Monday, April 16, 2007

Bill Nye the Science Guy says "You can change the world."

I saw Bill Nye last week when he spoke on April 10th at Bridgewater State College's distinguished speaker series. The mission of this lecture series is to present a variety of leaders and luminaries to challenge the minds and thinking of students and the community. Their mission was accomplished in this lecture. Bill is a former mechanical engineer (like me) with a degree from Cornell, who worked for many years a Boeing, where he desingned a hydralic resonance suppressor that still flies on 747 airliners. Bill gave up his engineering career, becoming a stand-up comic and eventually becoming a passionate public educator.

Bill described his contribution of the concept and design for a sun dial installed on each of the the Mars Rovers which evolved from the need to generate a shadow on mars for the purpose of calibrating on-board cameras. The sun dial idea was inspired by Bill's dad, Ned, who became interested in sun dials to pass time while he was a POW in China where Ned spent 44 months after being captured on Wake Island in the Pacific during WWII. Ned evenutally started a business selling sundials and at one time proposed converting the Washington Monument into a sundial.

Bill observed that the cost of the Mars mission was a bargain when you consider the value of the resulting discoveries. He remarked, there are two Rovers that cost of $435 million each just sitting there on Mars, and they aren't even locked!

Bill both praised and derided Pluto's recent de-classification from planet status. The understanding and insight that lead to the re-classification of Pluto opens the door to a whole relm of intricacies and nuances in the characteristices of celestial bodies that were not even possible to consider 30 to 50 years ago. According to the International Astronomical Union, "Pluto is not a planet, it's a dwarf planet. " But Bill chided, if you say Pluto is not a planet, you shouldn't use the word "panet", even with a "dwarf" modifier to define what it is.

After discussing space exploration, Bill switched to the topic of carbon emmissions and global warming. He showed a graph of planetary tempuratures spanning back 1,000 years based on seven independent studies, which each show the same trend of significantly rising temperature over the last 100 years. I approach this data with healthy skepticism, because we have to acknowledge that global climate change is well known to go back to the ice age, about 20,000 years ago, long before humans had any significant influence carbon emmissions. Although I'm not convinced that reducing carbon emmisions will reverse the global warming trend - if there is a statistically significant warming trend, it's hard to argue that we shouldn't do as much as possible conserve energy and focus on renewable resources. My impetus to conserve energy is not to reduce carbon dioxide emmisions, but becasue its the only way we can eliminate our dependence on imported energy and hope to control the fate of our economy.

Bill wrapped up saying he wanted his audience to change the world and enjoy success of ¥€$ [yes] Yaun, Euro, Dollars. If you can design a better battery you can get rich in all three currencies. He encourages all to cut carbon emmisions 80% by 2050 by using high efficiency light bulbs and driving cars with high milage and riding our bicycles the HKEV, Highest Known Efficiency Vehicle. Bill drives a Toyota Prius Hybrid which gets about 46 MPG,
The lecture was enjoyable, entertaining, educational, and inspiring.
I'm here to serve,

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