Monday, February 20, 2006

Reach Out

I tend to write a lot about Orbiter and about various space topics that catch my eye, but if I had to briefly summarize what this blog is really about, I would say “science and technology education and outreach.” Orbiter is fun, and “space stuff” is cool, but my big concern is that the average citizen is not very aware of what is going on in science and technology, and that the average student in school is not very interested in becoming a scientist, an engineer, or even a citizen who is concerned with scientific and technological issues. They may admit that these issues are important, and they may be eager consumers of technology with their iPod Nano’s and PlayStations, but they are happy to let someone else worry about the details and make the decisions.

This is not a good situation, because like it or not, our civilization is dependent on science and technology and our very survival may hinge on decisions we make in these areas. Choosing to be uninformed and uninvolved is not a good plan.

How does a blog help this? In truth, not very much, at least not directly. I hope to be one voice among many that is trying to change this situation, and my strategy is to use space as a tool to help build interest in science and technology (space related or otherwise). Orbiter has the potential to be one of the “sharp ends” of this tool, because while it is game-like in some respects, it’s truly about physics and astronomy, and it’s a hands-on, first-person experience that can be extremely involving. Whether it’s enough to lead some kids into a career in science or engineering, I don’t know. But I figure it’s worth a shot.

Since I’m improvising in this whole outreach thing, I was happy to read a great post over at Centauri Dreams on Pitching Physics to the Public. It first makes the point that it’s important for scientists to be able to explain their ideas to non-specialists, and this made me think of what a good job some bloggers are now doing in this area (e.g., and Paul then goes on to point out a wonderful free resource, the complete (17 MB PDF) proceedings of a 2005 conference in Europe, “Communicating Astronomy with the Public.” Astronomy has an advantage over many of the sciences in that everyone has seen the night sky, and so many of the images of astronomical objects from Hubble and various other space probes are simply beautiful. But there is still the need to build on this appreciation, converting some of it to understanding, and perhaps rubbing off a little of it onto the other sciences. I’m hoping to rub a little of it off on my outreach work.

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