Nature's Secrets

Nature's Secrets: Science-savvy teens prioritize future challenges

December 15, 2013 

Young people will not only inherit the wonders and beauty of Mother Nature, but also the challenges that require solutions. No doubt, they will excel at solving such problems – and at the same time, retain an appreciation of the incredible natural systems that support life on Earth.

As I wrap up nearly four years dedicated to the creation of the Nature Research Center at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, it is bittersweet to leave behind the incredible talent of staff and volunteers at this renowned science institution. Two notable groups were founded as part of the center: a Citizen Science Council to provide science advisers for oversight; and a Teen Advisory Board that I created to provide a teen perspective on exhibits and programs and to expand the audience of youth at the museum. At our autumn board meeting, we convened both the adult council and the teens. Not surprisingly, the conversation turned to “What are the most critical global concerns of the future that you think science can fix?”

As holiday food for thought, here are a few answers from some of the brightest teens in the Triangle area:

Grace from St. Mary’s School, and Peter from Enloe High School: Overpopulation.

Brantley from Green Hope High School, and Kabir from Chapel Hill High School: Finite resources and sustainable energy.

Krishna from Green Hope High School: Loss of polar ice impacting biodiversity and global health.

Anusha from Green Hope High School, and Chaz from East Chapel Hill High School: Climate change.

Kyra from Raleigh Charter High School: Stem cell research and resolving its controversy.

Taruni from Panther Creek High School: Toxicology and issues surrounding human waste.

Emily from Riverside High School: Curbing the arms race and harnessing these technologies for good.

Lin from the N.C. School of Math & Science: Communicating science effectively to the public.

Chichi from Green Hope High School, Sierra from Garner Senior High School, and Tom (home-schooled): Health issues including the rising incidence of obesity, neurological disabilities and cancer.

Meghana from East Chapel Hill High School, and Vidhya from Enloe High School: Pollution, and providing clean water on a global scale.

These are the issues that prioritize the thinking of some of North Carolina’s teens. How closely do they parallel the priorities of our current policy-makers?

Meg Lowman, Ph.D., a forest canopy expert, is senior scientist at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences and research professor at N.C. State University. In January, she will become the chief of sciences and sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

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