Holt promotes science education in dedicating Science Complex

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), contrasted what he called an “appalling ignorance of what our country needs” with praise for the College’s emphasis on the importance of science education at the dedication of the Science Complex on Saturday.

“You can’t have science without involvement,” Holt said in the dedication’s keynote speech. The small size of science classes at the College, he said, supports the scientific principle that students should have the ability to get involved and, ultimately, “to teach others, whether they are formally teachers or not.”

He cited the 1957 launch of Sputnik as a high point of science education in “a country that is having trouble thinking like scientists.”

“We have to have a commitment to science education,” on a similar level as the research of the late 1950s, he said.

Holt said that his and many lobbyists’ work with regard to science education is being largely ignored in the nation’s capital. “We’ve kind of lost track in Washington,” he said.

Holt also denied several modern misconceptions about science, including the theory that “science is beyond the reach of ordinary people,” and commended the College for its new complex and the programs it houses.

Holt’s address, punctuated by several witty remarks, was greeted with laughter by those who braved the cold to attend the outdoor ceremony. Justin Nieusma, freshman physics major, agreed with Holt’s assertion that teaching is an essential part of science education.

“Teaching is not only the best way to learn yourself, but it really is important to teach (others) to be interested, to care, to wonder,” Nieusma said.

Nieusma was one of many science majors who lent a hand to Saturday’s proceedings in either the main Science Building, home to the Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics and Statistics departments, or the adjacent Biology Building. Some of these students helped to run tours in the observatory and planetarium.

Presentations of the planetarium were overseen by Raymond Pfeiffer, professor of physics and astronomy. Thulsi Wickramasinghe, professor of physics and astronomy, ran demonstrations for the observatory. “Definitely, we had a very good turnout,” Wickramasinghe said, noting that 50 or 60 people had passed through the observatory within three shifts of the tour.

The observatory and planetarium is home to some of the Science Complex’s most sophisticated equipment.

Wickramasinghe said that the current technology has been continuously developed since the complex first opened in 2003, and that much of the computer equipment is on par with professional software. He said that the observatory is “heavily used” by students for assignments.

Saturday’s cloudy weather interfered with plans to use the advanced telescope, so attendees did not get the full observatory experience. Many laboratories, however, were open to the public.

In addition to the tours given by students and faculty, poster presentations were given by those who participated in a scientific research program last summer at the College. Unlike the tours, which were individually run by different divisions of the School of Science, the presentations were a cohesive effort by all the science departments.

The event concluded when President R. Barbara Gitenstein joined Holt in performing the ceremonial ribbon-cutting.

The science complex is “critical to the advancement of this institution,” Gitenstein said.