31 December 2009 00:00 [Source: ICB]
With encouragement coming from high places, the world is seeing a massive rally behind science that is meant to draw young people back in
In the US, encouragement comes from high places, including the office of President Barack Obama. Last November, Obama launched an "Educate to Innovate" campaign, a nationwide effort to move American students up the ladder in science and math achievements. The campaign includes over $260m (€181m) (in public and private investments over the next decade.
In a speech given to key leaders of the Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) community as well as local students, the US president announced a series of weighty partnerships involving leading companies, foundations, nonprofits, and science and engineering societies that are dedicated to motivating and inspiring American young people to excel in science and math, according to a press statement issued by the White House.
The initiatives from this campaign include five public-private partnerships that will harness the power of media, interactive games, hands-on learning, and 100,000 volunteers to reach more than 10m students over the next four years.
A commitment has also been made by a coalition of leaders to increase the scale, scope, and impact of private sector and philanthropic support for STEM education.
Some leaders featured in this coalition include Sally Ride (the first female astronaut), Craig Barrett (former chairman of computer chip maker Intel), Ursula Burns (CEO of global document management company Xerox), Glenn Britt (CEO of US national cable television company Time Warner Cable), and Antonio Perez (CEO of US photographic company Eastman Kodak).
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York will support this coalition and will recruit private-sector leaders to serve STEM at a state level; mobilize resources to help scale successful STEM innovations; and raise awareness of the importance of STEM among parents and students.
Furthermore, the White House will host an annual science fair showcasing student winners of national competitions in areas of science, technology and robotics.
The "Educate to Innovate" campaign comes on the heels of the Obama Administration's $4.35bn investment in STEM education as part of its "Race to the Top" school grant program.
THE FUTURE OF OUR HERITAGE
Meanwhile, in more local settings, other initiatives and programs are in place to help elevate awareness in the sciences and promote careers in science-related industries.
For example, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) runs a museum and conference center geared toward enhancing interest in science, particularly in chemicals. The museum has enjoyed strong success in the one year it has been open.
"We have classes that come in a lot, with organized guided tours set up mostly for the middle school and high school students," says Tom Tritton, president of CHF. The museum also sees strong interest from college students. "We provide a nice alternative to the classroom. Teachers appreciate the fun of taking a class to the museum."
In addition to organized tours, CHF helps to prepare teachers by providing materials ahead of time that allows them to get the class in a right frame of mind before seeing the museum.
To round out the overall experience, CHF also sends the teachers home with additional material to integrate what the students have seen and learned in the museum with what they are learning in the classroom.
The teacher-CHF relationship is also instrumental in ensuring the museum's future. "One thing we didn't anticipate is that student teachers are finding this museum useful. Groups from Masters in teaching programs in the Philadelphia region are bringing in their student teachers, and we get some leverage that way," says Tritton.
"We get teachers who use our museum while in training who then get jobs teaching. They in turn bring in their students. That was an added bonus that we didn't foresee initially," he adds.
"As the popularity of this has grown beyond our capacity to schedule all the groups that wanted to come, we had to re-think how we're going to manage. In terms of how many visitors we would get and how long they would stay, we underestimated both. It is a good amount of traffic, but fortunately it has not yet overpowered our staff," he adds.
Looking to the future, CHF wants to enhance its reach through its website presence by developing a new technology platform that will allow visitors to experience a virtual museum in a "second life" setting - meaning that visitors would be able to interact within the virtual museum in a fuller, simulated way than current virtual tours offer.
"Thus, we would use the web to bring the museum to people anywhere in the world," Tritton says. "We're doing a complete overhaul of our website so that we'll have the technology platform to do such things. The museum world in general is interested in this, but the technology is not yet quite ready for the full kind of experience we want to provide. We want to be at the forefront of this," Tritton adds.
Beyond the museum's educational value, CHF also offers different internships in areas such as science journalism, museum studies and science policy.
Meanwhile, in Europe, Austrian plastics producer Borealis is also busy keeping interest in science alive for students. In January 2009, the company awarded innovative polymer prizes to two students carrying out vital research on polyolefins.
Under a new Student Innovation Award program, Borealis aims to raise recognition and awareness on the part of students with innovative research on the polyolefins, olefins or melamine sciences at the master's and doctorate levels.
One prize of €5,000 went to Italian student Dr. Andrea Ravasio for his doctoral research on norbornene-based polyolefins by post-metallocene catalysts. The second prize of €3,000 went to Austrian student Andreas Fuchs for his master's degree thesis on scavengers and chemical bonding for defined volatile components in polyolefin yields.
Borealis is also reaching out to educate young students and to help nurture budding chemists for the future plastics industry.
"We at Borealis have a vital interest to spark children with an interest in natural science and especially in chemistry and plastics. We support special initiatives from kindergarten to secondary schools trying to give them additional training in science," says Kerstin Meckler, a spokeswoman forthe company.
Besides generally supporting schools in the field of natural sciences, Borealis initiated a special program called "young polymer scientist" that gives highly talented students in secondary school (11th grade, 16- to 17-year-olds) additional training in polymer science.
"This training is done with the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria, and aims at attracting these students for a chemistry or polymer engineering curriculum," Meckler says. "One element of the young polymer scientist program is the possibility of an internship for these students during the summer break. In addition, we offer long internships, especially to university students, in subjects such as chemistry of polymer engineering and science," she adds.
YEAR OF CHEMISTRY
In addition to these highlights, much energy and investments are being poured into campaigning for science education and training on a global level, as can be seen in the ICIS Education and Recruitment Blog. Much of this excitement and anticipation will culminate in a year-long celebration of chemistry that will kick off in 2011, known as the International Year of Chemistry (IYC2011).
IYC2011 is a worldwide celebration of the achievements of chemistry and its contributions to the wellbeing of humankind.
"Under the unifying theme 'Chemistry - our life, our future,' IYC2011 will offer interactive, entertaining and educational activities for all ages. The Year of Chemistry is intended to reach across the globe, with opportunities for public participation at the local, regional, and national level," according to the IYC2011 website. The event is an initiative of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It involves chemical societies, academies, and institutions worldwide, and relies on individual initiatives to organize local and regional activities.
The idea was first discussed during the April 2006 meeting of the IUPAC executive committee. Included in the goals of IYC2011 is increasing public appreciation of chemistry's role in meeting world needs, encouraging interest in chemistry among young people, and generating enthusiasm for the creative future of chemistry.
2011 coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize being awarded to Madame Marie Curie, making the initiative an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of women to science. The year will also be the 100th anniversary of the founding of the International Association of Chemical Societies. This will be a chance to highlight the benefits of international scientific collaboration. Events during IYC2011 will emphasize the notion that chemistry is a creative science, and that it is essential for sustainability and improvements to life.
Activities will include lectures, exhibits, and hands-on experiments that will explore how chemical research is critical for solving the world's most vexing problems, particularly pertaining to food, water, health, energy, and transportation.
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