Last week we wrote about 3 Reasons to teach kids about modern-day scientists and their relevance to modern life. This week, we promised to cover some of those scientists, to provide practical inspiration to your students.
It’s easy to think of many great science discoveries as being from long ago. And that’s true too – science has a historical, non-fiction story to tell. But it may amaze and inspire kids to learn there are famous scientists alive today.
While we encourage inspiring kids with today’s popular scientists, we can’t cover them all in one article. But we’ll aim for some notable ones relevant to young students below. Though, we certainly never want to diminish the importance of others.
See this list for a list of 50 “influential scientists” on thebestschools.org for the accomplishers we might not have room to cover! Assigning focused bios on some of them can be a fun research project for your students too.
Who are some of today’s famous scientists?
We’ll name just five! Here goes!
This is the physicist who makes cameos on TV, and the one who is remembered for being in a wheelchair and speaking through a computer. Despite his outward disability, he has amazingly outlived his diagnosis of ALS (yes, the ice-bucket challenge disease). On top of that, he has made significant contributions to science, especially when it comes to advancing Einstein’s theory of general relativity, in combination with quantum mechanics (which was hard to do). In 2014, a movie was made about his biography (rated PG-13, parents).
Neil deGrasse Tyson
This astrophysicist makes science fun for everybody. Given his ability to ‘dumb down’ science in a way that is accessible, with a highly likeable character, he is often seen on radio, TV and Internet videos. He even had his own show. And it all started when he was amazed by a visit to the Hayden Planetarium, which he now directs. Harvard, Princeton, Columbia – he’s studied at all of them.
This famous scientist alive today is the reason Pluto is no longer a planet, but a dwarf planet – which in turn has inspired funny t-shirt slogans such as, “It’s ok Pluto, I’m not a planet either,” “Pluto: 1930-2006” and “Pluto was framed.” The man picks up on the jokes though, being the humorous person he is, and has said, “All I did was drive the getaway car” (when referring to the ‘slaughter’ of the former planet’s status).
This is the engineer-turned-TV-personality who rose to fame in the 90s for being ‘Bill Nye The Science Guy.’ He taught kids about science on a TV show. Today, he is active in many areas of science education, bringing back the nostalgic bow-tie to those who grew up in the 90s. Importantly, he is currently an advocate for climate change science, pressing the world that it is real.
But his career has been varied, to say the least. Did you know he has a patent on a ballet shoe design? And he helped make a sundial-like instrument for calibrating image colours on a Mars mission! He also worked at Boeing and was a aeronautics consultant.
In our last article, we mentioned that Bill Nye was rejected numerous times when he tried to be an astronaut. But that never stopped him from accomplishing his mission as a scientist!
Timothy Berners- Lee
This is the famous computer scientist behind the creation of the World Wide Web in 1989. How does information (like your tweets) get sent from device to device? Is it just, ‘in the air’? No! The Internet is an intricate web of fiber optic cables (and other types of cables). If we lose these, we could lose the Internet (yes, that’s right, that means Netflix goes down, kids).
But importantly, it all started with this one man, who had to find a way for this information to be sent through a system that was already there, but wasn’t being used the way it is today. Hence, we now have Hypertext Transfer Protocol. This is why our websites start with “http://www” and then something-something-something, dot-com.
And, guess how young Timothy started with his knowledge? By playing with railway toys! It’s never too early…
This famous scientist living today is a zoologist. So yes, kids can now have fun imagining themselves as a real-life zoo-something! However, this job is not just getting to play with animals. This is the study of animals themselves. Dawkins became popular because of a discovery he made to further the insight of evolution. He wrote a book that focused on genes as adapting over time, rather than organisms.
However, his rise to fame also comes from his widespread, outspoken opinion on anti-creationism and religion. While that seems like a negative, or ‘touchy’ thing to bring up in a classroom that contains diversity of beliefs, it can help kids understand that there are different beliefs out there – but tolerance is important.
See our related articles on this subject:
3 Ways to manage diversity in the classroom
Ideas on teaching religious tolerance to kids
5 great activities to teach kids about multiculturalism in the classroom
Not only that, Dawkins actively tries to make science more understandable for the everyday person. This is a person you’d see being interviewed in talk shows and on the Internet.
Teach kids about today’s popular scientists to enhance their cultural awareness
These modern-day scientists are part of popular culture and are mentioned in conversation, interviews, and media. It’s important for kids to have an awareness of who is ‘famous’ other than movie stars! This tells them there are more avenues to success than being an actor, singer or ‘getting rich.’ Some focused studies on these individuals can also be influential in inspiring kids to become just like them, as we discussed in last week’s article.