How Does the World Work?
The young man with the strong back and the smooth rhythm made his way along the shoulder of the highway. He seemed determined, oblivious to the wind that carried dust all around him, and oblivious to the steam of trucks and worn-out cars that poured oily smoke all over him as they tore by on the dirt a few feet away. His clothes were torn and worn and dark with the red dirt of Burkina Faso, and every bit of his body and the fair on his head was saturated with it. He blended in with the road. The smoke and dust made it hard to me to breath, but this young man didn't notice, didn't care, or knew that he didn't have a choice but to move on. His legs were tied together and folded at the knees and his feet were tied up under his thighs. He planted his hands on the ground, pushed himself up and swung the relics of his legs forward under his chest, then planted his hands again and pushed into the next swing. With that, he moved forward a foot, then another foot, and another.
Western Africa's Burkina Faso is among the poorest countries in the world, and I was there to help the Burkinabés manage their forests sustainably. I needed to learn how people fit into poverty-environment-governance so that I could help them help themselves, but this man sent me for a spin. He re-set my starting point. Here at home anyone I know who is paralyzed by polio is a decade older than I am. This was was young—ten, twenty years younger than I was, and in the prime of his life. Maybe twenty years old, working his way along a dusty highway on the palms of his hands.
Over the past half century, scientific research together with coordinated efforts of governments and charitable organizations around the world have reduced the number of hew cases of polio from millions per year to a few hundred annually. To a young Burkinabé today, polio is something seen only in older people, as it was to me. That is progress, despite crushing poverty.
What do our students experience in ways that etch their minds and stir them to act as scientists and as concerned citizens of the world? Where do they fit in? What are the great issues of today that our budding scientists will seize and wrestle to the ground? It is too early to answer all of these questions well, but we do know that through their research our students are pushing back boundaries of biology and medicine, communication, technology, geology, mathematics, and other fields. They are doing so in a world where the challenges are mounting as new and antibiotic-resistant diseases appear, as the driving forces of wealth and poverty deforest the tropics, as we release endocrine-disrupting substances the environment even as we learn their impact, as we witness the effects of the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and oceans, and as a more general competition for resources grows in a global economy of 7 billion people.
In this 2014 edition of Teknos we celebrate and applaud the contribution of 14 students whose work through the school's research laboratories and mentorship program helps us understand how the world works. Please join me in congratulating these student scientists for their accomplishment, and in congratulating the TJHSST Teknosians, whose efforts and imagination produced this fine and unique journal that communicates as scientific literature and as artwork.
Faculty Sponsor of Teknos
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology