After watching Cosmos, an eight-year-old boy wrote Neil DeGrasse Tyson a letter asking him for advice on how to become a scientist. Because he is the coolest guy in the world, Tyson wrote the young man, named Lance, back, offering him some helpful advice. Here is the letter and Tyson’s response:
When I was a kid, you could take apart most things in the house with a screwdriver. Inside, you’d see gears and pulleys and motors and occasionally a circuit board.
Back then, it was easy to take things apart. But it was much harder to put things back together again. Which meant that practically every home had a bin of discarded mechanical parts that you could play with — and possibly invent something new. Today, not so much. But since you’ve already attempted to make an electric generator, clearly your basement is well-supplied.
Labs are fun places, but of course, they can also be dangerous — especially if you’re exploring unfamiliar objects and ideas. When you run out of supplies in your basement, this catalog: www.scientificsonline.com, and this one: www.hand2mind.com, and this one: www.fatbraintoys.com are loaded with sciencey stuff to play with, long into adulthood.
And anytime things get too dangerous, or if you just want to take a break from inventing stuff, yes, there’s always 13 episodes of Cosmos to watch.
In the meantime, here’s a short list of things the world needs invented. Maybe you can get started on them right away: a real hoverboard; a refrigerator door that dispenses soft ice cream instead of ice & water; warp drives; and of course…politicians who know science.
As always, keep looking up.
-Neil deGrasse Tyson, New York City
P.S. My mother tells me that when I was born she almost named me “Lance”.”
During a hearing for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Wired’s editor-in-chief and senior vice president, Mariette DiChristina, made an awesome statement where she pointed out that economists say investments into basic research are responsible for between one third and one half of all of the United States economic growth since World War II.
Unfortunately, as Mr. Tyson points out, the world desperately needs someone to invent “politicians who understand science.” In 2014, Politifact found that only eight out of 278 Republicans on capitol hill have never expressed doubt that climate change exists, and is a human-made phenomenon. That’s a serious problem. Our politicians need to have both an understanding and respect for science. The best way to ensure that our political representatives understand science, is to make sure their constituents do. That means funding science education. It also means that scientists must engage the public, as Tyson and many others do so well.
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