Science education has been the subject of much reform and debate over the years, sensitive to national test scores, career statistics, and perhaps most importantly, thw priority of science in many nations' social and political agendas. Many stress the importance of science education as the best possible hope of solving the multitude of mankind's problems, because only with a good education can scientific breakthroughs continue to populate news headlines and make their way into the average person's life. It isn't often, however, that the younger generation is able to teach the older generation, which is exactly what physics undergrad Xiaohang Quan has done in researching her thesis, according to The Daily Princetonian.
She has found a way to improve the algorithms used in analyzing data produced by the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest particle accelerator. The LHC came online in September of last year despite fears that its activation would lead to the "end of the world" via the creation of a black hole or some other unforeseen result. However, it needed to be shut down after one of the components broke down several days after the switch was flipped.
Particle accelerators have been used by physicists to discover the nature of the universe and its components - to see how everything fits together and works. The LHC is currently our best bet to discover the ever-elusive dark matter and dark energy by its ability to recreate conditions thought to be present milliseconds after the Big Bang.
Quan, a senior in college, astounded future peers by the fact that she was an undergrad making this discovery, boding well for the direction science education is moving around the world. Despite continued assault from creationists and religious critics and all manner of opposition from those who don't quite understand both the importance and the need for these discoveries, education of younger generations is clearly moving forward. The question here must be, is it moving fast enough and well enough to ensure our survival?
Obama's recent call for upcoming generations to give up careers in finance in favor of engineering is evidence of the dire straights not just this country, but humanity and the world itself is in. We have problems, problems on problems, that cannot be solved overnight, or by cleverly worded legislation, or by throwing money at them. What is needed is dedicated research with encouragement and enthusiasm - an optimistic approach that is especially hard to come by these days. We all have our parts to play, young and old, politician and scientist and citizen alike. Can we stand up to the challenge, can we continue to push ahead, and take our cue from people like Quan? We have the potential, that much is evident. But do we have the drive? That remains to be seen.