From slide rules to computers the size of a large desk, technological advances have an enormous effect on society, the assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering told students at Oxon Hill High School on Wednesday morning.
“I would encourage you students to consider what are those things you want to change,” said Zachary J. Lemnios, an electrical engineer who was appointed in 2009 to his post in the U.S. Department of Defense by President Obama. “The idea is to think about where you could make a difference.”
Lemnios spoke to more than 300 Oxon Hill High students as part of the Nifty Fifty lecture series leading up to the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., on April 27 and 28. The lecture series, which is put on by festival organizers to encourage students to pursue careers in science and engineering, sends 100 science and engineering professionals to schools in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area, including two who visited Bladensburg High School and Central High School in Capitol Heights in March.
Inventions such as augmented reality glasses and cars that drive themselves, as well as military developments such as guided munitions or color-changing camouflage “require students like you to think about the art of the possible,” Lemnios told students, who expressed awe at the existence of glasses he said could translate street signs into the wearer’s native language.
The idea of autonomous cars, for which Nevada has approved regulations, interested Xavier McCoy, a sophomore from Accokeek who is considering a career in engineering.
Xavier and several classmates discussed the possibility of flying cars that could lessen traffic jams.
“Maybe we’re the missing pieces,” he said. “Maybe we’re the ones who could put the finishing touches on some of these ideas.”
Anita Dabney, a sophomore from Clinton, noted that some other countries are more technologically advanced than the United States, but the development and marketing of new technologies by Americans could boost the country’s economy.
The applicability of the technologies Lemnios mentioned in his presentation could inspire students to enter science and engineering fields, said Olivia Pearson, the coordinator of Oxon Hill High’s science and technology program.
“The students were able to speak to someone who has a direct impact on the technology they’re using,” she said. “Seeing the real-world relevance could inspire anybody.”
And Lemnios tried to do just that, encouraging students with stories of innovation from the Wright brothers’ airplane to commercial space travel.
“It’s all about making a little change today that will have a big effect tomorrow,” he said.