We’re on the verge of a new era in education. This week, the Smithsonian Museum announced a new genomics exhibit at the National History Museum, in conjunction with the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), and generous grants from several companies and institutions, including a major contribution from Life Technologies (on the order of $3M). The Museum of Natural History already has a nice website reviewing progress in genomics, but this is certainly a welcome development. To quote Eric Green, “It is not enough [for] researchers like me and others at NHGRI to be excited about the human genome and the opportunities before us… because genomic knowledge will become increasingly relevent it is all the more urgent for the public to understand and to appreciate the applications it has for society and for individuals and medical care.”
The exhibit is set to open in 2013. As a resident of the greater Washington D.C. area, I’ll be sure to attend with interest.
Only a month ago, the 2nd annual USA Science and Technology Festival was held at the Washington D.C. Convention Center. A major sponsor, Lockheed Martin had an area on the order of 120′ x 60′ in the center of the convention hall. (The Festival took up the entire convention center – if you have been there before it consists of three huge halls.) It was a remarkable event, free of charge, and thousands of parents and children attended. (Here’s the list of exhibitors – no less than 28 pages long.)
What was memorable for me was to visit representatives of SparkFun (making an Arduino-based ‘Simon’ toys with several soldering stations where many kids and parents were in full ‘we’re going to assemble these this afternoon’ mode), chatting with a few true robotics hobbyists (who showed their entries into a national robotic competition to shoot a basketball), seeing the inside of a genuine Air Force F-18 jet, hanging out with some cool PBS Kids.org costumed characters, and watching a few science-themed performances on three or four entertainment stages.
And to top it all off, to my surprise there was a 40′ x 3s0′ Life Technologies booth, with several kids activities at different tables. And what is front and center of the LifeTech booth? An Ion Torrent Proton sequencer!
Chatting with the booth staff, they are volunteers out of the Frederick MD Life Technologies office, and (naturally since I’m a field person not a ‘local office’ person) I don’t recognize any of the 10 or 12 people in the booth. It doesn’t matter, I give my own kids a little ‘tour’ of the Ion Proton and what it can do.
In addition to the Life Technologies Foundation with the $3M support, the Foundation for the NIH is supporting the effort with another $500K, from supporters such as the Brin Wojcicki foundation (founder of Google and his wife), Pacific Biosciences (which I’ve written about before), New England Biolabs (a reagent supplier), and Genentech.
It’s going to take more than a single 2500 square-foot exhibit at the Smithsonian to educate the public on the benefits of all the genetic and genomic discoveries occurring all around us, but it is a good start.
Science reporting in newspapers often leaves much to be desired; there is increasing need to accurately translate what is happening at the frontiers of science to impact the public at large. Recently it was repoted that newspaper journalism shrunk almost 30% in the past 4 years; with such economic headwinds the level of science journalism is threatened. Yet the interest in science and technology is real, and there appears to be a rise in the number of science and technology magazines and associated websites.
On that note, what with a disruptive revolution in education starting to occur (with efforts such as the Khan Academy, MIT OpenCourseWare, and now Stanford medical school professors proposing something similar for medical school education) let the new era begin. Disruptive innovation is on its way across many fields, and as a once-upon-a-time secondary educator I can’t wait for the changes on education that are on the horizon.
Increasing the understanding of the revolution in genetics and genomic information is a responsibility I take very seriously, and hope that you do too.