aec highlights
AEC Application
Conference attendees will be able to download AEC app to a mobile device through the Apple App Store or Google Play Store by searching for AEC 2019.
AEC Application
Conference attendees will be able to download AEC app to a mobile device through the Apple App Store or Google Play Store by searching for AEC 2019.
AEC First General Session:
An interview with Dr. Michio Kaku
Dr. Michio Kaku, a widely recognized figure in the science world
Dr. Michio Kaku is one of the most widely recognized figures in science in the world today. He is an internationally recognized authority in two areas: Einstein’s unified field theory, which Dr. Kaku is attempting to complete, and predicting trends affecting business, medicine, finance and our way of life, based on the latest research in science. California School News interviewed Dr. Kaku in advance of his speaking engagement for the First General Session on Thursday, Dec. 5, at this year’s AEC in San Diego.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you became interested in physics and predicting the future of technology? Did your interest start from a young age or develop later?

My fascination with physics started when I was 8 years old. Everyone was talking about a great scientist who just died. They published a picture in the newspaper that day, just a picture of his desk, with an unfinished book on top. The caption said that the greatest scientist of our time could not finish that book. Why couldn’t he finish that book, I asked myself? What could be so hard that a great scientist could not finish it? To me, this was greater than any murder mystery, more interesting than any puzzle.

Eventually, I found out that this man’s name was Albert Einstein, and that his unfinished theory was to unify all the laws of physics into a single theory, perhaps no more than 1 inch long.

I was hooked. I had to know more about this fabled theory, and why he could not finish it. Today, that is what I do for a living. Being a professor of theoretical physics, my job is to find the “theory of everything.” The leading candidate for it is called string theory, which is what I do for a living.

Q: Do you have any tips for K-12 students interested in exploring the broad field of science?

I tell students that we are all born scientists. We are all born wondering where we came from, why the stars shine, etc. But then students hit the “danger years” in junior high school, when much of that curiosity and wonder disappears. Science is made boring, just a list of things to memorize, and we lose young scientists by the millions. We teachers have to nourish this innate curiosity about science. I tell students that if they can weather the junior high school years, they have a shot at becoming a scientist.

Q: You’ve mentioned that artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and biotechnology will lead the coming wave of innovation. What careers do you envision requiring knowledge in those areas?

Right now, there is lots of talk of unemployment, yet ironically, there are plenty of jobs that are unfilled in the sciences. In fact, we cannot fill all the empty slots for young scientists, so we have to recruit from overseas. So there are plenty of jobs out there, especially in computer fields and medicine. Remember, the world is not getting less scientific. It is becoming more scientific. So even non-science jobs will require some basic knowledge of computers and biology.

Q: What can school districts start doing to ensure students are exposed to the fields you predict future careers will require?

Teachers have to be trained to guide students into these areas. Often, the students might know more about these fields than the teachers themselves. Most schools struggle with funding to provide the resources that all students need to succeed.

Q: What are some low-cost ways that schools can help the next generation of students embrace technological learning and prepare them for careers that do not yet exist?

Almost for free, one can download courses from major universities off the web. Teachers can serve as mentors to help students digest this material. In fact, more and more e-courses will provide the basic course materials of the future, while teachers become mentors. Teachers will provide career guidance, grade homework, give encouragements.

Q: Would students benefit from teachers incorporating the latest technology in science courses?

When I was young, all the science kids had slide rules on their belts. It was like a sword, a badge of courage. It meant that you were entering into the ranks of scientists. When I became a professor of physics, there was a debate among professors — many of them wanted to ban calculators in the exam rooms and require students to use slide rules. Other professors thought that this was stupid, since everyone uses calculators and slide rules were inefficient and falling out of favor. Today, the only place you can see a slide rule is in a museum. Many students today have never even seen a slide rule before.

The lesson is: use technology to teach scientific principles, rather than clinging onto the past.

Today, we graduate students to live well in the year 1950. Unfortunately, we don’t live in the year 1950 anymore. For example, physics is taught to medical students using levers, pulleys, friction, tuning forks, etc., rather than MRI scans, CAT scans, PET scans, cybersurgery and advanced genetics. In fact, a doctor’s office today is like an advanced physics laboratory. So, we have to change the curriculum so that it reflects the world of the future, not the past. Next, we have to teach science in terms of principles and concepts and not memorization.

My favorite Einstein quote is, “If a theory cannot be explained to a child, then the theory is probably useless.” In other words, great theories are based on simple pictures, principles and concepts that even children can understand, rather than pure algebra, which is often useless.