Highland Park kids learn from rocket scientist
Highland Park Thursday 08.30.12. Rocket scientist Shawn H. Phillips uses a straw while blowing on a ping pong ball while visiting Edgewood Middle School students on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, at the school in Highland Park. Phillips is the Deputy Chief of Space & Missile Propulsion at The Air Force Research Laboratory. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 10, 2012 12:26PM
HIGHLAND PARK — When rocket scientist Shawn Phillips first arrived at the Edwards Air Force Base in California, he was instructed to report for hazard training.
Phillips figured the training must involve occupational risks, such as working with combustible fuels.
He didn’t know then, but knows only too well now, the “hazards” related to living in the desert, alongside hunter mice that carry a virus, sidewinder snakes, scorpions and black widows. And did we mention the Mohave Green, the most poisonous and aggressive snake in the United States?
“It really looks like Mars,” said Phillips, speaking to students at Edgewood Middle School in Highland Park. “But there is a reason we are out there.”
Phillips’ mission on this particular day was to pique pupils’ interest in innovation during visits to teacher Howie Templer’s new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) laboratory.
Phillips is the deputy chief of space and mission propulsion for the Air Force Research Laboratory, where he oversees day-to-day operations.
Phillips took pains to distinguish the scientist from the innovator.
“A scientist asks questions about what is going on,” he said. “What is happening? Why is this happening?” he said.
“The innovator says, ‘How can I make this useful to the rest of the world?’
“Scientists don’t make the big bucks,” he observed. “Innovators make the big bucks.
“Do you know who was the greatest inventor and innovator in the history of the world?” he asked of the class. One student’s response — Thomas Edison — was dead-on.
“He would look at something and figure out what it could be used for,” said Phillips, noting that Edison discovered the paper clip, the lightbulb, the electrical transformer and the electrical grid system.
“He developed the entire energy system for the rest of the world,” Phillips said.
Phillips has a connection to North Shore District 112. His mother, Linda Ruger, works in the district’s business office.