By Andrew Mitchell
Although the high-technology market only accounts for three per cent of B.C.'s economy, with an annual growth rate of 9 per cent it is one of the fastest growing industrial sectors in the province. High-tech companies currently employ 50,000 scientists, physicists, engineers and technicians and many more are needed for B.C. to compete nationally and internationally.
The challenge, according to the B.C. Information, Science and Technology Agency is to "spark the imaginations of students and inspire enthusiasm for careers in science."
Dr. Calvin Winter — President of Whistler's Quantum Technology Corp., father of three, and head of the Whistler Math, Science and Technology Club — is working on it.
"My goal is to give kids an opportunity to see technology not as something someone else does, but as something they can do themselves," says Winter. For an hour and a half every week, Winter leads his club members through experiments that are designed to entertain as well as educate.
"It has to be fun," says Winter, who has donated his time to the club for the past two years. "If it isn't fun, then it isn't worthwhile."
The club's latest experiment involves turning human power into mechanical energy, and mechanical energy into electrical energy. Put in layman's terms, that means hooking the rear wheel of a BMX bike up to an alternator and pedalling your guts out. And there's no shortage of human power among the club members, many of whom aren't even in high school yet.
"We could probably light up half of Whistler with this bunch," says Winter, as the club members lined up for a turn pedalling the bike.
Last Thursday, the bicycle-powered generator was the centrepiece at a club open house event to mark the province's annual Festival of Science and Technology. The topic was Energy Technology in B.C., and guest speakers included Wayne Cankovic, manager of Centra Gas in Whistler, and Sean Wolfe, a marketing manager for Quantum.
Winter says that more of this kind of involvement from members of the science and technology community is needed to show children the kinds of opportunities that exist outside of the school curriculum.
"Generally speaking, I feel industry is not that supportive of students," says Winter. "What I would like to see is more scientists in the schools, volunteering their time to put on a show-and-tell."
Other goals for the Math, Science and Technology Club are familiarizing the students with the tools that are used in science and "showing the kids that math is useful for something," says Winter.
"Today's workforce is very demanding in terms of technology. Although school programs are very valuable steps in that direction, they don't go nearly far enough. For example, the high school has a wood shop, but there are no facilities for a metal shop or an electronics shop. The club used both to build the bicycle."
Whistler's Math, Science & Technology Club meets every Thursday at 3 p.m. in the multipurpose room of Whistler Secondary.