Lessons Learned Recently From an Earthquake and the Kavli Science Video Contest

04/20/2011 08:45 pm ET | Updated Jun 20, 2011
  • Larry Bock Founder and Organizer, USA Science & Engineering Festival

Like the air we breathe, science is indeed all around us -- sometimes making its presence and importance known with shocking intensity.

Take for example the powerful 9.0 earthquake and the resulting tsunami and nuclear reactor emergency that occurred this month in Japan.

As the tragedy unfolded, how many of us went scrambling to the Internet or to a reference book to find out such information as: What exactly does a 9.0 earthquake really mean on the Richter scale in terms of amount of energy released? How fast can a tsunami travel? What does a nuclear reactor really do? Just what are potassium iodide tablets? And what are the daunting problems engineers are racing to solve in the disaster, from power outages to radioactive containment?

A major event such as this calls attention to how interconnected we are with science and its complexities each day -- but it also brings to mind just how important a science and engineering education is in preparing our children to take their places, and make a difference, in the ever-changing high tech world they soon will inherit.

"Science is sooo fly! Yea, science rules!" Kids' parlance -- but that's the kind of down-to-earth message that needs to get out to more young students as they look for careers that make a real impact.

That's why the USA Science & Engineering Festival, the country's only national science festival, challenged K-12 students across the nation last year to make a video that tells us "Why Science is Cool". The video contest, which attracted more than 100 entries, was sponsored by the renowned Kavli Foundation as part of its mission to advance public understanding of science.

The contest's awards ceremony was hosted by Bill Nye the Science Guy, as part of the Festival's Expo on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

The Kavli Foundation and the Festival are ever-aware that children are about to take their places in a world where curiosity and knowledge about science and engineering will play an important role in their ability to function effectively in life.

To the credit of the young filmmakers who won awards in our contest, this message comes through loud and clear in their 30 to 90-second productions.

First prize went to Celena and Chris Chambers of Houston, TX for their video, "Science is Cool: Know Your Science," a clever production set to a catchy rap beat that touts the importance of studying science and explores what life would be without such knowledge.

The video's musical mantra, "Be cool and know your science, Stay in school and get your knowledge," alludes to a sad but important fact that should concern us all: Far too many of our students are missing out on the promising, challenging careers of tomorrow by underachievement in science and math.

In 2010, only 43 percent of U.S. high school graduates were prepared for college work in math, and only 29 percent were ready in science. The latest international tests of math and science confirmed, once again, that U.S. students are far behind students in other developed nations.

Our other winning videos convey what young students often forget: science is the backbone of society. Jobs that require science, technology, engineering and math (collectively known as STEM) are not only well-paying, they are performing some of the most exciting work of the 21st century -- from saving lives through the development of more effective drugs and medical devices to creating better energy-saving approaches and improving our efficiency through smarter cell phones and computers, and robotics.

For instance, in the Kavli video contest entry by Belén Mella, titled "Science Knows All," the film adroitly conveys that the world of science has no limitations in its potential for discovery and new innovation. Proclaims the narrator: "When anything that's anything does anything -- science is behind it!"

Science is also the study of "Why" and "How," and the more that we can motivate kids to ask questions about science, the more their curiosity is piqued and nurtured.

Amanda MacCartney's video called "Why Science is Cool" accomplishes this through its creative use of time-lapse cinema techniques combined with voice-overs from the narrator who recites little-known, but thought-provoking, scientific facts such as: Dolphins sleep with one eye open; babies are born without kneecaps; women's hearts beat faster than men's, and recycling one glass jar saves enough energy to watch TV for three hours.

And in the video, "The Physics of Basketball," young filmmakers take viewers inside the physics that make ball dribbling, "hang time" and other aspects of the game so exciting -- proving once again that science is indeed part of virtually everything, including sports.

Videos from young students like these also have a way of being infectious in inspiring others in science study and achievement -- such as their classmates and younger brothers and sisters, or other kids who view the videos on the internet. Student videos also inspire parents to recognize and kindle a spark in their children, one which may help to light a path to advanced studies in science and engineering fields.

We will soon be inviting entries from students for the second Kavli Foundation Video Contest to be held during the 2nd USA Science & Engineering Festival in the spring of 2012. The students who participated last year showed us why they think science is
cool -- now we are challenging them to show us why science matters. Our contest theme this year is "Save the World Through Science and Engineering!" The theme was inspired by the National Academies of Engineering Grand Challenges.

We will be encouraging young filmmakers to join hundreds of the world's leading scientists, engineers, thinkers, and innovators as we tackle mankind's greatest challenges together. Click here for more information.

And be sure to join us next year at the Festival's Expo on April 28-29, 2012 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC! The event culminates the Festival's nationwide celebration of science and engineering that will be taking place weeks before.

Replete with exhibits and hands-on demonstrations representing more than 500 science organizations from across the country, the Expo promises to be the ultimate multi-cultural, multi-generational, multi-disciplinary gatherings of science and engineering in the United States -- all designed to inspire the next generation of innovators.

As one of our Kavli video winners says: "Science is life. Science is you...Science is everything!"