Wanted: A National Science Center

Since I served as commander of Ft. Gordon in Georgia many years ago, I have waged a long and partially successful struggle with my former boss and friend Lt. Gen. William Hillsman to create a National Science Center in which our nation's triumphs in science can be celebrated and used to inspire bright young people with inquiring intellects. I was motivated in part by my conviction that we were woefully unprepared for this new era of technological innovation, particularly with regard to the young people emerging from public schools. Then and now, the Signal Corps I was privileged to lead in my last four years on active duty was obliged to provide extensive training and education to recruits who should have been better prepared when they entered the service - a problem that seems to get worse with every passing year.

With support from the U.S. Army and the tech industry, I envisioned something special to convey the excitement of scientific discovery to youngsters and invite them to take ownership of it. In 1996, we created a generic science center in Augusta, Georgia, near Ft. Gordon, that included a movie theater and interesting exhibits. We took busloads of elementary school students through it, and I like to believe some of them were inspired to pursue careers in science. We also had two moving vans -- more like rolling laboratories -- loaded with scientific exhibits reflecting developing technology that took to the highways visiting schools mostly in the southeast. From 1996 to 2012, we operated the generic science center with declining monetary support from all sources. We eventually had to close the science center, but the foundation which still owns some real estate is still in existence.

In more recent years I have expanded my vision of a National Science Center that I believe should be located on the Mall in our nation's capital. There is already a Space Museum there as part of the Smithsonian Institution but many of its exhibits are way out in Virginia near Dulles Airport. In any event, I envision a National Science Center that embraces a lot more than space exploration.

I was recently the guest of Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, who has built a Living Computer Museum in Seattle. It features a progressive series of computers that have evolved from the first crude models to the astounding devices that now grace our offices and homes. An exhibit of computer technology should be part of the National Science Center I envision, as would exhibits devoted to medical science, physics, nuclear power, cyber technology, metallurgy, 3D printing, genetic research, ballistics, rocketry, nanotechnology, biotechnology, cosmology, robotics, you name it -- the entire gamut of fields in which science is advancing at an accelerating pace and rapidly changing virtually every aspect of the way we live and work.

Every year, millions of Americans -- including thousands of busloads of students -- disembark upon the Mall where they access the Smithsonian, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the World War II, Korean and Vietnam War Memorials, the National Archives, the Newseum, the Native American Museum, and many art galleries. Why not a National Science Center as well? It would be an exciting addition and would do the American people a world of good.

Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications", published by The History Publishing Company.