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Clean energy, gnarly waves, and redundant cell phone nodes: Sandia Student Science Symposium attendees brainstorm tough science issues

Clean energy, gnarly waves, and redundant cell phone nodes: Sandia Student Science Symposium attendees brainstorm tough science issues

Surrounded by relics of the past, New Mexico’s students faced the issues of tomorrow.

On Nov. 2 at the National Atomic Museum, some 50 Albuquerque high school science students met with Sandia volunteers from the Advanced Concepts Group (ACG) to discuss and brainstorm solutions to the world’s problems.

A tall order for a group of people without high school diplomas? Perhaps. But there is no question that students walked away from the Sandia Student Science Symposium knowing more about the issues their generation will face and feeling more prepared to face them.

Two opening talks got the students thinking not only about the literal problems of engineering in the real world but also about the changing face of science and science education.

According to Sandia Vice President, Principal Scientist, and ACG leader Gerry Yonas, aspiring scientists currently in high school will face a life of education consisting of periodic updating of skills and theories in order to keep up with rapidly developing scientific fields.

While the prospect of a life of still more school elicited groans from some in the audience, most seemed eager and ready to pursue their interests to the greatest possible degree. A discussion session after Gerry’s talk raised questions about the ethics, economic feasibility, and politics accompanying the burgeoning fields of biotechnology, nano-technology, and information technology. A consensus emerged that today’s students will be tomorrow’s stewards and that many of the most difficult decisions in science will fall to those currently in high school science classes.

After the initial session, students joined smaller group discussions on such topics as homeland security, epidemiology, technology for emergencies, and global warming.

Discussion in the global warming brainstorming group was diverse and far-ranging. Presenter Karl Braithwaite (7000) opened the discussion with a series of clips from the eco-thriller film The Day After Tomorrow. Students discussed the feasibility of the events depicted in the movie and, from there, began discussing what could prevent even non-blockbuster climate change.

The participants agreed that moving away from the current fossil fuel-based energy infrastructure is necessary and that international participation should be encouraged. Students concurred that national incentive programs should be in place to encourage a society based on a cleaner energy infrastructure.

While some students discussed measures to avoid global warming, others brainstormed new ideas concerning emergency technology. Of note was the concept of a networked wireless communication device that would enable redundancy and reduce the chance of disabled cellular nodes in an emergency situation.

Other brainstormed ideas included methods of avoiding disease spread both in schools and in the world at large. Students suggested disease prevention through the use of disinfectant materials in the school and disease tracking through infrared-equipped satellites. Also, students were called upon to analyze contemporary culture from the perspective of future anthropologists and archaeologists. The design features in common objects such as clothing and handbags were interpreted to provide insight into the nature of modern life.

Closing on a light note were the students who suggested that surfing would, in fact, be

possible in New Mexico if water were allowed to flow down the mountainsides and into pools that would generate some gnarly waves, dude!

While the Sandia ACG brainstormers moderated and contributed to the discussions, the event was truly for the students. How did the students like it? According to Brian Ehrhart, a senior at Sandia High School, “The symposium was an incredibly worthwhile event, in which we were able to discuss future problems facing our own generation’s policymakers.” Another student added, “It was really a lot of fun.”

Jim Murphy is a senior at Sandia High School. He attended the Sandia Student Science Symposium as part of a contingent of Sandia students who participated in the event along with students from across the city. he can be reached at