Alex stands beneath the underbelly of a model space ship strung from the glass ceiling at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and tips his head back. I observe his eyes, like two lively planets, drinking in his surroundings, and marvel at their sharp ability to take in and help interpret information. I think about how the human eye has been enhanced and assisted by technology with inventions such as the telescope and even bionic surgery, but in turn has inspired new technology. Alex tugs on my hand and I realize I’ve been lost in thought again.”Can we go to the planetarium, please, Mum?”I laugh, and say, “Yes!”.
He has an inquisitive nature and, despite only being five, shows an interest in coming to work with me and learning about information technology. I bend down to fix the Velcro on his shoe. “Did you know that astronauts have Velcro on their space suits too? And that it was nature that inspired its creation?”He looks at me and cocks his head to the side. “What does that mean?””Well, a sort-of long time ago, in the 1940’s, a man noticed that burrs would stick to dogs’ hair and he thought about how he could replicate this effect using science, so he got out his microscope and had a look at the dog hair. He made the observation that the burrs had tiny loops that could hook things. He realized he could create a sticky fabric in a similar way. That’s how he invented the Velcro on your shoe.”Alex shrugs and I laugh again.
Burrs and dog hair aren’t as exciting as the planetarium. I look in my bag to make sure I haven’t missed a call. My e-reader is still in my bag from the train trip. It’s screen was also inspired by nature; the gleaming wings of a butterfly that reflect the light inspired the first full color screen display which reflects rather than transmits light, enabling a device that can be read in sunlight and has a longer battery life.
Sometimes I like to immerse myself in nature; watch the way vines creep up a wall or the bitumen heats up under the summer sun. I love the idea that we can create new technology by studying nature. Alex and I join the line for the show about the moon.”I think I want to be an astronaut when I grow up,” Alex says enthusiastically.”By the time you grow up there will be all kinds of new technology and interesting careers that we can’t even imagine now, but I think space travel would be an excellent choice. Where would you go first?”Alex thinks for a moment. “Well, you can see the moon from your bedroom window, so maybe I’ll go there. That way you can still blow me a kiss at night.”