All Stories

Day 5: Scientist and Innovator in the Schools, Geoff Sale

Scientists and Innovators in the Schools (SIS) is a volunteer-based program that helps address British Columbia's need for more scientists, engineers, technologists and technicians to promote students' interest in these areas. Our goal is to inspire students with exciting, in-school presentations by real scientists. The program is offered to Grades K–12 everywhere in BC.

SW: Geoff Sale is an expert telecommunications technologist and astronomy enthusiast. Geoff is one of our longest serving volunteers through SIS.

Like many scientists and innovators, Geoff grew up tinkering. As a child, he built gear from scratch like radio transceivers, telescopes and even a seaworthy dinghy! In the end, it was his love of technology that motivated him to seek out a career in electronics and telecommunications. For nearly 35 years Geoff worked in process engineering and quality assurance at a high-tech electronics manufacturing plant.

Geoff has long been an advocate for technology careers and he thinks it’s important to support future generations in technology fields. While working, he also taught night classes at BCIT, sharing his expertise in quality assurance management with future technologists. Now, although Geoff officially retired in 2000, he remains very active with the Applied Science Technicians and Technologists of BC (ASTTBC), and regularly volunteers with SIS.

When Geoff travels to elementary schools around BC with SIS, he tries to share his duel passions for technology and astronomy. We asked him about his SIS volunteer experiences.

GS: I very much enjoy visiting schools, and I’m continually impressed, both with the focus and dedication of the teachers I meet, and with the existing knowledge and curiosity of their students. Frequently, one or two students in a class demonstrate that they are incredibly well informed on my topic, and that often surprises the teacher, who had no idea that those students knew what they knew!

I have a number of messages I try to convey to the students I talk to:

  • You know much more about space and the universe than you think you know.  Most likely, you already know more than the best experts did even 100 years ago.
  • You are made of a variety of elements, and you know what many of them are, even though you never thought of their being what makes you! And we go through a process of identifying those elements, and how they got into the students’ bodies.
  • How old are those atoms (especially the H in H2O)?  Where did they come from?  This leads to discussion of star lifetimes, supernovas, black holes, etc.
  • What’s the Goldilocks Zone, and why is it a thing?  This requires that they know the names of the planets in order, which they almost always do, and we talk about their moons and which ones Galileo found, and they always ask why Pluto got demoted!
  • You could be on the team which sends a probe to Europa, melts down through kilometres of ice, finds an ocean, and maybe life in that ocean. Stay in school if that sounds like a job you’d enjoy! Be a member of the first team of scientists that discovers life elsewhere in the universe!

Most of the time, these items and the ensuing Q&A consumes my entire visit! Often, there’s a cluster of students around me with more questions as I prepare to leave the classroom, and almost always the questions are thoughtful and valid, even from the youngest.

I regularly get contacted after the visits, often with a pack of original artwork created by the students, illustrating some of the topics we’ve discussed.

Looking to do your own space science? 

Our Date With Space activity is a game of critical thinking, deduction and reason. This card-based activity allows students to discover the sequence of important events in the history of space exploration. They’ll need to consider the progression of  technological advances to be able to match up important historical events with their corresponding dates. 

To request a scientist or innovator for your school or to volunteer to become one yourself, check out the Scientists and Innovators in Schools program page.