In 2021 the Future of Life Award went to Stephen Andersen, Susan Solomon, and the late Joseph Farman. Past winners of the Future of Life Award have been Vasili Arkhipov and Stanislav Petrov, both of who are credited with saving the world from nuclear war. Please let that sentence resonate for a moment. If EITHER of these 2 men had made a single different decision at a single moment in their lives our history afterward would have had us learning what it is like to recover from a nuclear conflict.
Math is super hard. It comes easy to very few and is far from intuitive to learn. I may have said it a few times but I heard it a million, “when are we ever gonna use this?”. It was the 1980s when I first confronted this question and there were no exciting answers at the time. Be an engineer or an accountant. That was the accurate answer. Science and math did not have the strong relationship they enjoy today. But as much as math hated me I always gave it maximum effort because there was one cool answer to the “when will we use this” inquiry… Astronaut.
I wanted to be an astronaut so bad. Partially because of childhood visits to the E.P.C.O.T. center, but mostly because of Lea Thompson (if you know you know). I actually did attend Space Camp, it was an amazing experience, I met amazing people, and had tons of fun. It was also made abundantly clear there were no tech advancements on the horizon getting my oversized ass to space, and there were some serious high performers in line for a shot. People who did their math homework and LOVED it!!.
People like the aforementioned Stephen Andersen, Susan Solomon, and Joseph Farman. They did their math homework. In doing so they discovered a gaping hole growing in the Ozone layer and sounded the alarm. Think about that for a moment. They used math and raw data to see an invisible hole in the atmosphere when the tools to verify it had yet to be invented. They showed POLITICIANS raw data and enough of them believed the scientists they began to initiate change. A massive public education campaign was launched, laws were charged, and the healing began before the data of the ozone layer had been verified. This is humanities biggest victory to date and we a debt of gratitude to the people who save our asses time and time again.
Stephen, Susan, and Joseph are all going down in history as weaponizing science and math for the benefit of all life on Earth. We do not need nuclear weapons. We need to celebrate minds that see the world through lenses invisible to most.