" for them to learn, which in most cases is not true. It is really a reflection of the education system's inability to teach it properly.
A friend of mine mentored me during my college years ran into this issue. His guidance counsellor had sent him to a "teachers" college because she had convinced him that he could not understand the math well enough to study science as a career. He soon discovered that the counsellor was wrong and he ended up getting his Phd in Physics, specializing in optics and lasers. Plus he was a very good teacher, because he actually DID understand what he was talking about.
STEM is too important to our survival to let non STEM people, or ignorant teachers, influence our students this way. I feel comfortable with the membership of Element 14 understanding this issue and focusing their own children into STEM subjects, but we need to do much more in persuading the rest of the students that STEM is not beyond their capability. More important, we need to help them understand that STEM is vital to their survival.
Thank you for reading my perspective. I look forward to your comments, and hopefully your help in advancing the STEM agenda to students everywhere.