Some think of science as separate from ourselves. It may seem like “work,” something you either have an interest in or don’t.
James B. Garvin thinks otherwise.
The career NASA scientist — older brother to Tim Garvin, chief executive officer of United Way Central Massachusetts — met with the Telegram & Gazette editorial board Thursday on his way to a meeting of the United Way’s Alexis de Tocqueville Society.
“All the elements of discovery are built into all of us,” he said.
But our innate interest in our surroundings, from the sky to the mysteries beneath our feet, too often dies down by the time we reach our teens. Math is hard, advanced science is complicated, engineering takes patience, and the desire to really know the world gets clouded over.
That is too bad, because science is an endless joy and opens the doors to careers clamoring for its skills.
Mr. Garvin, like his brother at the United Way and other local leaders, wants to help young people capture their inner scientist and keep it for life.
Earlier Thursday, he visited with students and staff from Clark University and University Park Campus School, and got word that an 11-year endeavor was at last playing out on Mars. The rover Curiosity drilled into the surface with its heavy robotic arm, and on Earth, NASA’s years of putting together math, minds and mechanics resulted in samples of powdery rock holding clues to the planet’s past. Would that past include life?
This is live science, and we can all join in, zooming in for a look on our laptops the way we would peer at a bug on a lake or stoop to study the soil at our feet. Though the fresh-drilled hole on Mars is extremely distant, technology puts it inches from our eyes.
Data, formulas and experiments are pieces of science, but the process is driven by the basic questions everyone asks, particularly when young. What is it? How does it work? How does it all fit? At its core, science is simple and universal.
As a boy, Mr. Garvin loved rocks, and then fossils, and then — digging deeper, getting older — loved and pursued science. For him, those childhood hours among the rocks did not get lost.
He studied the Mars surface on his cellphone, and passed it around.
Mr. Garvin, chief scientist at the Sciences and Exploration Directorate at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said science and technology are exploding, that his generation caught an early wave but that children in elementary school now truly have wonders ahead. It’s our job to teach them, prepare them and keep the flames of curiosity burning.
“We want to get kids interested in science at a young age,” Tim Garvin said. As part of that push, the United Way is supporting the Summer Learning Collaborative, aimed at bridging the achievement gap in Worcester and six other Massachusetts cities.
Marcy Reed, president of Massachusetts operations for National Grid, told the editorial board Thursday that she looks at supporting such initiatives through the United Way as “an investment both personal and business.” She wants young people to know that science “is not a foreign language,” that they can do it and it matters.
She pointed out that a well-educated, technologically grounded workforce is vital to her industry. And: “Our customers are clamoring for information about energy.” This is marvelous, she said, and it’s how she “gets juiced up by science.”
James Garvin’s message was that “The things we take on are tough” — and that only adds to the value and the excitement of the work.
He mused that much has changed since man walked on the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. We can explore the ocean depths or outer space using robots and electronics. This is unprecedented access to the universe. We should all be alive to it, and we in Worcester are particularly blessed to be in a place where bioscience, robotics and other research are thriving.
It’s an old saw of science that answers bring more questions, tumbling out ahead so that the science path branches and winds and never ends.
Whether they’re looking through telescopes or microscopes, scientists are on the frontiers of answers, creating more than enough exciting work for the future. That’s something for our young people — and those who are care about them — to think about.
Worcester Telegram & Gazette