Father Coyne: Jesuit priest and scientist extraordinaire!

fr_coyneYesterday I was honored and thrilled to meet Father Coyne, a Jesuit priest, Ph.D. in Astronomy specializing in astrophysics, and retired head of the Vatican’s research observatory located at the University of Arizona in my hometown – Tucson, AZ.   (I realized the Tucson connection when I saw he had a 520 area code for his cell phone).  I met him at his residence at Le Moyne College, a Jesuit school right here in Syracuse.

A friend of mine at school told me about a series of lectures on religion at Le Moyne and looking at its website I quickly found Fr. Coyne.  He was on Bill Maher’s movie “Religulous” – one of its few rational religious voices.  He was also interviewed by famous New Atheist Richard Dawkins for a TV show about Darwin, and the full interview is on youtube.  Check it out!

dawkins_coyneFr. Coyne is an ardent and passionate voice for both the (potential) depth of religion and the validity of science, including evolution.  I thoroughly (that’s an understatement!) enjoyed my time with him and I wished we had videotaped our conversation so we could put it on youtube!!  (He did say we might do this another time.)

We talked about a lot of things, but we touched on how earnest many atheists are in their critique of religion and that they have many good points based on ethical and scientific grounds.  We agreed that absent from debates on science and religion are Jesus’ own very anti-establishment and anti-religion views/teachings and his focus on experience and common sense.

We agreed that there is no dualism between the spiritual and the material.  That is, the spiritual is in the material and vice versa.  There’s not separate realms or realities, although it can be useful or inspiring to envision such things.  Here’s my little phrase that sums it up:  “We don’t need the supernatural.  The natural is super enough!”

I tried out a few of my newest thoughts and ideas on him – like my pithy saying above – which were very well-received.  For instance, we talked about faith.  St. Paul says faith is hope in that which is unseen.  For me, that includes the power of love, the depth of the human spirit, and our search for the transcendent or the divine (in a symbolic way but one that can be experienced).  He agreed, and I said I felt a lot of sympathy for those who only know of the word “faith” as belief in doctrine or dogma and criticize it as such.

But along the lines of St. Paul, there’s a huge difference between belief in what’s unseen (we believe in many things that are unseen) and belief in things that scientific evidence is strongly against.

For example, I don’t believe in the virgin birth (of Jesus).

From a scientific perspective it’s just so highly unlikely.  But adding to this, virgin births are  present in the stories and myths of other religions and cultures.  Is Christianity’s virgin birth true while all other cultures’ and religions’ virgin births aren’t?

What I conclude is that virgin births are a very dramatic element that mean “Hey!!  Listen up!!!  This person is very important!!”  And I do believe that Jesus was and is very important.  Hopefully there can be more depth and public discussion of why.  What did he teach?  How is that different from Christianity?

This was just a bit of what we talked about.  It was amazing, though, to talk with someone who thoroughly understood where I was coming from from both a religious and scientific standpoint.  Each of us experience awe, inspiration, and transcendence through both science and religion.

I look forward to getting to know Fr. Coyne more and am amazed and thankful that our paths that unknowingly overlapped for so long in Tucson now “knowingly” overlap in Syracuse, NY of all places!


More on the Keystone XL

Keystone XL protest in front of the White House.  Source: National Geographic,.  Photographer: JEWEL SAMAD, AFP/GETTY

Keystone XL protest in front of the White House. Source: National Geographic,. Photographer: JEWEL SAMAD, AFP/GETTY

There’s a lot of anger and frustration toward the US State Department for its recent determination that the Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL) would not significantly increase carbon emissions. The Obama Administration promised to reject the KXL if their studies showed it would contribute significantly to global emissions. This is where science can get tricky. From the perspective that tar sands oil is being produced independently of the US and any US action on it (i.e. Canada could sell it to other countries), the State Department is technically correct. The KXL may even slightly lower emissions overall because it’s more efficient to transport oil by pipeline than by rail and shipment overseas.

But of course this is just one side of the story. The larger concern is that tar sands oil is being produced in the first place and that it’s a larger threat to climate change than many other fossil fuels. In this sense, people are justified in being upset. But is this bigger concern really the fault of the Obama Administration and the State Department? Yes and no. No, in the sense stated before: the tar sands oil will be produced, sold, and burned regardless of the KXL and American decisions. Yes, in the sense that the US could be a lot more serious about reducing our demand for oil and exerting world leadership on climate issues. Groups like Friends of the Earth, the Green Party, and so forth should think more about joining and pushing hard for movements like the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Half the Oil campaign to halve US oil demand within 20 years, which is practical and actionable. People should be talking about this like crazy because it begins to address the root problem of demand.


How to save the world

The winner of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge was recently announced, and it’s a company called Ecovative.  But before we get into how awesome it is and how it relates to saving the world, here’s a science lesson.

Have you ever heard of mycelium?  Mycelium are white strands of fungi that spread out like roots in soil or on organic material.


 Mycelium in soil 





Mycelium growing on a decaying log

Imagine a thick slab of this mycelium — it would look kind of like a block of Styrofoam, right?  It turns out it has very similar properties, too.  But instead of being made from fossil fuels and sticking around forever in our landfills, it’s made from decomposable, renewable fungi and organic material usually considered a waste.

This is where Ecovative enters in.  About 6 years ago, they realized that if they could grow mycelium in particular shapes it would be an ideal replacement for Styrofoam.  What do they need in order to do this?  Just “waste” biomass like agricultural residues (leftover cornstalks, etc.), cellulose sludge from paper mills, lobster shells and even textile wastes.  These materials would ordinarily be thrown out and cost money to be landfilled.

Ecovative instead buys these wastes products from farms and businesses, feeding them to fungi.  It’s a closed-loop system creating new value out of waste products. Ecovative has been able to make all sorts of things out of it, like packing/shipping materials, surfboards, and cups. They say the cost of their final products is cheaper than Styrofoam and other materials they replace, so hopefully we’ll be seeing Ecovative’s products everywhere soon.

Growing products we need out of fungi from "waste" biomass this company buys from farms, paper mills, etc.  A win-win for everyone and the planet, it seems!

Ecovative is using fungi to grow products we need using  “waste” biomass bought from farms, paper mills, etc.   A win-win for everyone and the planet!  The guy carrying just one Ecovative product is obviously a slacker.

How does this tie into the saving the world and the Buckminster Fuller Challenge?  The visionary architect, inventor, and systems theorist Buckminster Fuller (“Bucky”) said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality.  To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Ecovative is successful because they aren’t merely fighting against our wasteful consumerist culture and lack of sustainable materials.  They are filling a niche for a new product that meets our needs in a sustainable way.  They know if they can make a desirable product for a wide range of industries and consumers then it will gain a strong foothold in the market.

In summary, Bucky tells us that change happens when a new, better alternative comes about and not just by fighting the existing system.  This insight makes me think of other environmental challenges we face.

There is significant effort directed against hydrofracking and new pipelines to carry oil from Canadian tar sands through the US.  Tar sands are a less concentrated source of oil than conventional sources, so it takes a lot more energy and effort to extract and refine it.  Thus it has a larger carbon footprint than than many other fossil fuels and is an energy-intensive and polluting process as well.

NPR recently reported that oil produced from Canadian tar sands (as well as from fracking in the US) is being shipped on trains because opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline has (so far) prevented its construction.  According to this article, in 2008 about 9,500 train cars were used to ship crude oil to refineries in the US.  In 2012, this had skyrocketed to 234,000 train cars.  There are also safety concerns associated with train derailments and aging track infrastructure like the July 2013 derailment in Quebec that killed dozens of people.

A train pulls oil tank units on its way to a refinery in Delaware. As U.S. oil production outpaces its pipeline capacity, more and more companies are looking to the railways to transport crude oil.

A train pulls oil tank units on its way to a refinery in Delaware.  As U.S. oil production outpaces its pipeline capacity, more and more companies are looking to the railways to transport crude oil.”

Many people are standing up and saying they don’t want to expand new fossil fuel sources in our already warming climate.  But how can activists, scientists, and other concerned people focus on solutions — on what to be for instead of only what to be against?

But demand is the key, say most economists. If you can get American drivers to buy less gas — by raising fuel efficiency standards … you stand a much better chance of slowing production in the oil sands.”

The key is to change the system: to focus on alternatives to fossil fuels combined with energy and fuel efficiency.  Some ways to do this are to promote local renewable energy, especially community-owned projects that keep more money and jobs local; advocate for investment, subsidies, and better policy for renewables; and to support the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Half the Oil Plan, a multi-faceted plan that will cut our oil use in half within just 20 years.

Here’s an example of the disparity in subsidies between fossil fuels and renewables.

From 2002 to 2008, the U.S. government gave the mature fossil fuel industry more than $72 billion in subsidies while investments in the emerging renewable-energy industry totaled $12.2 billion.” [underlining emphasis mine]

How much could renewables grow with equivalent (or superior) support compared to fossil fuels?

Two of my favorite groups working on these issues are the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the Union of Concerned Scientists.  Check them out and read up on some of these issues.  You can use their websites to quickly write letters to Congress, the President, and so forth.  You could also bring up the idea of community-owned renewable energy with your own local officials and those running for local office.


The speed or pace of climate change is key


Scientific consensus is solid that climate change is real and is caused by humans.  Of course the climate is always changing, but it’s changing way faster than normal because of our burning of fossil fuels.  The takeaway from this article is that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are increasing at a rate about 650 times faster than the natural rate (pre-Industrial Revolution before we used fossil fuels).  

When I was an undergrad at Harvey Mudd College I was taking an introductory environmental engineering course (2003 or 2004).  We had to make an educational website for middle school students on an environmental topic of our choice.  I chose global warming, and I remember that my professor was disappointed (or something else?) that I hadn’t learned more about natural variation of carbon dioxide levels over longer historical time scales.  I would think that this would be an ideal topic to cover in an environmental engineering course, but I’ll also accept that it’s important to learn to do deep independent research as well.

I recently (2013) came across these figures in a textbook that do an amazing job of putting historical atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations into perspective, answering the questions I should have answered back in undergrad!

The figure below was made in 2001, contains data up until 1998, and shows carbon dioxide concentrations on various time scales going back hundreds of millions of years. The figure’s caption explains where the data came from, and below I’ll discuss each of the graphs, (a) through (f).

a)  The concentration of carbon dioxide was around 320 ppm in 1960 and grew to about 370 ppm by 1998.  [Today it’s over 400 ppm].  This is a rate of 50 ppm in 38 years, or 1.3 ppm per year.

b) CO2 was essentially constant at about 280 ppm from the year 900 to 1850 when the industrial revolution started, and then began increasing rapidly from there.

c)  About 11,000 years ago (years before present) the concentration was around 260 ppm and slowly climbed to 280 ppm then rapidly increased starting at the industrial revolution around 1850.   The pre-industrial change in concentration during this period was about 0.002 ppm per year.  (20 ppm over 10,000 years).  The rate of increase from 1960 to 1998 (part a) is about 650 times (!) faster.

d)  Looking over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, we see a cyclical behavior that people allude to when they say “the climate is always changing”.  Over this time scale, carbon dioxide levels fluctuated between 200 ppm and 280 ppm.  In each cycle, it rose by 80 ppm in about 33,000 years and fell again by 80 ppm in about 67,000 years.  This corresponds to a change between about 0.001 and 0.002 ppm per year.  This makes sense, as it’s about the same number as in (c) which is the same natural fluctuation seen over a shorter time period.  According to this graph, we haven’t had concentrations above 280 ppm in over 400,000 years, and we’re at 400 ppm and rising.

e)   At the scale of millions of years we can’t even see the fluctuations in graph (d) because they are small relative to the time span.  I’m not sure what was going on 25 million years ago when the concentration was high and falling, but this is a key takeaway: before the industrial revolution the planet didn’t have concentrations above 300 ppm for almost 25 million years!

f)  Now we’re looking at HUNDREDS of millions of years ago and I was surprised that concentrations were much higher, over 5000 ppm.  According to Wikipedia, land plants first appeared about 450 million years ago, and trees appeared in the Middle Devonian period, about 390 million years ago.  So it seems like plants and trees (which consume CO2 and produce O2) were responsible for changing the climate from over 5,000 ppm down to the levels in which we humans would ultimately develop.

I don’t know why CO2 levels increased around 220 million years ago.  But even though that increase looks rapid, we have to keep in mind it was over millions of years.  Let’s do the math: 220 million years ago, CO2 was at about 1500 ppm.  190 million years ago it was roughly 5500 ppm.  A change of 4000 ppm over 30 million years is 0.00013 ppm/year.  So although the change was large, the yearly rate was very slow.  Today’s rate (1.3 ppm/year) is about 12,000 times faster than during this large change 20 million years ago.

CO2 is increasing at a rate that far exceeds any in at least the past 500 million years on this planet.

The fastest CO2 changes naturally is 0.002 ppm per year, while today it’s about 1.3 ppm per year, 650 times faster.  This is because we’re burning an incredible amount of fossil fuels which represent carbon dioxide trapped in organic matter over millions and millions of years released by us in less than 200 years.

“Engineers With Appetites” speech



After the end of a long semester, a wonderful wedding, and settling back into things (enjoying the beautiful summer!), I’m finally back at it.

Here’s the talk I gave at an Engineers Without Borders event – a fundraiser for our projects called Engineers With Appetites.  I hope you enjoy and look forward to your feedback!

[First I thanked everyone (cooks, servers, all the effort students put into the event, etc. etc. How proper of me!!) Comments I’m making for this post are in brackets]

I don’t know about you but I’m stuffed. As we digest this great food and feel our satiated bellies and appetites, I want to celebrate and talk about a different kind of appetite… a different kind of hunger… one that I hope will never be satiated in any of you.

This is the hunger and drive for the alleviation of poverty, for justice, to work for positive change and to keep a firm commitment to the self-determination and respect of everyone we work with, help, and learn from – whether here or in a developing country.

And I’m amazed and encouraged by what I’ve already seen during this year with Engineers for a Sustainable World. All these busy engineering and other students are really hungry to see change in the world.

You [students] should all be proud of yourselves, and know that you are an inspiring force for good. Even mundane topics and procedures at meetings are fun. I’m always struck by your joy and passion. That’s really needed to make a difference. We can take the problems of the world seriously while still having fun and enjoying the good things around us.

But… My only issue – my beef – with the club [dramatic pause] is the name change in progress from Engineers Without Borders to Engineers for a Sustainable World. What’s wrong with EWB? I mean, it’s a good name — a GREAT acronym. E W B. Ethan Wesley Bodnaruk. [me]

[Pause…laughter was pretty decent, by the way. I had a big grin as usual]

Through this club you’re already being exposed early in your engineering careers to the overlap of engineering, science, and technology with social issues, poverty, equality, sustainability, economics, and the other complex realities of life that shape so much of the world around us. This is becoming the norm for Ecological engineering, but it’s more rare in many other fields of engineering and science.

I think in general scientists and engineers don’t engage as much as they could in moral and ethical issues related to their work, as well as the broader ethical or moral issues we face as a society.

Engineers need to be highly aware and versed in ethics, human behavior, ulterior motives, and so forth. Scientists and Engineers have a major role in the development and use of technology, and technology has an ever-increasing power to do both harm and good. And we need to keep in mind that it’s easier to destroy than create or restore, which I’ll talk more about later.

What are some possible reasons engineers and scientists don’t engage in these issues and subjects? You can let me know if I’ve left any big ones out, but here are some ideas.

  • People are complicated: sometimes rational, sometimes pretty irrational
  • We’re used to equations and concrete, quantitative results to problems with solutions. The human aspect is so much less predictable. But it’s also exciting to use a different part of your brain. Engaging with the people side of things can lead to new experiences as you know from your travels. And in a way, people are puzzles to solve too – not just the equations. Oftentimes technology is the smaller puzzle to solve, and how to make it truly relevant and helpful, to integrate it into a society or practice is the hard part. [Thinking of technology solutions to improve life in developing countries, etc.]
  • In school, we’re used to working on our own or just with other engineers – No consulting with anyone else. Communication and understanding other viewpoints and ways people think is key to getting stuff done in the real world.
  • Another potential reason we don’t engage as much is that well, sometimes [big smile], sometimes we engineers can be a bit socially awkward! I know I feel it sometimes!!
  • Another reason is that in our society critical thought and analysis can easily become compartmentalized and it can be taboo or controversial to engage topics that are not purely technical.

Earlier I mentioned the club’s name change. In deciding their new name, one top contender was “Humanitarians for a Sustainable World”. The choice of the word humanitarian emphasized the group’s desire to reach out even more to non-engineers. This is a great impulse, but I’m glad we kept Engineers in the title because it’s important and unique to emphasize engineers engaging in society. It’s amazing that this group of engineers sees themselves as humanitarians and wants to reach out to non-engineers. But technical know-how is so often used for destruction or just to advance business as usual, so it’s amazing and important to highlight its positive uses, like through this club and even its name.

I want to touch a little more on the role of science and engineering in destruction. One major way this happens is through weapons technology and defense. I realize this is really controversial, but it’s important that scientists and engineers be able to talk about things like this. There’s pros and cons, plenty of philosophy, and plenty of debate to be had about defensive and offensive weapon technology and use. But I just want to give a quick idea of where I’m coming from.

  • For my undergrad, I went to a small science and engineering college called Harvey Mudd. About half of the engineering majors went on to work for defense contractors. It’s a huge employment opportunity.
  •  We had to do a senior design project, and reading the descriptions I found one about cryostats. What could be cooler than cooling stuff down to super low temperatures? I signed up for it, and when the project started I learned that it was for a missile targeting system. The sensor in an infrared heat seeking missile has to be cooled down to very low temperatures to work optimally. I didn’t want to put my symbolic blood, sweat, and tears into something that really would be used to create real blood, sweat and tears. I switched projects and it was somewhat complicated to make that happen, but I was glad I did.
  • After hanging out in some monasteries for a year, I got a Master’s in Nuclear Engineering at North Carolina State. Back then I wanted to work in nonproliferation and was interested in the international aspects and issues of science, engineering, and weapons. So you might imagine I have some interest in the history of the development of the atomic bomb.

Many people have strong feelings about nuclear weapons, and more commonly discussed moral issues surrounding them are the wisdom of having enough weapons to essentially wipe out all life on the surface of the earth, why certain countries are still allowed to have them but others are prohibited, and should the US have used them on Japan in WWII. Some argue their use ended the war, but then again they disproportionally targeted civilians. Also, some people say Japan only surrendered because of the bombs, but then others say that Japan’s determination to fight to the end was fueled by their own government’s propaganda – that the gov’t was lying to its people, saying the war was going well when really they couldn’t hold out and were close to surrendering irrespective of the bombs.

Another angle is that of the scientists and engineers who worked on the bomb in the Manhattan Project. As much as possible, their work and interactions were compartmentalized to minimize the number of people who would fully realize the scope and magnitude of what they were working on. The scientific leaders who were in the know, like Robert Oppenheimer, thought they would have some say on whether or how the weapons were used. They were wrong, and after Hiroshima and Nagasaki many of them immediately became among the most outspoken opponents of nuclear weapons.

Germany was trying to develop nuclear weapons during WWII and this fueled the American effort. There are strong indications, though, that the scientists and engineers in the American program were intentionally misled later in the effort that Germany was not starting to lose and they were not told that Germany’s nuclear efforts were crippled by targeted attacks.

One of my favorite authors, the American physicist Freeman Dyson, knew many of those involved in making the bomb. He’s written on the subject and offered fascinating insights. It was a very small but close-knit, international group of scientists who discovered and were working on fission before the Manhattan Project. They were extremely excited about something so new and its potential for cheap energy. They also realized the potential for a weapon of incredible strength. What’s fascinating to me is that initial reactions by political leaders to the idea of a fission bomb was extremely negative or dismissive. Fission was a totally new idea, and it would take so much money and time to get a weapon out of it. It was a pipe dream to leaders who are usually fairly practical-minded.

Later, as attitudes began to change, Dyson pointed out that the scientists had the opportunity to set rules and ethics within their group, to decide if they would pursue the bomb or not. They missed that chance and within a couple of years all talk of fission was highly classified, the scientists weren’t able to meet at international conferences anymore, and the fires of nationalism were strong and pushing the scientists each to serve their own countries.

I for one find this tremendously interesting especially as it brings in politics, ethical issues, deception, nationalism, and so forth.

In general, the role of science in ethics, morality, and decision making is a hot topic right now. Climate change has of course lit fires under science, how it is communicated, and forces that resist scientifically informed decision making for their own benefit. There are some best-selling authors who have written on science and ethics or morality, like New Atheist Sam Harris and his book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values.

ASU hosted a discussion on whether science can tell us right from wrong with a bioethicist, Sam Harris (neuroscience and philosophy background), philosophers, and a physicist.

Michael Schermer is a well-known “skeptic” with a column in Sci American. He wrote a similarly titled article recently, saying yes it can.

And Harris described a moral landscape as 3D topography plot of happiness or well-being. There are many peaks and many valleys corresponding to We can at least identify those peaks and those troughs. I really like this image and this way of thinking.

So … Can Science Tell us Right from Wrong? I don’t think so exactly, but it can come really close. And that’s valuable.

We could call it quantitative empathy or quantitative compassion. In our complex world there’s a growing need to quantifying the results of our actions and programs. Science – even just at the level of statistics – can tell us if we’re meeting goals and can tell us a lot about how actions affect people. We can also investigate the likely effects of certain cultural practices or stereotypes. In what ways does a practice contribute to how people flourish or don’t. Who does a practice, idea, or policy favor or not favor? What do the people who have control over a given action or policy think and what do the people who are affected by it think? (Role of women in some societies fetching water).

There was a recent talk here at school on gender roles and water. The speaker showed pictures of how community planning around water began to occur after some focus on the topic, but no women were involved! Yet they are the ones most affected by it, spending hours each day fetching water. In general it’s not a good idea to leave out half of your resources from planning, especially when there’s such a difference between the experiences of those halves. Certainly there will be key insights from the women – the group left out.  Even more, a friend told a story about a water project near her hometown in Afghanistan that failed after a large storm.  Men in the community scrapped it, selling the resources (metal piping, etc.) instead of looking into fixing it, perhaps thinking that the women would just go back to the way things were and that that wasn’t so bad for them as men.

Further statistics from the World Bank, as cited in the sequel to the popular book “Three Cups of Tea” about building schools and education for girls in the Middle East, show that when girls and women are educated they are much more likely to teach literacy skills to other family members, all sorts of health and development indicators go up, and women often start their own businesses that produce income and meet important needs.

So even just at the level of statistics (not even going into psychology, social well-being, power dynamics, etc.) there are plenty of reasons, for instance, to question limited roles for women. So I would say it’s fair to say that science comes out against that. Although of course no equation says that directly – that’s just silly to only equate science with fundamental equations.

Let’s move on to another example important to me: Haiti and issues of foreign aid.

  • 97% of our government’s international aid (from the United States Agency for International Development, USAID) comes back to the US (American contractors, NGO’s etc.)
  • <1% of earthquake aid to Haiti stayed local.  This is a ratio of about 33:1 on the ultimate local vs. international destination or fate of aid. Would keeping that aid in Haiti have a better effect by a factor of 33? More? Who’s back is getting scratched the way things currently are?

USAID: goal of 30% aid to stay local by 2015 or 2020, I forget which. Much improved goal. But large aid agencies that are recipients of USAID money are vigorously opposing it. They formed their own lobby for Congress and are spending millions lobbying against it. No joke.

You sometimes seem like a jerk when you criticize aid, but it’s important that our programs are effective and that aid is effective. But at least USAID is pretty transparent that their mission is first of all to advance US interests abroad. We just hope these interests are more to help people than to secure power or influence.  If so, the money would be way more effective if it stayed local.

On to my last topic. I want to point out that just because I’m talking about the role of science, statistics, quantitative measures about issues related to moral issues doesn’t mean I’m saying we shouldn’t also use feelings, stories, and myths. I was talking with a friend lately about Star Trek the Next Generation – I grew up watching that. The android’s name is Data, but I had forgotten that his “twin” and evil brother was Lore. Basically, myth. If not set up as opposites, that’s at least a clever contrast.

One example with a sciency angle that I think of when it comes to the usefulness of myth or lore is the idea that Einstein struggled with math when he was young and failed at least one of his math courses (maybe it was just because he was bored?)

Regardless, this story actually isn’t true although it’s very widely told and repeated.  It shows that even uber geniuses have their struggles and obstacles to overcome. I remember reading a quote by Einstein that addressed this rumor (apparently prevalent even during his life), where he said by the time he was an early teen he had mastered differential equations and linear algebra! So much for that one!

Even though it’s not a true story, I still really like it and can get inspiration from it. There’s nothing wrong with that. If ever a discussion about its factual truth comes up, though, we should be honest about it! There may be some parallels to draw here with religion, but that’s for another time.


This was a small tour de force of a host of different topics related to engineers and scientists engaging in moral and ethical issues and projects related to human well-being. The author I mentioned earlier surrounding the atomic bomb wrote a book called Scientist as Rebel. I like the idea of Scientist as Rebel, searching for depth and clarity in the world around us and in human interactions. Being a rebel is good, as long as we remain a rebels with a cause — A meaningful cause that affects peoples’ lives.

But if “Scientist as Rebel” doesn’t really jive with you, I can understand that! I’ll be very happy if we can agree to be engineers with tremendous appetites that never diminish.

[Puts up the big burger picture]. What would the world be like if we all had appetites – of the kind we’ve been talking about here tonight – as big as this guy’s?


Thank you.