What opportunities do scientists and engineers have to improve the scientific literacy in the general public? Encouraging curiosity and scientific discovery in children helps foster interest in science, as well as drawing in their parents.
Over the weekend, the University of Washington held a university-wide outreach event called Engineering Discovery Days. It was an opportunity for engineering departments and individual labs to do demonstrations and showcase their research for visiting children and parents. Explaining the heart valve and hip replacement we were demonstrating at my booth, it gave the kids a tangible example of one area of research in bioengineering, which might be complex and intimidating to some. Parents were also engaged, some mentioning that one of their parents or even they themselves had received one of the devices we were discussing.
Increasing public science literacy allows people to understand the importance and benefits of research. As the nation is making tough choices about budgets and funding, it is important to communicate how the activities at research institutions impact the general public, beyond publishing papers. Outreach opportunities are presented to us relatively frequently, and we can make an impact be devoting a fairly small amount of time. Not all of the kids who attended Engineering Discovery Days will go into science or engineering careers. But hopefully meeting some ‘real scientists’ will help maintain their interest in science and lifelong discovery.
There is an interesting article today from the editor of Chemical & Engineering News on scientific literacy.