Gates: 'Science can help solve world's problems'

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By Ben Carlson



He might not be the most powerful or wealthiest person to ever visit the Los Alamos National Laboratory, but he certainly would be in the team picture.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates toured the lab and city Monday before addressing a capacity crowd of nearly 700 people who packed the National Security Sciences building that afternoon.

Gates, whose early work at Microsoft has since morphed into much of the computer technology used in the lab, spent most of his 40-minute appearance discussing the work that has been done by the foundation he co-chairs with his wife Melinda in the fields of education and world health.

“I’m an optimist and think science can help solve the world’s problems,” Gates said, seated on the auditorium’s stage with Laboratory Director Charles McMillan. 

“I believe science and innovation gives us all a chance to change the world.”

Gates used a portion of his time to advocate for Common Core educational standards and bemoan what he says is the lack of improvement in the nation’s education system.

“Education hasn’t improved much in the past 50 years in the United States,” said Gates, who looked typically relaxed as he sipped a Diet Coke. “As Asia has moved ahead by any measure of educational excellence, we have been passed by. It’s very unfortunate.”

Gates then went on to caution that the technology he and form Microsoft partner Paul Allen worked so hard to create isn’t necessarily a panacea for improving education.

“Technology tends to empower motivated students more than the unmotivated, and the one thing we have a lot of in the United States is unmotivated students.”

That has to change, Gates said, if America is to keep up with its Asian counterparts.

“UC Berkley’s computer science program is 70 percent Asian born,” he said, noting, too, that while there are more women than men receiving four-year degrees today, too few women are pursuing those degrees in science.

“In the sciences, you don’t see gender equity,” he said.

Gates also spent time discussing the work his foundation has done on world health issues, saying that the effort has helped save millions of lives through vaccination efforts, including malaria and HIV.

“This is important stuff,” he said. 

“Anything on infectious diseases … that’s the real sweet spot of the foundation.”

Gates fielded only a handful of questions, including if during his tour of the lab he saw any collaboration possibilities.

“My foundation doesn’t do weapons,” Gates deadpanned, drawing a laugh from the audience. The foundation does, however, work hand-in-hand with the lab in its HIV vaccine efforts.