Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In which people pretty much rock

I am a skeptic.

Born and bred.

I always set myself up for failure. I always have a Plan B. I always figure someone will let me down - hard - and that I will fall flat on my face.

But I'm so. Totally. Wrong.

So lately my Little Prince is really into SCIENCE.

"I'm going to be a scientist someday, Mom. Actually. I think I'm one now."

He's always pondering around the house, doing "'spearaments" and drawing elaborate designs for his inventions.

Recently he took it upon himself to make a robot. Not having much luck with cardboard, he appealed to me to write to a REAL scientist. The level of begging and insistence was such that I had to give in.

The letter written:
Dear Scientist - Can you make a robot that will do what I say? I want him to
be 20 feet tall. Also, how do you be a scientist? Do you make stuff? That's
it! Oh, and one more thing. I'd like him to be gray with two hands that can
move and can make stuff and turn into stuff. And he needs to be nice and
obedient. And maybe build a robot school that teaches robots to be good. Okay?
(dictated word for word by his mom, Becky ;o)
Little Prince was absolutely convinced that a 20 foot robot would appear on the doorstep the next morning.

I, of course, set him up to fail:

"Scientists are really busy, sweetheart. He may take a while to write back. He may not even write back at all. We just have to be patient."

But the jokes on me. Because the very next day, waiting in my inbox was the following:
Thanks for submitting your question to the MadSci Network. Some of us here at the MadSci Network do build robots, and some of us use them in our work.

However, *you* can build robots yourself (probably with a little help from your mom). There are many robot kits available for young students like yourself to learn about building and programming robots. One that I am aware of is the "lego mindstorm" system (I'm not endorsing this product, but I know that we have received many questions about it here at MadSci). You can  find more about this system here:

And you can read this answer in our archives about some other robotic kits:

When *I* was only a little older than you, I wanted to build robots too. I got my dad to buy me a book (I still have it) called  "How to Build a Computer Controlled Robot", by Tod Loofbourrow.  I never did build a robot, but I learned a lot from reading that book.  See:

Also, you should know that most robots are not shaped like people. We need robots to do things that people cannot or do not want to do, and so they are often shaped very differently from people. In my work, I use two robots (called a BeeBlot and an  AutoReli) that move liquids around for me so that I can go and do other things.  You can see a picture of the BeeBlot robot here:

It doesn't look much like a person does it? :)

In order to become a scientist, I had to go to school for a while. I went to elementary  school (like you), and then junior high-school, high-school, and then college, and then after college I went to graduate school to earn my doctorate degree. All together, that was 23 years of school! But it was in school that I learned everything I need to know  to be come a scientist. So, if you want to be a scientist, and I hope you do, because we always need more scientists, do your best in school, and be sure to ask your teacher if you don't understand something. Of course, you can always ask us too. :)

I don't build robots in my work, but I do make computer programs, which are the things that tell robots what to do. The interesting thing about robots is that they don't  have to go to school to learn to be good -- you just have to write a program that tells them to be good, and then you can give that program to all the robots!

So, I hope that this answers your questions, but if it doesn't, feel free to send us some more!


Steve Mack, Moderator MadSci Network
See that? People. PRETTY MUCH ROCK.

And Little Prince is still floating.


Sarah said...

That's pretty much awesome, I agree!

If your Little Prince continues to love science and robots, you should check out Lego League. Some schools sponsor these groups and they - I'm not kidding - build lego robots using those mindstorms robots.

LP might be a little bit young right now, but file it away for the future.

MommyJ said...

I love it when people are awesome! I have a budding engineer in my house... constantly building things. I wonder who we could email...

Melissa Bastow said...

That is really awesome.

And I think it's great that LP has so much ambition at such a young age. My kids are still saying stuff like, "When I grow up, I'm going to be a HYENA!!"

Wonder Woman said...


I am seriously in awe of the fast and thorough and considerate response. If LP wasn't already going to be a scientist, he will now. You don't forget that kind of thing.


janae said...

Dude, I love that man. Honestly, I do. Who knew people like that existed?!

LisAway said...

WOW. That is a seriously detailed and thoughtful letter. Instead of just "You can make your own robot by following this link", which would also have been nice, I cannot believe how he answered every fear and thought LP might possibly have. Now there is someone who knows and CARES about how a young scientist feels and thinks. Awesome.

Melanie Jacobson said...

I love it! And we do lots of "spearaments around here, too."

Jocelyn Christensen said...

That is so great!

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

That is so cool. I'm so happy for him. And you.

HeatherKitts said...

Ah! My day has been made!! There is still good in the world!! :)

Courtney Wilson said...

That is AWESOME!!

Megan said...

One of the best things you could do for yourself right this moment is buy a Roomba and/or a Scooba. It'll change your life and he'll get his robots. They are amazing and I use one of them 1-3x/day... They are lifesavers in desert living!

Susie J. said...

That is so incredible!! I hope that when my own little future-engineer starts demanding that I dictate letters to experts in the not-too-distant-years, I am able to find someone that awesome to respond to him. THIS is the sort of thing that spurs kids on to follow their heart and learn to love a particular field of study and exploration. KUDOS to Steve Mack and MadSci in general!

Kimberly said...

Best thing ever? When people who rock (like you) get to encounter other people who rock (like that guy). Love it!

Just SO said...

I love it! I love that this guy took the time to sit down and write this to your little prince. Good people are out there. OH and if Little Prince does make a robot that will do whatever you tell it to do can I be first in line to buy one?

DeNae said...

It takes so little to make such a huge difference in the lives of others. Thank heaven for the wonderful people who understand this.

Qait said...


Stepper the Mighty said...

That is so cool! I read it aloud to my man on the couch, and we're both grinning ear to ear and talking about that super kind scientist who was so deliberate in answering all of Little Prince's questions.

I want a scientist of my very own.

Man, you know? People pretty much DO rock!

Danielle said...

How great! This made my day. Totally inspiring.