Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

An anniversary to note

It’s a bit late in the day for me to be mentioning this (sorry, I had other things to do), but today is the 30th anniversary of Sally Ride’s historic flight. (Which, of course, follows by two days the 50th anniversary of Valentina Tereshkova’s flight.)

At the time, Ride was the center of a huge media circus, with practically everything about her life up for scrutiny. But the thing that struck me was that, as an undergraduate, Ride was both an English and a physics major. It’s hard to imagine two undergrad majors that are more dissimilar than those two, although I will admit that some of the quantitative courses probably serve as “core distribution requirements” for the liberal arts major, and vice versa.

Over the past three decades, I’ve come to know many other STEM-educated people who have interests and skills in the arts and humanities. From the physics professor who once told me that she’d go crazy if she couldn’t play classical piano on a regular basis, to the astronomer who has become a landscape photographer in his retirement, to the Ph.D.’d electrical engineer who translates fantasy stories into her native Turkish, to the pediatric oncologist who plays a mean fiddle … all are human beings who use both sides of their brain to great joy.

With all the fuss nowadays about encouraging/urging/coercing young people to go into STEM careers, I think it’s important to point out to the young that studying something quantitative does not preclude your finding joy in the liberal or fine arts. From my own experience, though, I’d heartily recommend studying the STEM stuff when you’re young and picking up the humanities as you go along through life. I did it in the reverse order and have the scars to show for it.

I’ll end this little musing with a link to Mashable’s list of 10 badass quotes from Sally Ride. Ride on, and remember: The title of “first woman to walk on the Moon” is still up for grabs.

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