Among the Stars

By Verle Hansen

Each year, EPA participates in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair with an exhibit booth to share information about how science and engineering support environmental protection. We also sponsor an award—the EPA Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award—presented to a student whose work demonstrates a commitment to environmental sustainability and stewardship.

Science Fair opening night.

Among the stars.

I am serving as one of EPA’s judges this year, so I was able to attend the opening ceremonies in Pittsburgh Monday evening. Attending students from around the world contributed greetings in the form of film clips from their home countries.

The short films were a great way to get things started. Two young Danish men merely gave the Intel theme musical “Bum-bum-bummmmm,” making their’s the most unique and memorable.

To me, this short creative gesture was a clear sign that this was an event different from others. This event is not focused on old models, but on new approaches and new ends. Even the Fair’s theme, “Inspired to change our world,” is about the future.

Okay, getting 1,549 teenager scientists and engineers in one room is naturally about the future.

But each time one imagines the future, they have to take the past into account. Pittsburgh itself is a perfect example. Forced to re-imagine and re-create itself after the decline of its primary industry, the community embraced the fact that change was inevitable, but firmly rooted in the past.

It is also the past that gives character and value to place.  But, oh how refreshing to see the future from new minds unfettered by words like “should” and “can’t.”

To simply envision the future that will have to exist to give options and opportunities to future generations is enough to inspire changes in how research is structured, or as one speaker put it Monday night: “…it is not about science, it is about imagination.”

Seeing such energetic, inquiring young minds eager to both incorporate their engineering skills and embrace the concept that people matter, I can’t help but feel that the future is indeed bright. For me, it is hard to imagine how high the future will be for each of these young people, considering that their starting point is already among the stars.

About the Author: Verle Hansen, Ph.D., is a community planner in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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