2007.03.21 Packing on the pounds is a real science


There’s a real shortage of math and science teachers in this country and a shortage of kids eager to go into math and science related professions. I don’t know why that it is. Math and science have such practical applications in the real world. Take that business about energy. You know how we learned in high school that it’s neither created or destroyed? Or is it matter they were talking about? Both? Whatever. You see examples of that law of physics all the time.

Weight loss is a prime example. People all around me are losing weight like crazy. And where do you think all those pounds go? That’s right, on my hips, thighs and stomach. I found them there again, wrapped around my abdomen in abundance, when I was trying on clothes at a resale shop this weekend.

It’s a closed system, weight loss—whenever someone loses pounds, someone gains. I don’t know what the practical applications are of that bit of physics, but I’m thinking I might have to seek out new friends and maybe even change my job given the rate of gain going on around my girth.

I suppose you can guess I wasn’t much of a physics student. I learned enough to do well on tests, but then all those facts flew out the window of my brain soon after passing the New York State Regents Exam. Science was just something to muddle through when I was in school, but now it’s getting pretty lucrative. High schoolers should wise up and get excited about math and science—there will be a payoff as early as the college years. The federal government is so worried about the shortage of students in those fields, it’s offering National SMART grants.

SMART (Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent) is a new program for junior and senior college students and it pays up to $4,000 a year for each of the third and fourth academic years. So students would have to first slug through those horrible introductory courses that turned this budding soil scientist into a social science major. The catch of course is that students have to pursue a major in physical, life, or computer sciences, engineering, technology, mathematics or a critical-need foreign language.

I don’t know what languages they’re talking about—Chinese would be among them, I’d wager—but a kid would be pretty smart to consider heading into one of those math and science fields. Just think, if there were lots of science-oriented kids studying the brain, they might be able to figure out how to get people to curtail eating and increase exercise when they see the pounds adding up on the scale and the inches on the tape measure tell them their pants aren’t going to fit today. Mathematicians could figure out how many pounds are lost and how to make sure they are gained elsewhere—across the world even—by people who could stand to use a few more pounds.

For this undisciplined lover of food, it’s going to take an educational revolution to impact my eating habits—or maybe even the powers of a magician. If science and magic combined forces, maybe they could figure out a way to make fattening food disappear when you think about eating it. I suspect it will entail employing that other law of physics called “now you see it, now you don’t.”

     March 21. 2007