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- Author Thomas Friedman calls it the "quiet crisis."
Others call it the ambition gap.
Whatever the label, they are referring to the dearth of American youth actively pursuing careers in the so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines, an ominous trend that, if left unchecked, will negatively impact the future of technology in the United States.
The nation's inability to sell STEM is already impacting venerable institutions like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
. Jim Rice, president of the Information Technology Association of Wisconsin
, told a recent gathering of Accelerate Madison
that 40 percent of NASA's 18,000 employees are age 50 or older, while only four percent are under 30.
Rice went on to note that graduate enrollment in science peaked in 1993, and he warned that the nation is asleep on this issue with no Sputnik-like shock to create a sense of urgency. "We're doing a lousy job," he said, "getting kids excited about the stuff that we're excited about."
The tide may be turning ever so slightly, however, as the scientific community takes some initial steps to address technological apathy. One example is a Discovery World
exhibit that will open this fall on Milwaukee's lakefront.Jungle fever
The exhibit, to be completed in November, is called TechnoJungle: The Hunt for the Next Great Idea
and will feature interactive displays made possible by a $3 million sponsorship from Johnson Controls
Utilizing the jungle metaphor, displays will highlight how engineers look to the natural world to solve problems in the "built world." At the exhibit's "Base Camp," for example, visitors will find interactive robotic animals and a "tree" recreating the hydraulic clock built for the 1904 World's Fair at the urging of Johnson Controls' founder Warren Johnson.
Johnson Controls' contribution also includes funding to enhance the exhibit and keep it current over the next five years. "We want it to be a living, breathing exhibit that grows over time. like a real jungle," said Cynthia Johnson, public relations counsel for Discovery World.
Through the exhibit displays, Johnson Controls will highlight engineering concepts from its three businesses, integrating into exhibit messaging things like automotive interior components, comfort and security systems, and advanced batteries and power storage products.
A section of the exhibit will address energy and energy sources, including the lithium ion batteries the company is developing for hybrid vehicles.
To demonstrate how ideas are developed into products for the marketplace, TechnoJungle also will emphasize efforts to develop sustainable energy and introduce visitors to intelligent environments, "biomimicry," and dynamic re-use.
Many of the entertaining features of TechnoJungle, including downloadable activities and experiments on PalmPilots and iPods, are designed to appeal to the core target audience of the new Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin - students ages 16 to 24.
Dennis Kois, employee relations director for Johnson Controls, expects the exhibits to make an impression on the target audience. "The `gee-whiz' factor will be huge," he said, "given interactivity and technology built into the exhibits."Related stories
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