TFK Kid Reporter Donnell Meekins talks with scientist Ainissa Ramirez about how science has shaped our world, and how it might shape the future.
1. Why did you write The Alchemy of Us, a book about inventions?
As a materials scientist, I like making things. If you’re making an airplane, a materials scientist has to decide: What’s the best material for the job? So I am interested in other people’s inventions, because they can help me figure out how to make new things.
2. Why is it important to get people excited about science?
Most of the world’s big questions involve science. It makes our cell phones possible. Someday, we’ll have driverless cars. I think if people knew more about science, they would feel more connected to the world.
3. What’s one big problem science could help solve?
Climate change. We need better green technology, like solar cells, so we can use energy from the sun. We need better magnets, so that wind turbines can make energy more efficiently.
4. You’ve written about bias in technology. Can you explain what that is?
Here’s an example. Some water faucets have a light sensor that detects your hand. That sensor may be designed only for lighter skin. If I were to put my hand in front of it, water wouldn’t come out. Whoever made this sensor probably tested it on themselves and their friends. But they didn’t test it on someone who had a different color skin.
5. I read that a TV show inspired you to become a scientist. Can you talk about that?
The show was 3-2-1 Contact. It had kids solving problems. I said, “That’s what I want to do.”
6. Can science fiction teach us about science?
Science fiction can help us imagine the future. It can show us which way we should go with technology, and which way we should not go.
7. How is science related to other school subjects, like art or English?
We separate subjects in school, but in life, they are not separated. Science happens in history. It touches culture. Scientists can be influenced by art or writing.
8. Do you have advice for budding scientists?
If science class gets hard, tell a teacher. Everyone should get a shot at science. Find others who like science, and encourage one another. And when something breaks at home, ask your parents, “Can we take this apart?” Just to see how things work.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.