Josh Chamot is the Public Affairs Specialist for Engineering at the National Science Foundation. Since joining the agency in 2001, Chamot has helped develop a number of news, feature and multimedia products for NSF and established several successful outreach partnerships. Recently, he joined the NSF-NBC Learn team.
Every two years, the Olympic Games focus world attention on a wide array of competitive sports, and those of us who write about science and technology try to find ways to piggy back on the experience.
Most resulting stories focus on new equipment, athletes’ near-impossible physical feats, or simple lessons in biology or physics, and while we reach new audiences and get people thinking about science and engineering, it’s not always clear we’re taking full advantage of the opportunity an Olympics—with its inspiring stories and global audience—presents to us.
This summer, the National Science Foundation (NSF) partnered with NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News, and NBC Olympics, a division of the NBC Sports Group, to leverage Olympics cachet to address a targeted challenge: connect the public with unsung heroes in engineering while differentiating engineering from science.
Engineering can overlap with science in approach and methodology, but the fields are not the same, and they generally take different, though complementary, routes to address societal needs.
While scientists do, and should, get wide recognition for discoveries and observations, engineers are often overshadowed by the technologies they create, or at times, are dubbed scientists in popular literature. That can lead to the public overlooking engineers’ unique approaches—such as those for problem solving, design and optimization—and missed opportunities to bring such approaches into national conversations.
Working with engineering program officers at NSF and a team of leading engineers from academia and industry, we developed ten videos that show how engineers solve problems and enhance experiences for athletes competing in the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Each episode features behind-the-scenes perspectives from a top Olympian paired with commentary from leading engineers that highlights the technologies that aid the athletes or the mechanics that explain their craft.
Additionally, each episode will soon be accompanied by two lesson plans, one for science and one for engineering, targeted to middle- and high-school teachers and developed by the National Science Teachers Association. the lesson plans are arriving just as engineering is becoming a component of national, pre-collegiate teaching standards.
We have partnered with NBC Learn on six prior video series, efforts that have led to Emmy awards for Science of the Winter Olympic Games and Science of NFL Football, but this series is our first to exclusively highlight engineering.
While we chose to use the “Science of . . .” moniker due to the established brand, our new series Science of the Summer Olympics: Engineering in Sportsfocuses attention on consistent use of engineering themes, researchers and terminology in every video so that we could deliver a comprehensive message.
It will be some time before we learn if our efforts yield the desired impacts, but we are hopeful that we have moved in a new direction that highlights the critical role of engineering in a way that could further efforts to clarify the profile of engineers.