July 16, 2024

Frequent Flier: Sensing the Wonder of Science, in Flight

I love watching people in crowd situations. We all know that many factors are conspiring to suck the last drops of romance out of modern air travel, but I do what I can to keep each flight an adventure.

When I’m at the airport, I entertain myself by looking at how the airport staff corral us into place. This mirrors discussions that I’ve had with science festival directors about how to make sure that everyone at a crowded open lab event has a chance to use at least one piece of big lab equipment.

There is, or at least could be, a certain science to this. For example, I’ve recently convinced myself that the free pretzels never had anything to do with an airline thinking about customer service. I think it must be all about crowd control: nobody can move when all the trays are down and carts are in the aisles.

As the manager of the Science Festival Alliance, I have been on “festival tour.” Don’t wax nostalgic about the baking soda volcanoes you made for your middle school science fair project. Science festivals are completely different. These events are more celebrations of science and technology, much like an art festival. The science festivals usually last several days to a week, and allow people to do hands-on activities and meet with some of the nation’s top scientists.

They’re really cool, even if you didn’t like science. I always laugh, though, at the misconceptions people have about the field.

I don’t mind talking to my seatmates about anything, but science topics often shut conversations down. There’s a lot of trauma out there about math and science, and it’s really sad. Honest, people still remember their science projects back in middle school that didn’t work. A lot of people never got electricity, for example. I didn’t either.

Or they’ll say science and math are really complicated. Sometimes they think the only type of scientist is an Albert Einstein or a Stephen Hawking or some guy who wears goggles and a lab coat. They can’t wrap their heads around the idea that scientists and engineers can come in all shapes and sizes.

But once we get talking, people are really open to the idea of science festivals, and that makes me very happy since what we are trying to do is rekindle wonder and curiosity. I think sometimes that gets stamped out of you when your science project didn’t work back in school.

But science and wonder are all around us. You just have to take time to notice.

A lot of people work on the plane. They keep their blinders on and treat the whole experience as if they’re in an invisible shield.

I work on the plane but try not to keep my blinders on. The whole process of flight is amazing. I always make time to take pictures out the window. Sometimes I take more than 150 shots of clouds, the interplay of light or interesting shapes of land. Maybe I’ll only get one good shot, but so what? I’ve seen the world from a different perspective.

Natural wonder and curiosity are typical science festival themes, and one time I found I was staring out the window and a young kid in the next row was doing the very same thing. As we emerged above thick cloud cover, the young boy behind me gasped in wonder, “It’s the land above all lands.”

Exactly, I thought.

By Ben Wiehe, as told to Joan Raymond. E-mail: joan.raymond@nytimes.com

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=4860c3c9a14819fe0613e5f396f4aabd

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