Eunique James, 16, sat with rapt attention Tuesday as Paul Anastas, head scientist in the Office of Research and Development at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, talked about the future of the planet and the crucial role the students could play in it.

“Innovation doesn’t stop. It’s all about continuous improvement,” Anastas said. “You can design what [the future] looks like, or you have someone else do it.”

Anastas told the nearly 35 students in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program at Central High School in Capitol Heights that, when he was their age and listening to music on a stereo playing a vinyl disc, that several decades later he would have thousands of songs at his disposal on a computer that could fit in the palm of his hand.

“I was so into it,” James said after the presentation. “I don’t even think I blinked.”

Anastas’s visit to Central High School is part of USA Science & Engineering Festival’s Nifty Fifty Program, which sends more than 100 top scientists and engineers into Washington area schools in advance of an expo at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on April 28-29. The program was created to encourage students to take a greater interest in STEM, which is also being promoted by President Obama.

James, a sophomore, said Anastas’s discussion about the the condition of the Earth resonated with her.

“You see these different things on the Discovery Channel and it’s kind of frightening to think about the world being over. That really caught my attention,” she said. “I want my children to enjoy this world.”

James, who is interested in forensic science, said Anastas made her rethink her focus.

“I hope we get to talk to him again,” she said. “I really, really enjoyed it.”

Jamar Jennings, 17, a senior, said Anastas’s talk made him think about what role he can take in helping to make change.

“He made me realize that they need young people like me to prevent [the world coming to an end],” Jennings said. “To help stop pollution or to go into the field of engineering.”

Anastas, who is widely known as the “Father of Green Chemistry” for his research on the design and use of minimally-toxic, environmentally-friendly chemicals, said he hoped the students realize that the future “is going to be sustainable energy and food and that they could have a role in designing it.”