Sunday, January 25, 2015

Did Disney Encourage You To Become A Scientist or Engineer?

We all know that what makes the Walt Disney World theme park different than not only other theme parks, but also other Disney theme parks, is that they actually have a very strong educational component to them. At Epcot and at Animal Kingdom, there are attempts to educate the public on various aspects of Biology, Ecology, Environment, Engineering, and Science. The two pavilions of Innoventions at Epcot are filled with such activities.

Still, I've often wondered if there are actually tangible effects out of all these. It is fine to say that you are educating people while they are having fun at a theme park, but where are the evidence that all these actually have a beneficial effects?

I think this is the first time I've actually read about something at a Disney theme park that encouraged someone to purse a career in science. Adam Ruben, a popular, and hilarious writer at Science, recounts his push into studying biology after a visit as a kid to "Living With the Land" attraction, or what was then called "Listen to the Land".

In one essay, I recalled a 1989 trip to Walt Disney World’s EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) Center near Orlando, Florida. That’s when I first rode “Listen to the Land,” a slow boat tour through futuristic greenhouses in which plants sprouted from Styrofoam, hung from floating rails, and thrived in symbiosis with tilapia farms. “It was the perfect field,” I wrote, “the implementation of technology to treat a widespread problem like world hunger.” (Somehow this response was not sufficient to admit me to a certain high-profile college whose name I won’t mention, not that I’m bitter. Let’s just say it starts with an “H,” and it’s in the Boston area, and it’s not Hult International Business School, Hebrew College, or Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.)

There was something about those plants, something inherently cool about the fact that you could grow lettuce in a nutrient broth or engineer a 9-pound lemon. It recalled similarly impressive horticultural achievements, like the hot dog tree from Big Top Pee-wee. And so, 8 years after my seminal visit to the “Happiest Place without Earth,” I applied to bioengineering programs with dreams of working in a futuristic greenhouse. (Later I’d drop the “engineering” part of bioengineering because, as I’ve said, engineering was too hard.)

In any case, I'm very much interested to read any other accounts similar to this. Or maybe you have a story with an opposite effect, that after visiting a Disney theme park, it turned you AWAY from doing science or engineering! :)


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