A senior in high school (let’s call him Tom) arrived at my home this evening, shortly after failing his calculus final. His mother had contacted me, hoping that I would help him pass a re-test. We had never met before. In two hours, I did my best to prepare Tom to earn 22 more points than he did the first time he took the final.
As we worked, Tom told me that he’s been accepted to college and intends to study nanotechnology there. Moving quickly (obviously, time was of the essence!), I showed Tom the M4S profile of Bioengineer Derek West, who uses nanoparticles of gold to target and kill cancer cells, and emailed him the url so that he can learn more about nanotechnology before heading to college.
Sitting at the table with me was an intelligent, highly capable student. One of the first things he told me, as we sat down to attempt to tackle a year’s worth of calculus in two hours, was that he enjoys and is good at algebra. This proved to be true. But senior slump and who knows what other forces had conspired to prevent Tom from learning much at all about derivatives and integrals. And no one had stepped in to prevent him from failing until now, when it may have been too late (for this class, anyway).
More worrying was the fact that Tom seemed determined not to take math in college, despite his knack for algebra and aspiration to go into nanotechnology.
Why are so many people spending time, effort, and money on Math4Science? Because math students across the country should learn words like “nanotechnologist” AS they learn the math that will help them become one (e.g. “nano” means billionth or 10^-9 — that’s why nanometers are so small you can’t see them without a powerful microscope). They should be familiar with the work of Derek West and other STEM professionals: life-saving work that math helps prepare them to do.