Research and Development

Unleash the Child Within You

By Lina Younes

The other night as I was tucking my youngest in bed, she asked me a question that I have been mulling over ever since. “Mom, why do adults lose their creativity when they get older? Imagine if children invented things!” Her insight left me speechless as I tried unsuccessfully to find a thoughtful explanation.

As we grow up and mature, what stifles our creativity? Why do we seem less willing to take risks? I have seen many children absorb new languages like sponges, while adults seem to lose the power to “hear and pronounce” new sounds. Though there may be some physiological issues involved, it seems to me that grammatical rules of the Mother Tongue become the main constraints to learning foreign languages. The same seems to apply to science and math. I’ll explain.

I remember playing the “Wheel of Science” game at several environmental education exhibits. Young children would eagerly spin the wheel to play and guess the questions even if they had no clue of the correct response. I remember watching how the parents, on the other hand, literally cringed in fear when they saw the word “science” and hesitated in their answers. Why is that? Is it society’s norms and conventions that prevent us from thinking out of the box? Is it the natural maturing and aging process that does so?

Haven’t you noticed that many of the most creative inventors, artists, movie directors are criticized for “acting too much like kids?” I don’t think that they have a Peter Pan complex. Quite the contrary, these creative adults see beyond traditional conventions. So, we, as a society, explain that unique behavior by saying that these creative individuals are acting too much like children, unfortunately.

As I was working with my colleagues in the EPA Office of Research and Development on a project to highlight the work of EPA scientists and engineers, I noticed that they shared something in common. No, it wasn’t their love for science and math. It was something more profound. They shared a sense of wonder. They were inquisitive. Many loved nature and outdoors activities.

So, why don’t we encourage our children to embrace their creativity? Both our children and the world as a whole would benefit in the process. Don’t you think? What are your thoughts on the issue?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday – Apps for the Environment: The New Way of Communicating Science and Information

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.
By Jing Zhang

Want to know the weather tomorrow, the next movie showing, or the latest Hollywood gossip? There’s an app for that! In the age of smart phones, answers are literally at your fingertips on your iPhone or Android device. There’s no need to scour the internet for solutions when you can simply download an app that will gather the relevant information for you in a user-friendly application on your phone.

Working in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, I constantly hear of the developments and data that Agency researchers and scientists have produced. These scientists work diligently year around on protecting the environment and human health as outlined in Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s Seven Priorities. What better way is there for communicating the resources and discoveries of EPA researchers than in an easy-to-use app on your mobile device?

challengebanner_MThe EPA Apps for the Environment Challenge invites software developers to use EPA data to develop apps so the public can understand or protect the environment in their daily lives. Want to know the air quality where you live or which cars have the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions? There could be an app for that!

EPA has a lot of data that is publicly available. This data includes information from the Toxic Release Inventory which tells you facilities that dispose of or release toxic chemicals, real time air quality monitoring, green vehicle guide that gives environmental performance guides for vehicles, a Superfund website, and chemical toxicity information from the ToxCast database. Because these datasets are overwhelming for those with less technical and scientific knowledge like me, EPA held a series of webinars where data owners explained the information.

If you’re like me and don’t know the first thing about developing an app, you can still participate by submitting ideas for apps. These ideas are useful in providing developers and researchers a window of insight into the needs and wants of the public.

For more information and rules, visit the Apps for the Environment website. The deadline for submissions is September 16. In the meantime, you can find out the latest information on Twitter, just search #greenapps.

About the Author: Jing Zhang is a student services contractor working with the science communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Science Wednesday: Putting Science into Action for Cleaner Communities

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

After reading statements like “further research is needed” or “researching is ongoing” in articles about science and the environment, I am often frustrated. If only it were possible to have all the answers at our fingertips. Strong science to inform environmental decisions is crucial, and in the world we live in, it seems like these decisions can’t be made quickly enough. We are all anxious to hear what science has to tell us and what new solutions it may offer.

The EPA Office of Research and Development’s recently-released Land Research Progress Report struck me as a heartening example that not only are scientists working hard to obtain results but that these results are substantial and have already been used for practical outcomes.

Taking a look at the report helped me understand exactly what work is being done and how extensive, multifaceted, and successful the Land Research Program has been. The program is one of twelve interdisciplinary research programs at EPA, and it focuses on cleaning up and revitalizing land contaminated by hazardous waste. Main areas of research include landfills, contaminated sediments, groundwater contamination, and underground storage tanks among others

The report tracks research results and impacts from 2005-2009. For each area of research, it offers a detailed account of exactly where and why changes have been implemented, and what further efforts are underway. Figures given in the report such as, “Over the last five years, ORD scientists have partnered with over 40 landfill managers to transfer technology on alternative landfill covers. This resulted in installation cost savings totaling 200 million dollars,” drive home the idea that science is being turned into action. It also highlights some important innovations, such as the groundwater research program developing a patented technology and applying it to a clean-up site.

While there is, no doubt, a long way to go in cleaning up our communities and managing hazardous waste issues, it is refreshing to see clear evidence that the research being done is having an impact. The long timelines required by scientific research projects can often be frustrating, but reports like this one make the results visible and serve as welcome reminders that progress is being made.

About the Author: Cathryn Courtin is a student at Georgetown University in the Science, Technology, and International Affairs program. She is spending her summer working as a student contractor at EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.