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What ‘The Martian’ Says About STEM Might Surprise You

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What ‘The Martian’ Says About STEM Might Surprise You

If you’ve seen “The Martian,” you know that the solution to being stranded on Mars by yourself without enough food or water is to “science the (expletive) out of it.”

In fact, the BBC called the movie (based on thebook by Andy Weir) a “love letter to science” – and it’s hard to believe that Matt Damon’s Oscar nomination won’t boost interest in ­high school and college STEM programs. ?There’s plenty of actual science in the movie (some of it enhanced because, well, it’s a movie) but if you aren’t too bewitched by Damon’s impish humor or feats of daring, you might find some broader truths about pursuing science, technology, engineering or math, such as:

  • STEM is physical.

    You don’t have to be a super-hero scientist like Tony Stark, but many fields not only get you outside but require physical strength or endurance or even bravery – say, if you’re a geologist pounding on rocks in the desert or an oceanographer at sea.

  • STEM is problem-solving.

    You learned the basic steps in sixth-grade science: State the problem, form a hypothesis, test a hypothesis, collect the data, analyze the data and draw conclusions. ?So, sure, Damon’s problems on Mars might be a bit worse than yours (“If the oxygenator breaks down, I'll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I'll die of thirst.”), but the scientific method could apply to (spoiler alert!) not only raising potatoes in space but also landing a prom date.

  • STEM is interdisciplinary and creative.

    Damon’s character is a botanist in the movie, but he has to use math, computer coding and engineering skills, to say nothing of out-of-the-box thinking. ?And he has to brainstorm with other scientists to achieve what he needs. ?It’s not always pretty, but in the end, this is a movie about teamwork, risk-taking and creativity as much as about the imagination and strength of one man. ?

  • STEM experts come in all sizes, shapes and colors. ?

    Damon may have been the star of “The Martian,” but he wasn’t the boss. The role of mission leader and space expert went to Jessica Chastain rather than to say, a crusty commander type like Tommy Lee Jones. And, thankfully, not all the scientists in the film were middle-aged white guys in lab coats. Donald Glover brings it home as a young NASA astrophysicist whose office is messy enough to be a science experiment in itself.

And finally, STEM gives you tools to be hopeful. As Damon’s astronaut says about the ridiculous odds that he’s going to die: “You can either accept that, or get to work.” And that’s true whether you’re stranded on Mars, trying to save your own planet or just facing the AP chemistry test.

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Susan Moeller-profile-picture

Susan Moeller is a former newspaper editor and reporter who has directed education coverage as well as written about schools and children. She lives on Cape Cod, has three children and is a veteran of the boarding school and college search process.