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Anadi Canepa | TRIUMF | Canada

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Speech on science

Thanks to Dominique, one of the two postdocs in our ATLAS group at TRIUMF, I had the chance of listening to the US president Obama addressing the National Academy of Sciences. Similarly to Dominique, I found the speech really inspirational. You can find it linked here.

From a scientific point of view we might be living what’s called a “quiet crisis”. The expression was chosen by Ann Jackson from National Science Foundation some years ago to define a time when a steady “erosion of […] scientific and engineering base, source of […] innovation and rising standard of living” occurs.
Several can be the reasons, ranging from the choice of the administrations to the economical crisis.

In the speech, Obama traces a parallelism with the American Civil War. During the time when US was building its identity, in the midst of the war,
the Academy was actually founded. It was understood that a solid education in science was the key for the progress in the years to come. Stimulated by the launch of the Sputnik by Soviet Union, the US government promoted education for young people to become scientists and engineers. The trend was intensified when Kennedy focused on the space programme.

Let’s keep focusing on the status of science and engineer in the US as an example. According to the NSF statistics, half of American scientists and engineers are actually forty years old or older. As a matter of fact, the number of graduate students in physics increased by almost 30% from 1999 to 2006; but the number of staff and faculty positions just increased by 15%. The new administration approved a new budget which seems to improve the situation. In the new S&E policy, preparation of the science and engineering workforce and research community is seen a vital arena for the future.

This step has already been taken by countries like China, and South Korea for example. S&E now constitutes 60% of all bachelor’s degrees in China and 33% in South Korea. Asian countries are now setting the pace in advance science and math. All countries wanting to contribute to the world development should follow the lead. International and national organizations are already active in providing common criteria to assess progress; they can be panel for recommendations. Science and technology is a career choice which goes beyond the pure interest in the field, it is an active contribution to development of society. Because it takes years to create a community, we should not leave any educational gap.

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