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Sciencey Heroes For Young Children? 614

An anonymous reader writes "Unhappy that all his friends have heroes he knows nothing about (they've all chosen hockey players — actually a hockey player: Sidney Crosby), my eight-year-old son asked me if I would find him a 'cool hero.' When pressed to define 'cool,' he very earnestly gave me this list of acceptable professions: 'Astronauts, explorers, divers, scientists, and pilots.' A second and only slightly less worthy tier of occupations includes 'inventors, meteorologists, and airplane designers.' To be eligible for hero status, an individual must be (1) accomplished in one of these fields, (2) reasonably young (it pains me to report that Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, NASA's youngest astronaut and now just 31, barely makes the cut), and, critically to my naive son's way of thinking, (3) respected by third graders nationwide. Ignoring that last criterion, or not, what heroes would you suggest from the sciences as people whose lives and accomplishments would be compelling to an eight-year-old mind?"
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Sciencey Heroes For Young Children?

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  • by King InuYasha ( 1159129 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @09:55PM (#34263798) Homepage

    Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger is 35 as of this year, not 31....

  • Here's a few (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mknewman ( 557587 ) * on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @09:56PM (#34263808)
    Mythbusters Adam and Jamie, Dean Kamin, and even Mike Rowe come to mind.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      They're TV performers - none of them studied science academically - what? Russian Lit and no college for the other one?

      Neil DeGrasse Tyson would be my best suggestion.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        XKCD Zombie Feynman says, "so what?" They've got the spirit of it, if not the formalism and rigor.

        This is even more the case since we're looking at examples for young children who need the showmanship and wouldn't appreciate the difference anyway.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          They have done quite a bit to advance the public's thinking of science, and without passing through years of deadlocked science conferences, unread magazine articles and academic review.

          Then again, they've done this without those kinds of checks, which means that their science could be (and has been proved to be, on revisits of myths) incorrect.
          • Re:Here's a few (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Martin Blank ( 154261 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:59PM (#34264420) Homepage Journal

            The willingness to revisit myths is a hallmark of the scientific process, though. They have a hypothesis -- the myth -- and collect initial evidence to determine a certain level of plausibility. They then move to large-scale experiments. In some cases, their experiments disprove the hypothesis. However, upon peer review (using the term loosely), problems with their experiments may be pointed out, and they revise and rerun the experiment. Sometimes the original results are overturned, and they can, to some degree, form a theory.

            The Mythbusters are the first to claim that what they do is more entertainment than science. You just don't often hear things like "Jamie wants big boom" coming from real scientists. But normal people learn from their abbreviated process anyway, as you said, and that's what is important right now.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by stiggle ( 649614 )

        Einstein was a patent clerk.
        Da Vinci was a painter.
        Priestley was clergy (he discovered oxygen, & invented carbonated drinks).
        Since when was a lack of university education & a job in the field a requirement to be a scientist - all you need is the ability and interest to investigate the subject. Even better if you can encourage the next generation to become interested too.

        Studying science academically just means you're taught what everyone else already knows and your thinking is moulded by your lectu

    • Re:Here's a few (Score:5, Informative)

      by spinkham ( 56603 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:42PM (#34264280)

      Brian Cox [], aslo known as the "rock star of Physics". Works on the Large Hadron Collider, has his own TV series on the solar system, was in the 2009 "sexiest men alive" issue of People, and played the keys for some semi-famous 90's bands. Not too shabby.

      • Another Brian (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @11:27PM (#34264596)

        How about another Brian [], a bona fide rock star (i.e. older than most people on /.) and also astrophysicist. Took a detour from his PhD work to play lead guitar for the British rock band Queen []. Finally finished his PhD in 2007. Is one step from away from knighthood.

    • This series from the 1990s is somehow owned by Disney, despite it being funded by the National Science Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (in otherwords the taxpayers should own it). I tried to find a way to buy the show on DVD but all I could find was the educational institution price of something like $700 for the whole series. That was obviously absurd, so I found it via bittorrent. Anyone who reads this site should also be able to find it.

      It's great fun and educational. My son lov
  • Age is a Problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheWanderingHermit ( 513872 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @09:56PM (#34263816)

    His friends are all looking at sports heroes and you're looking at people with long careers. There's a big difference.

    Athletes only have a few decades in which they'll do well, then they retire. So it's easy to find a younger athlete as a hero: as they get older, they lose it.

    But almost all the other professions take time to get experienced in. They require learning and years of experience to excel, other than something like astronaut, which can include younger people.

    Too bad you can't include people like Chuck Yeager or Wiley Post.

    • Re:Age is a Problem (Score:4, Interesting)

      by pla ( 258480 ) on Thursday November 18, 2010 @08:33AM (#34266724) Journal
      But almost all the other professions take time to get experienced in. They require learning and years of experience to excel, other than something like astronaut, which can include younger people.

      Actually, you have that backward. Astronauts require YEARS of training, which usually doesn't even start until they've had a reasonable distinguished early military career.

      Most of the "rock stars" of science made their contributions while still quite young... Einstein published on special Relativity at 24, James Watson (of Watson & Crick) published on the structure of DNA (which he later admitted to "discovering" while trippin' balls) at 25. Alan Turing published his On Computable Numbers... at 24 and built the world's first real computer at 32.

      I could go on.
  • Jacques Cousteau is pretty damn cool. He kinda fails #2 though. Perhaps one of the younger Cousteaus?
  • So what if he's dead. ;_;

  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @09:58PM (#34263838)
    Buckaroo Banzai
  • Carl Sagan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ninja Programmer ( 145252 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @09:59PM (#34263852) Homepage
    There is no other.
    • NIKOLA TESLA (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:34PM (#34264190)

      See subject-line...


      P.S.=> He's a PRIME EXAMPLE of that "once in a generation mind"... apk

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Urza9814 ( 883915 )

        EXACTLY what I was here to say. He doesn't quite fit the criteria, but what 8 year old _wouldn't_ love him? He's _CLASSIC_ mad scientist! Only problem is that you'd have to spend some time explaining who he is. But seriously - the world as we know it would not exist without him...and this is the same man who was thinking of death rays, worldwide free wireless electricity, global communications - he damn near thought of the internet before we even had electricity!

    • Re:Carl Sagan (Score:5, Insightful)

      by syousef ( 465911 ) on Thursday November 18, 2010 @12:19AM (#34264930) Journal

      There is no other.

      Be careful with role models. By all accounts he was a brilliant science popularizer and a better than average scientist. But he was also petty and arrogant and thought a lot of himself and treated women badly. Read one of the biographies. I think that is what you should teach kids - that even their heroes and role models may be exemplary in one or more areas of life without being perfect or even acceptably good in other areas. Therefore only emulate the good, and don't be disheartened when you learn about the bad.

      That said every child should watch COSMOS at least once and read a few of his books. Pale Blue Dot and Demon Haunted World would be my recommendations (though I'm sure some of the more religious types will disagree with the latter).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by houghi ( 78078 )

        But he was also petty and arrogant and thought a lot of himself and treated women badly.

        Sounds like he is on par with the current sports heroes.

  • by Ikronix ( 1233418 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:00PM (#34263854)
    ...the superhero with the power to wait patiently while supervillains expend too much energy, returning them to an inert and nonthreatening state!
  • in Eureka.

    He's pretty young. Who cares if he's not real. Heroes are larger than life, anyhow, right?

  • AronRa []. It's possible I'm old and out of touch, but I have to think your son would find him cool.

    He fails most of your criteria -- he's still a student (in his spare time) though he certainly seems to know his stuff, he's a scientist/biker (and definitely looks the 'biker' part), he's likely not young enough -- but I'd encourage your son to look at the man before passing judgment (I hope I look that good at that age), and if third-graders nationwide knew anything about him, I have to imagine they'd feel the

  • Space! (Score:2, Interesting)

    Werner von Braun, Hermann Oberth, Robert H. Goddard, Yuri Gagarin. -Space nut, out.
  • Who needs a hero? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:02PM (#34263882)

    You kid seems smart. Maybe ask why he feels the need to have a hero? And why this hero needs to pass some sort of test of being 'accepted by your kids peers' ?
    I understand the need for kids to fit in somehow, but maybe he can transcend this.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tekfactory ( 937086 )

      Because our brains are pattern matching engines and we need to see patterns in order to recognize and or emulate them.

      The fitting in part is a necessary part of growing up and we don't have a better way to do it yet.

      Why has nobody mentioned Michio Kaku yet? I know he's too old, but he's the only one on TV right now with the old Carl Sagan vibe.

      Also Phil Platt for Bad Universe if there were more episodes.

  • Jeri Ellsworth (Score:2, Insightful)

    Jeri Ellsworth, AKA "Lady Ada" []

    Read some of her articles [] on [] hackaday [].

    Brilliant, clever, and resourceful. Definitely hero material.

  • How about a whole team of heros. See [] While I do not like everything about the program, the students really do catch some of the excitement of science and engineering.
  • He's not terribly young, but Michio Kaku [] would be a good choice after watching some of his shows.

  • physicist! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Richard Feynman!

  • Two words (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kaoshin ( 110328 )
    Gordon Freeman.
  • 1. Neil Armstrong
    2. Buzz Aldrin
    3. Pete Conrad
    4. Alan Bean
    5. Alan Shepard
    6. Edgar Mitchell
    7. David Scott
    8. James Irwin
    9. John W. Young
    10. Charles Duke
    11. Eugene Cernan
    12. Harrison Schmit
    • I really don't think you could count any of them as "reasonably young". Unless, perhaps, if you add Methuselah to your list.
  • by btlyger ( 1941696 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:20PM (#34264050)
    Bill Nye the Science guy was the only educational show that was actually cool to watch. Lets get another season of Bill Nye and teach these kids how to make volcanoes.
  • Phil Plait (Score:5, Informative)

    by Colonel Korn ( 1258968 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:20PM (#34264052)

    AKA The Bad Astronomer. Read Death from the Skies with your kid - it's quite entertaining and has a persistent message that rational thought is superior to sensationalism.

  • by Allyoop ( 1205264 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:21PM (#34264056)
    Neil deGrasse Tyson I wish I read his book "The Universe Down to Earth" when I was in grade 9. I think it would have greatly shaped my school pathway for a 'real' science career. []
    • I concur. He should definitely devote his hero worship to Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He does great stuff when he's not ruining pluto, and he really gets how to explain science to laymen/kids.

  • what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by X_Bones ( 93097 ) <> on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:21PM (#34264060) Homepage Journal
    no love for the safe-crackin', bongo-playin', Challenger-investigatin' Richard Feynman?
    • He's my hero, does that count? (I'm 31 though).

      For a slightly younger person, perhaps Garrett Lisi? He's older than what #2 seems to require, but he's still quite young at 42 and is doing some interesting work. He's also a surf bum :D

  • Find your own hero, kid.

    I just asked my 12yo son, and -- as I will ever be thankful -- it would never cross his mind to ask me to find him a hero. (I even asked him if he would have when he was 8. Nope.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Find your own hero, kid.

      Better yet, if you think your kid has a love for science, tell him that both "coolness" and "hero worship" are antithetical to real science. Science is not a popularity contest, nor is science made great because it is done by a great scientist. Good science stands because it withstands further scientific challenge, and the personal characteristics of the scientist do not matter one bit.

      Then past that, remember that no matter how things may appear, as a parent *you* are always going to be your child's mo

  • i remember reading hardy boys, narnia and tom swift novels when i was a kid - the tom swift stories always emphasized science, invention, and technology - great books. the tintin books are also science positive. :-D

    all the best
    john p

  • Youres or his? (Score:4, Informative)

    by icegreentea ( 974342 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:27PM (#34264116)
    Is this list for him, or is really for you? =P

    Joking aside, tell him about Joseph Kittenger and Felix Baumgartner. Kittenger was the pilot/sky diver involved in Project Excelsior. The highest/longest sky dive in history. 15 minutes of free fall. Felix Baumgartner is a dare-devil currently trying to break that record. He's being sponsered/supported by Red Bull (come on, thats instant cool), and Kittenger is consulting on the whole thing. If all goes to plan Baumgartner will break the sound barrier. With his body.

    If he wants famous aircraft designers, two giants that come to mind are Ben Rich and Kelly Johnson, both of Lockheed Skunkworks fame. Unfortunately, they're both gone from this world... the days of airplanes being a single person's brain child is quickly faming (if not gone). If you wants some famous pilots, probably the single most important pilot would be John Boyd. One of the best fighter pilots ever, he also went ahead and pushed an entire generation of air force fighters into service, developed an entire engineering metric on comparing the performance of fighters, and then went ahead and revolutionized the way we fight wars (look up Maneuver warfare... all of the official doctrines of the armed services are based on his ideas).
  • Wile E. Coyote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:28PM (#34264130)
    My science hero is Wile E. Coyote. He's the reason I became a scientist in the first place. As a kid, I had always been very impressed by how even the simplest scientific approach would always allow Wile E. to capture all those pesky Road Runners with ease.

    I can honestly say that without him as a role model, I would never have become a physicist or discovered how to paint the dimensional portal which brought me to this world years ago.

    Unfortunately, the rules of physics seem to be slightly different here for some reason, and I have been stranded ever since. Oh well...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I can honestly say that without him as a role model, I would never have become a physicist or discovered how to paint the dimensional portal which brought me to this world years ago.

      So what you're saying is that you're from Cool World?

      Okay, but seriously, you'd probably like Phineas and Ferb [], as would the kid in question. Not being real I guess they don't qualify as role models, but they're definitely worth watching until a real world role model shows up.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      When I applied to MIT anno 1980, part of the application process was to write an essay titled, "What is my favorite cartoon character and why." So this was essentially a "Who's your hero" question. I chose Wile E. Coyote. The focus was about his persistence: despite that all his ingenious attempts to catch the Roadrunner with cockamamie contraptions failed, he never gave up. He always came up with something new to try.

      The admissions folks loved it, and I got a call from the local MIT rep to come by for

  • by arbitraryaardvark ( 845916 ) <gtbear AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:36PM (#34264206) Homepage Journal

    i dont know an obvious answer. i'm kind of out of touch with 8 year olds, but they havent heard of carmack or musk and think that tesla's a band.
    wil wheaton isn't famous enough, oh i dunno maybe he is do kids these days watch next generation reruns on spike?
    he pops up on eureka and csi and that one with the nerds... now and then. i guess 8 year olds dont watch the guild. or know who randall munroe is.
    hey how about richard branson? a lot of 8 year olds are virgins these days.

  • My 2 cents (Score:3, Informative)

    by bradgoodman ( 964302 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:36PM (#34264214) Homepage
    I don't have many idols, but I really idolize Howard Hughes (That's the pre-insane Howard Hughes).

    The dude was a pilot and all - but he went on to really design and build these planes. He was such a "hands-on" guy, a real genius and innovator. I never knew any of that about him before watching some movie about him. I'd recommend the same.

    My 8 year old daughter's idol is Buzz Aldran. I totally respect the guy too. Aside from obviously being the second guy on the moon - he was (I think) #1 in his class at MIT after doing his thesis on Orbital Docking manuvers - before any such thing was actually done.

    Aside from just "flying the spaceship" and "walking on the moon" - even today, he continues to innovate in the area of space travel. He has a web site where you can see not just some of his old stuff, but new stuff as well. He's not just part of history, he's really part of the present.

  • Of course, he doesn't really meet many people's idea of "young", but he did save a plane full of people by keeping his cool under pressure. Plenty of lesser men would have ended up crashing the plane and losing everyone. Even though he doesn't think himself a hero, I'd say he is worthy of consideration at least.
  • Willy Messerschmitt (Score:4, Interesting)

    by germansausage ( 682057 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:40PM (#34264248)
    Airplane Designer Hero - got to be Willy Messerschmitt!
  • explorer/diver (Score:3, Informative)

    by tloh ( 451585 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:40PM (#34264250)

    Robert Ballard

  • Steve Wozniack - aka Woz. Obviously he's "the guy who invented the Apple" - but if you read iWoz, or learned about him - that is all just the culmination of who and what is is.

    I would say Steve Jobs too - reluctantly.

    On the upside - he's incredible. Most people who are killer successfuly in business do it once. He's done it several times. Most people that come up with killer products do it once. He's done it many times. Even when he's ousted, he comes back, proves he was right - and flips everything ba

  • by NonSenseAgency ( 1759800 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @10:48PM (#34264336)
    Burt Rutan, spaceships have got to be waaay cool to an 8 year old.
  • Elon Musk (Score:5, Interesting)

    by francium de neobie ( 590783 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @11:04PM (#34264462)
    PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla... you can literally change the world with technology, and get reasonably rich doing that.
  • Ok... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geminidomino ( 614729 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @11:11PM (#34264504) Journal

    Admit it... that was a major "proud papa" moment.

  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @11:26PM (#34264590)
    Not only did they test out a migration theory by sailing across the Pacific on a balsa wood raft, half of them were extreme badass commandos that blew up a Nazi nuclear facility in WWII.
    Then there's the Easter Island stuff. While crappy TV shows say "who knows why these roads go into the sea" Thor put on the scuba gear and found they were boat ramps. When the crappy TV show said "who knows how the statues were erected" Thor asked the locals, put on a huge BBQ for them and they showed him how it was done.
    Then of course there are plenty of other examples of people in science doing things kids will find heroic - vulcanologists in rubber boats on acid lakes, polar explorers and many others.
  • Ray Kurzweil (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BlueMonk ( 101716 ) <> on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @11:28PM (#34264604) Homepage

    He's an inventor, scientist, author, futurist, musician and probably plenty more I don't even know about. And he's still alive... and hopes to be alive forever due to evolving technology.

  • Reasonably young?? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fishexe ( 168879 ) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @11:56PM (#34264800) Homepage

    To be eligible for hero status, an individual must be (1)...(2) reasonably young (it pains me to report that Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, NASA's youngest astronaut and now just 31, barely makes the cut), and, critically to my naive son's way of thinking, (3)...

    Since when do 8-year-olds know the difference between 45-year-olds and 30-year-olds? They were all just grown-ups to me when I was that age. There were, like, 4 categories of people: kids, big kids, grown-ups, and old folks (technically a subset of grown-ups, but distinguished by completely gray/white hair and large amounts of wrinkles). I don't think I became aware of the difference between 45 and 30 until I was at least 11.

  • Why young? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Thursday November 18, 2010 @12:04AM (#34264848) Homepage Journal
    Why do they have to be young? When I was in middle school, my hero was Einstein.

    But, I don't think you're going to find a 20-year-old science hero, like you would a 20-year-old sports hero. To really have a science career, you have to have a PhD, and then some career after that. I think the best you can do is a 30-year-old with promising research, or a 20-year-old whose a promising genius, or made a great invention. Other than that, you're looking for a person who has a PhD + 10 years' work behind them.
  • by Bob Cat - NYMPHS ( 313647 ) on Thursday November 18, 2010 @12:05AM (#34264852) Homepage

    While he is a fine young hockey player, and I fully expect him to lead his team to a Stanley Cup, there is one thing that every eight year old should know about him before indulging in any form of 'hero worship'.


  • Lord British! (Score:4, Informative)

    by trickofperspective ( 180714 ) on Thursday November 18, 2010 @12:59AM (#34265148) Homepage

    Teenage video-game prodigy and self-made astronaut Richard Garriott!

  • by VShael ( 62735 ) on Thursday November 18, 2010 @07:11AM (#34266458) Journal

    As a 9 year old girl, she debunked the whole Therapeutic Touch nonsense, with a sensible experimental design.

    If it helps, she grew up to be a smoking hottie, as well as having brains to burn. IMO, young kids could look
    up to her for both her critical thinking skills, and the way she was no swayed by arguments-from-authority of
    the "we're older than you, so we know better" sort.

Syntactic sugar causes cancer of the semicolon. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982