HUGE congratulations go out to my student Sameer, who took 2nd place in the category of Environmental Engineering. I didn't mentor him on this project, but I was his engineering teacher last year, so I feel like I can take a little bit of credit for his awesomeness. He's working on a new way to take carbon dioxide out of the air (mostly directly from factories that are producing it) and by mixing it with certain chemicals, he makes it incredibly easy for a special kind of algae to eat it up. This not only takes the harmful greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, but it also feeds the algae which can then be used to make biofuels. The other student from my school, Lily, was working with a student from another school on a really amazing project too. I couldn't quite follow most of it, but from what I understand, they were doing a huge amount of number crunching to analyze a tremendous amount of genetic data to help find better ways to screen for breast cancer. Wow! I am so proud of all of them!
As I was explaining these things to my taxi driver in Pittsburgh, he shook his head and said, "Ya know, things like that really restore your faith in the world. God bless these kids -- the future is in good hands." I couldn't agree more. During the week as I walked through row after row of mind blowing projects and futuristic displays, I couldn't help but get misty eyed and a little tight in the chest. As a science educator and STEM advocate, this is what I live for. These kids are rock stars to me. As I watched them in their sharp suits and skirts speaking to passersby with more grace and tact than the majority of adults I know, the main emotion I was feeling was hope. It's so easy to have a grim outlook on the world today. Things seem to be such a mess politically, environmentally, socially, economically... It seems like we're surrounded on all sides by wicked problems so complex and long-lived that there is no escape from them. But last week in Pittsburgh I saw the future, and it's bright. There is no problem too big for these kids. As technology progresses and our tools become more powerful, it will become easier and easier for small groups of people with brilliant ideas to change the world in vast, meaningful ways. I saw almost 2,000 of the worlds smartest, most creative and engaged minds, and they are already tackling the burdens left on them by our previous generations. Climate change? On it. Sustainable food sources for a ballooning world population? On it. Serving the needs of every person with disabilities and disadvantages? On it. Making transportation cleaner, safer, and more reliable? On it. Curing cancer, eradicating diseases, and extending the length and quality of life? On it. All these kids are on it, and I sleep a little easier now having seen it for myself.