Tyrades! Better Column-Writing Through Science

Friday, January 23, 2009

We recently took son Gideon (who turns five in March) for his first visit to Nashville's Adventure Science Center. It was heartwarming to watch busloads of eager children gazing at the humongous building and the seemingly endless rooms of high-tech displays. You couldn't help but wonder how many of the tykes were thinking, "Wow! I can't wait to play with the box the building came in!"

I'll admit I was jealous of the young people at the Science Center. Those of us baby boomers who started school 40-plus years ago were not blessed with such fancy experiments. Our biggest brush with science was writing thank-you notes to the furniture factory for making desks with the secret ingredient that would shield us from an incoming wave of Soviet nuclear missiles.

An Adventure Science Center exhibit about simple machines such as levers and pulleys brought to mind Archimedes' quote "Give me where to stand, and I will move the earth." I suspect the schoolchildren had aspirations that resembled, "Give me where to stand, and I will move this 80-pound backpack."

Ironically, Gideon couldn't try the weightlessness simulator because he was five pounds too light. We did fiddle with the display that let you calculate how little you would weigh in the one-sixth gravity of the moon. In an unrelated event, someone brought news that Oprah had just bought the moon.

One of the weirder exhibits involved a computer that would let you see how you would look as you age. For the kids this was a real knee-slapper. For the older folks, it had better not be a real knee-slapper. ("Ow! My knee! My hip!") What's next in the area of uplifting exhibits? A computer simulation of what your ex's lawyer does to your bank account?

It's vital that youngsters be exposed to inspirational scientific exhibits such as these. As Whitney Houston once enlightened us, "I believe that children are the future." (Whitney's rendition of the song was a real wake-up call to the nation. Before that, silly old NFL recruiters, "Girls Gone Wild" video producers and insurance salesmen had been chasing down the centenarians Willard Scott used to send birthday wishes to on "Today.")

American science scores are lagging and the number of students seeking careers in science is pathetic, so something has to be done. We can't have foreigners taunting us with "Ha! Our researchers know whether ferret fleas can outjump muskrat fleas, and yours don't. Losers!!!")

Nothing against liberal arts majors, but I hope the science center inspires lots of kids to seek careers in engineering, chemistry, healthcare, or the like. Maybe we could even populate Congress with scientists instead of career politicians. ("If the esteemed senator from Minnesota will yield the floor, I believe the infrastructure dilemma can be alleviated by dissecting a fetal pig. The looming pension crisis? Oh, man -- this is gonna take a lot of baking soda and vinegar!")

The Science Center featured model trains, a Lego table, a larger-than-life model of the excretory system, an operating room and more. When I asked Gideon his favorite part of the trip, he gave me the same answer he had earlier given me about the question "What's the best part of being a little boy?": "Everything!"

Maybe this budding scientist does have a future in politics. Hey, Congressman Tyree, what's the most fun thing to tax???

Note: Danny Tyree welcomes e-mail at tyradeswife@yahoo.com.