Sunday, July 11, 2010


In watching Kids’ Week on Jeopardy with Alex last week, I noticed something interesting about these bright upper-elementary students: their proposed career choices. They listed rather impressive possible jobs, such as marine biologist, cardiologist, anthropologist, and even President of the United States. While Alex hasn’t quite decided what career he wants to pursue, and we haven’t determined what God has planned for him, he has offered some interesting choices through the years. One scientific career Alex has discussed is meteorology. His interest in weather makes this a natural choice. I always find it interesting that he says that he wants to be “a meteorologist” and not a weatherman; he takes the science seriously. He is probably one of the few kids who knows and understands the Fujita and Saffir-Simpson Scales for tornadoes and hurricanes. His greatest fascination with weather, though, is in record temperatures. He enjoys looking up these extremes online, including recently finding The Weather Channel videos reporting record highs and lows posted on You Tube. I can almost picture him standing out in the elements with The Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore, reporting some extreme weather condition, but then I remember how much lightning scares him and think he’d more likely be working safely indoors with severe weather expert Dr. Greg Forbes instead.

When Alex was seven years old, he wanted to be an astronomer. He studied the planets, stars, and constellations, reading all the books he could find about them. Also, he loved astronomer Jack Horkheimer’s nightly five-minute Star Gazer show so much that Ed would wake him to see it shortly before midnight, and then Alex would happily return to sleep. One evening, we took him to see Valparaiso University’s telescope and observatory, and one would have thought we had taken him to Disney World because he was so excited. First, college students explained the Summer Triangle and allowed people to view it through the telescope. The brief description made such an impression on him that he still can list the three stars that comprise the triangle: Altair, Deneb, and Vega. The second part of the presentation took place in the observatory, where a student detailed the features of each planet. He described the eight planets and then asked if there were any questions. In the dark room, I suddenly heard a child’s voice beside me blurt out, “How about Pluto?” I was surprised that Alex spoke up, but I was pleased that he had been paying attention and wanted to know more. The student graciously explained how Pluto didn’t fit with the other planets, told Alex his question was a good one, and satisfied a curious possible future astronomer.

Probably his most consistent career choice through the years has been mathematician. Math has always been Alex’s favorite and his strongest subject. He can easily do math problems in his head accurately, often more quickly than most people can do them on a calculator. An idol of his is Professor Yasumasa Kanada, a mathematician at the University of Tokyo, who has set world records for calculating digits of pi using supercomputers. One of Alex’s proud accomplishments is that he has memorized nearly 1500 digits of pi. Once when he was twelve years old, I came home from school to find one of his legs covered in black. As I looked closer, I could see that it was ink, and upon even further inspection, I could make out numbers. Curious as to what he’d been doing (and also wondering where his father was when he was doing this), I asked him what was on his leg. He proudly replied, “The first 100 digits of pi.” I then asked him why he’d written them on himself, and he nonchalantly responded, “Because we ran out of paper.” I had to hand it to him: the boy was smart and resourceful. This incident reminded me of John Nash in the movie A Beautiful Mind writing formulas and equations on windows with a grease pencil; perhaps someday Alex will figure out something as equally brilliant as Nash’s game theory that won him the Nobel Prize. In the meantime, we try to encourage his interests and enthusiasm as we wait for God to lead him to his destiny. Also, we try to keep plenty of paper on hand, as well.

“For I know the plans I have for you, “declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11


Mom said...

Pam, I think it's amazing how many rather obscure facts you have absorbed by sharing Alex's interests in meteorology, astronomy, and mathematics. I think the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. But then, you always say that you're a gold mine of useless information. I'd argue that you're a gold mine of useful informaion, too.

Pam Byrne said...

Hi Mom,
The main difference between Alex's memory and mine, though, is that he just has to see things once to remember them, but I have to create mnemonics to memorize things. You're right that I've learned a lot from him; we teach each other. :)
Love, Pam