Science Aid: Federal Department of Energy laboratories, such as Stanford University’s Linear Accelerator Center, are in some ways the gifted-and-talented clubs of government-sponsored research, where Nobel laureates mingle with atomic scientists, and water-cooler talk presumably touches on particle astrophysics and synchrotron radiation.
Now, a venture is under way to put that collective brainpower to a new purpose: promoting scientific literacy among precollegiate students and teachers.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham recently announced plans to expand his agency’s efforts that enable primary and secondary school teachers and students to make use of the department’s national laboratories as resources for teaching and learning.
The new enterprise, part of which will begin as early as this summer, includes bringing in K-12 science teachers to take part in three-year mentoring programs at seven of the department’s 17 national labs and expanding the Energy Department’s “Ask a Scientist” Web site, which gives students, teachers, and the public the opportunity to e-mail scientific questions to department staff members (and can be viewed at http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/aasquesv.htm). It also includes establishing the Office of Department of Energy Science Education, which will be responsible for implementing the school-centered plan.
In addition, Mr. Abraham, in a speech last month at the Stanford laboratory, in Palo Alto, Calif., said he would form an advisory task force charged with examining other ways his department can improve science education.
The energy secretary, in announcing the initiative, pointed to the drop-off in U.S. students’ scores between the 4th and 12th grades on the 1999 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study as evidence of the need for more emphasis on basic and advanced science education in schools.
“It is a simple fact that work will migrate to the nation with the most skilled workforce,” Mr. Abraham said.
“Moreover, our national security depends on having access to a workforce that has highly advanced technical skills,” he said.