I made my third appearance in the prestigious journal Nature today.
The first appearance – in 2005 – was a report on a study of the nuclear spectroscopy of the exotic neutron-rich nucleus Silicon-42.
The second (in 2010) was a commentary I wrote on a spectroscopic study of the doubly-magic nucleus Tin-132.
If you added the numbers of readers of each of those two articles together, you would almost certainly get a number smaller than a thousand. Yet members of the scientific community would probably consider those two articles to be among the highlights of my modest scientific career.
Today’s appearance in Nature is a brief mention in a commentary written by a high school science teacher, Brandon Haught of University High School in Volusia County. The number of people who read Brandon’s commentary will outnumber the people who read my own articles in Nature by a factor of at least a hundred, and perhaps much more.
And that is as it should be.
My regular blog readers (all five of them) might better recognize Brandon for his decade-long role as a leader in the Florida Citizens for Science than they would for his recently-begun teaching career. I met Brandon while I was a member of the committee that wrote Florida’s K-12 science standards in 2007-2008. At the time, Brandon was the public affairs officer for the Volusia County Sheriff’s Department. He had served in the Marines. But it was clear even then that Brandon had the beating heart of a high school science teacher. Several years ago, he finally met his professional destiny in his own University High science classroom.
Brandon came to Nature’s notice through his concerns about Florida’s new law about instructional materials in the K-12 schools that many believe will be used to disrupt science teaching, particularly on the subjects of evolution and climate change. Many of us will be watching this issue carefully to see how it develops.
Brandon’s Nature commentary implores university science faculty to get involved in the K-12 schools. His discussion uses the instructional materials law as a departure point, but then he broadens his discussion by citing my work with the Future Physicists of Florida to improve the preparation of the state’s students for rigorous college majors in fields like computing, engineering and science.
The lesson that every university science professor should take from Brandon’s commentary is this: The next generation of scientific leaders is in middle and high school right now. If the scientific community ignores them, those students will never grow into the scientific and technological leaders we need them to be. Our generation will die off, and there will be no one to carry the torch forward. Our society will lose the ability to think clearly about scientific and technological issues and those we leave behind will slide backwards.
That is not the legacy I want to leave behind, and that is why I invest so much of my declining reserves of energy into trying to urge that next generation forward.
Brandon, thank you for making that point in such a visible way.