There is no better way to convey that science is cool than to showcase some of the coolest jobs in science. That's what a primate researcher, a forensic scientist, a planetary scientist, a marine researcher and a theme park engineer attempted to do this afternoon at a cool New York University auditorium.
A few hundred parents and kids sat in attendance. As they settled in, cool music played on the speakers, cool graphics waltzed on a large screen, and cool blue light shimmered on its margins. And six cool red chairs sat centerstage, empty, symbolizing one of the reasons for having the event: which is, some science and engineering fields, despite being cool, are not attracting enough students from the United States.
Before the panelists began talking, the moderator, Bill Weir of Good Morning America, made a comment that would have made some scientists cringe. One speaker, he announced -- referring to Walt Disney simulation expert Ben Schwegler -- had a job that involved turning the "boring laws of physics" into amusement park thrills. If the substance of science is branded as boring, I wondered, can the broader enterprise of science really achieve cool status?
From the enthusiastic applause and laughs each speaker got, the answer seemed to be yes. (Granted, this was a biased sample -- why would you come to this event if you didn't think science was cool?) Laurie Santos, a cognitive psychologist at Yale, had the audience in splits with tales of her experiments on how monkeys learn and think. Christopher McKay of NASA bragged about the coolness of landing Phoenix on Mars.
Ellen Prager, chief scientist of the Aquarius Reef Base Program in Key Largo, Florida, said that watching marine animals up close was cooler still. And Peter Diaczuk, director of Forensic Science Training at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, showed slides of firearms and a car with multiple bullet holes to discuss how science helps solve crimes. That's not just cool, that's hot. - Yudhijit Bhattacharjee