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What makes America (and civilization) great

June 7, 2016
Adam FrankAdam Frank, professor of physics and astronomy. (University photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Astronomy professor Adam Frank regularly writes for NPR’s 13.7: Cosmos & Culture, a blog featuring commentary on science and society. In his latest post, Frank traces the “line from [Ellis] Chesbrough’s audacious plan to make Chicago a clean, functioning city 150 years ago and the invisible infrastructures hiding behind your cell phone” today.

Connecting these two points in history is the American willingness to “dream really big,” Frank contends, and then “build some incredible things out of dreams”—from clean water systems in cities to a mobile science lab on Mars. This American propensity for dreaming has helped make our nation the complex and functioning civilization it is today. Along the way, support from both government and industry have propelled innovation and advances forward.

Frank tempers any overconfidence with a quick reality check:

Not to say that we don’t have problems. Real problems. The economic insecurity so many people face has been rightly tagged as one source of the anger many people feel.

But ultimately, he remains positive and hopeful about the future:

Americans are very good at solving problems. As our history demonstrates, its just kind of what we do. […] We have built something remarkable, and the need for both its maintenance and improvement shows that we are all in this together. And, as history shows, we function best when we manage to bring those improvements to everyone.

And if the past is prelude, Frank reminds readers that we have “been solving problems with big dreams made real for 240 years.”

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Category: Voices & Opinion

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