A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk about the Hubble and the Webb space telescopes to what is for me an unusual audience — elementary school kids in the grades K-5.
I took part in the science career fair at one of the Baltimore County elementary schools, and found it an interesting experience. The majority of the kids have heard about Hubble, even though some don’t have a clear idea of what it is. I started with Hubble and what it can do, then described Webb and how it will improve over Hubble in the study of distant galaxies. I had a little model of Hubble and had built a paper model of Webb available on the Web. The paper model took me three days to build and left me with the feeling that the real observatory might be actually simpler. Still, it was a useful tool to show how different Hubble and Webb look.
The majority of the kids liked the Hubble pictures but were not so interested in learning how it works or how its successor will outperform it. But perhaps they will be the future taxpayers eager to look at Hubble and Webb pictures and willing to support them. One kid, the only one out of many, thanked me — and said he was not interested in getting a Hubble picture. I hope it’s because he already has plenty at home!
Finally, a significant minority wanted to listen to more details, and those occasions were the most gratifying for me. It was very satisfying to tell stories about Hubble and Webb and see these young people’s eyes locked on you, eager to learn more. Perhaps these are the future researchers, scientists and engineers who will keep the country competitive and at the technological forefront in the next decades. One young girl fought back her shyness and told me in a soft voice that I had a very interesting job. I agreed and told her that some day she could have the same job. I really hope that she and many of her generation do.