On Monday, May 19, 2008, Northrop Grumman President and Chief Operating Officer Wes Bush spoke at the 57th annual California State Science Fair hosted by the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Below are his remarks.
Rewards of a Science-Based Career
It’s a pleasure to be here at this landmark annual event for science education in California. Let me begin by commending the California Science Center and its foundation benefactors for again doing a great job of putting on this science fair. I’d also like to recognize the many professionals serving as science project advisors and judges – our thanks to you for supporting California’s students in this competition.
It’s terrific to see this audience of so many high-achievers from so many California middle schools and high schools. Welcome to all of you and your family members and guests. And congratulations on your excellent work in science research projects across a wide range of science categories, from aerodynamics to zoology. Your achievement in reaching this highest level of the State competition is a tremendous accomplishment. Already you can take pride in being major winners.
Building on your successes here with future study and accomplishments in science can open up great opportunities in your lives. Many of you will become tomorrow’s teachers, researchers, physicians, engineers and managers of engineering organizations.
I believe there are tremendous rewards in a science-based career. Let me say a little more about this with reference to my own experience.
In the 1970s, I was in your situation, working my way through middle school and high school. NASA’s amazing series of moon landings had just been completed and the first series of successful unmanned missions to other planets was under way – the probes of Jupiter and Saturn, the landings on Mars. The first Space Shuttle launch occurred shortly after I graduated from high school. My intense interest in these programs, along with my schoolwork and help from some great teachers, eventually led me to study electrical engineering in college and pursue a career in aerospace work.
At the time, I concluded that a career in engineering would bring two primary rewards: I would be able to work on exciting, challenging technical problems; and I would also be able to make a substantial contribution to society and our every day lives. These are the same two rewards that I still see in this career today, after spending a number of years both in engineering and management of science-based operations.
These rewards are available to all of you who are committed to pursuing this wonderful career. Let me give you one example of the exciting problem solving that engineers engage in.
At my company, we’re building NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, successor to the Hubble and scheduled for launch in 2013. The James Webb telescope will enable scientists to essentially look back in time and see the universe as it was billions of years ago. The instrument will provide images of the first galaxies as they were 250 million years after the Big Bang.
To observe objects at such great distances, however, the telescope must be large enough to gather very faint light and cold enough to observe light in the infrared wavelengths received from these objects.
These requirements created two very challenging problems. Our mirror has to be much larger than Hubble’s – in fact, too large in diameter for launching by existing rockets. In addition, to keep the telescope mirror and instruments cold enough, they must be shielded from sunlight by a shade the size of a tennis court.
So how are we solving these problems? We’re building both the mirror and sunshade as structures that can be folded up to fit into the rocket and then opened to full size after reaching orbit.
As I said a few minutes ago, the second big reward of an engineering career is having the chance to do work that is truly meaningful and fulfilling – work that will make important contributions to our nation.
In a recent study, the National Academy of Engineering listed the most critical contributions that will be needed from engineers in the coming decades. Let me repeat a few.
We will need ways of improving infrastructure – ways of dealing with aging and inadequate systems for water treatment, waste disposal, transportation and energy.
We will need ways of making information and telecommunications less vulnerable to malicious attacks, system overload and natural disasters.
We will need ways of addressing global warming and the shrinking world supplies of water and fossil fuel.
We will need technologies that help aging citizens maintain healthy productive lifestyles well beyond conventional retirement age.
Finally, we will need leadership in national security technologies, and, I would add, progress in our civil space program as well.
Given these many needs, the future looks promising for those of you who decide to pursue science-based careers. In coming years, the number of high-tech jobs available will far exceed the number of U.S. job candidates qualified to fill them. The shortage will result from two factors, increasing retirements of baby boomers and a lack of growth in the number of U.S. students earning science and engineering degrees.
Considered more broadly, this growing shortage of science-based talent in our workplaces and universities also represents a serious potential problem for our nation. Science-based expertise is the heart of our high-technology culture, society and economy. If we are not able to draw on a substantial and growing infusion of that expertise, America will not be able to sustain its leadership position in an increasingly competitive world.
Therefore, as you probably know, there is now a concerted effort under way among educators, business people and policymakers to dramatically increase both our nation’s investment in science education and research and our output of graduates with science or technology degrees.
For instance, in every state in the country my own company has programs under way aimed at encouraging and supporting education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
In workshops for middle school teachers, we share engineering concepts that can excite students and make teaching more effective. Our engineers visit middle school and high school classrooms to demonstrate how science, math and technical disciplines apply to careers in engineering. Our employees mentor students involved at all levels in individual science projects or team competitions.
Support for scientific education is provided not only by our employee volunteers but also by the Northrop Grumman Foundation. A large part of its mission is concerned with education and programs that enhance learning experiences for students and teachers in scientific and technical fields – including activities like this California Science Fair.
As you can see, we’re working very hard to ensure that more young people with your interests, abilities and drive understand the great rewards of pursuing science-based careers. This is a mission we must succeed at – America’s future health and strength depend on it.
Again, I congratulate you on your splendid achievements in reaching this highest level of the California competition. I hope that your interest in science continues to grow. I hope that many of you choose a science-based career – and take full advantage of its opportunities for exciting challenges, great satisfactions and valuable social service.