LOS ALAMOS – Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, discussed education, global health and CO2-free energy during a 40-minute talk before nearly 700 employees of Los Alamos National Laboratory in the auditorium of the National Security Sciences Building on Monday.
Dressed casually in a lavender pullover sweater and black slacks, Gates told the audience that he had an opportunity to tour some of the lab’s facilities along with his son, Rory, who accompanied him on the trip. He said he loves science and history and that he found it interesting how technology he was instrumental in developing more than 30 years ago is being used today.
Gates said through science and innovation there is an opportunity to “save the world.”
Gates called education the “master switch” for furthering innovation and solving some of the world’s biggest problems.
“If we get it right, it will pay dividends,” he said.
Asked about current trends in education, Gates said that education in the United States hasn’t improved much in the past 50 years. He said what has helped advance education during that time span is the infusion of more women into the field and workforce.
Gates said his foundation is an advocate for the Common Core State Standards that are part of the national curriculum and focus on mathematics and language arts. He said learning “needs to be on the edge” where it is challenging but not too challenging, and that students receive the basics through Common Core.
“It’s great to teach other things, but you need that foundation,” he said.
Though he called himself an optimist, Gates said the greatest threat to mankind is biological or nuclear terrorism.
“If I had one wish, give me something that guarantees we don’t have that problem,” said Gates, who did some of his early computer work in Albuquerque.
Speaking at the laboratory where the atomic bomb was developed more than 70 years ago, Gates drew laughter when in response to a question about how his foundation could collaborate with the lab, he said his foundation doesn’t fund nuclear weapons.
The foundation does, however, fund research on HIV vaccines, one of the many fields LANL is involved in.
He said the dream of the foundation is for “health equity,” in which people around the world have the same access to medical treatment and vaccines.
“By working on those, we can make a huge difference,” he said.
Gates noted that at one time 14 million people per year died from the AIDS virus. That’s down to 7 million people per year today and could be reduced to 2 million if the foundation meets its goals, he said.
The foundation is also working on global distribution of malaria and polio vaccines and is working to eradicate other infectious diseases.
Gates said he was disappointed that the United States hasn’t done much to increase funding in the field of energy. “That slows down the kind of breakthroughs we need,” he said.
Gates mentioned TerraPower, a nuclear reactor design company he’s invested in that has partnered with LANL to expand its science and energy programs. He said some of the innovations being worked on are refrigerators that use no energy and toilets that use little to no water, but relies on chemicals or burning to get rid of pathogens in human waste.