Many voices of American leadership, not just President Obama but former President Bill Clinton and Fareed Zakaria among others, are identifying our existing and yearning-to-grow scientific industries as the road back to full employment. The problem is that we did not train our work force to the scientific knowledge, skills and curiosity that qualifies them for the careers in science which exist right now. A million or more jobs going unfilled right now, as these leaders point out.
How do we get our kids to become college science majors, again? It's the one thing that can keep the USA, the land of good old American know-how, from importing our technology and scientific breakthroughs the way that we now import our automobiles and tee shirts and tennis shoes?
Most actors who debut as writers do so with tell-all memoirs, and I certainly have enough bumps in my life to do that... my six months of hard time in England's legendary Reading Jail for possession, six months in a cell so small I couldn't stretch my arms out, the best six months of my life because a hard-as-nails warden who loved Shakespeare did some tough love rehab on me that saved my talent and maybe my life. My lifelong wrestle with the wit and wisdom of The Bard, which ties with my wife and kids as my main reason for living. My adventures with the greatest actors, directors and writers of any time. On the other hand, I'm still living my memoir so I won't get around to writing it for a while.
But actors love words, so they ache to write. Many non-memoirist actors do it by writing children's books, pre-schooler bedtime delights. But I was looking for something I could do to turn American kids to science once more. The kind of books that first locked in my own passion for reading were the ones you read under the covers with a flashlight when you're ten to fourteen and supposed to be asleep. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys for my generation, Harry Potter for the 21st century.
That is where I wanted to put my words, into books which can shape not only lifelong reading habits but also the curiosities which carry these young readers into what will be the main themes of their lives. Science fiction draws kids to their electronic game obsessions and to their movie-going habits, but that doesn't buy them a life of discovery at Intel or JPL or Johns Hopkins. Most American kids bathe in the imaginary future, but they're not preparing to shape the real future. Microsoft builds a facility in Vancouver where they can hire foreign students who built their brains at Stanford. It's not that our educational system is failing us but rather that we are failing our educational system. We have to entice our young minds into science fact, to attract them to the real life wizardry and knowledge that might assure lives in engineering and science, the kind of college studies American kids are surrendering in droves to foreign nationals. The sad fact for our nation is that America's great schools of advanced technology and theory are filled with Indians and Chinese and students of other cultures and economies determined to design and seize the future.
I decided to write a book that would whet kids' appetite for the excitements of a life in science.. a science fiction meets science fact book. And luckily I formed a friendship with Dr. Gary Greenberg, the renowned scientist and skilled writer who invented 3D microscopic technology. Gary's break-through invention should fill school labs the way 3D projectors fill our movie houses. Most of us lead 3D lives, and Hollywood is 3D-ing most blockbuster action movies. Couldn't three-dimensionality become that active ingredient in reading an adventure book as well? Gary and I undertook a thriller novel for kids that takes the youthful reader into the microscopic world where the most exciting scientific discoveries of our species' future will take place? The great discoveries of science now will be seen first not through a telescope but through a microscope. I was intrigued with Dr. Greenberg's 3D photography which could take your eye and a child's mind into the infinite labyrinth inside a grain of sand. It is more exciting, more pertinent to our lives on Earth and far closer than visiting an asteroid which we are now spending billions to achieve. What about an adventure book taking a young person into the limitless new horizons of microscopic existence just as Lewis Carroll led Alice into the world beyond the looking glass?
This, I decided, was the book I wanted to write, and I had one of the world's great scientists as my collaborator on the journey. And so we created Mary's Magic Microscope in which our twelve-year-old heroine can solve her dangerous mystery only by venturing into the smallest particles of our universe. Science fact, narrative introduction of the excitement that awaits a young person willing to dedicate his or her curiosity to the knowledge that will make this a better world, a safer and healthier and more sustaining world.
I believe every writer is responsible for what his or her work enables readers to aspire to, to apply their studies to, to become excited about. American science has innovated in the digital world in an astonishing way, but the true science of future economies and ecologies is drifting over to people of other cultures. We have to re-invigorate our nation's young people in their pursuit of the kind of work that does not disappear when times are tough, the kind of thinking that keeps a nation ahead of the curve, that makes a nation and the world independent. If we lead our youngsters via suspenseful and imaginative literary adventures into science, they will follow and then precede and lead us into tomorrow.
We all must assume responsibility for Pied Piper-ing American kids to reading books... novels, biographies... which will conduct them into the world of limitless possibilities of occupations and occupations of mind in science.