Canine Championship: The Gripping Conclusion

At long last, the results of our Canine Championship are in. But before we dive right in to crowning one of our canines “Professor Pooch,” we feel that we would be remiss if we didn’t touch on a few scientific concepts first.

If you had a chance to watch the video showing the gamut of tests that the dogs would be put through, you’ll notice that the conditions of the activities were the same for each dog. Each dog was subject to the same blanket, the same cup, the same board, and the same treats. In other words, the conditions were standardized for each experiment and participant.

Because our canines were all being tested in different parts of the country and under different conditions, we had to come up with our own way to make sure that the experiments had some level of standardization. To this end, we stipulated the following conditions for these activities:

Blanket over Head: All dogs were covered head-to-toe with a regular sized bath towel. The towels must have completely covered their heads and as much of their bodies as possible.

Cup over Treat:  All treats were completely covered with a regular sized plastic cup.

Blanket over Treat: The same towel was used as in the first activity and the treat was placed under the middle of the towel.

Board over Treat: The boards used were no more than 2 inches off the ground.

So, without further ado, here are the results we have for the Canine Championship:

Blanket over Head:

Lennu: 4.66 seconds

Millie: 4.8 seconds

Roxy: 9.6 seconds

Sammy: .76 seconds




Cup over Treat:

Lennu: 11.66 seconds

Millie: 2.4 seconds

Roxy: 7.6 seconds

Sammy: 7.57 seconds




Blanket over Treat:

Lennu: 30.67 seconds

Millie: 29.5 seconds

Roxy: 12.9 seconds

Sammy: 7.75 seconds

We know this doesn't relate to this activity, but ain't he cute?

We know this doesn’t relate to this activity, but ain’t he cute?


Board over Treat:

Lennu: 1 minute, 38 seconds

Millie: 3 seconds

Roxy: 4.2 seconds

Sammy:  49 seconds

Total Time:

1st – Roxy 34.3 seconds

2nd – Millie: 39.7 seconds

3rd – Sammy: 65.1 seconds

4th – Lennu: 155 seconds

Way to go Roxy! While she may not have won any individual event, Roxy’s performance earned her the crown of Professor Pooch!Roxy Cap & Gown

Ok, so before we let Danielle make too many excuses for “Last Place Lennu,” we must remark that these activities, while fun and entertaining, only seem to touch on a certain type of canine intelligence. If you look back to the three types of intelligence listed in our introductory Canine Championship post, these activities really seem to target the canine’s adaptive intelligence. Due to the fact that some breeds, particularly working breeds, have heightened amounts of working/obedience intelligence, this default mindset may have hindered our Aussie’s performance in this competition. Danielle did note that Lennu kept looking to her to make sure his actions were ok, and when he tried the activities a second time, he did them at lightning speed. On the other end of the spectrum, Roxy is great at following Lindsey’s commands but when she releases her by saying “Okay,” Roxy is very independent and doesn’t let anything stand in the way of what she wants (in this case, a treat!)

Ok, so Roxy may have been crowned Professor Pooch for the moment, but we want to hear from you! Write to us with the results of your dog so we can add them to the results board. Be sure to provide us with information about your dog’s breed, age, gender, a little known fact about them, and their trick repertoire, along with their results! And make sure you use the standardizations that we stipulated for our mutts.

Ready… Go!

ASEE Presentation: The CSI Experience

Many of you out there are aware, or have participated in, our CSI camp programs. We often find ourselves explaining what these programs are, how they work, and who participates in them. But what we don’t often get a chance to do is focus on  why these programs exist. Luckily, our Director, Lindsey Groark, will be answering just this question tomorrow during her presentation at the ASEE conference in Atlanta.

The dire state of STEM education in the US has been noted time and again. Many publications have dealt with this very issue, calling for new and creative ways to both excite kids about these subjects and teach these subjects to students. Even many of our own Cool Jobs professionals revealed that their interest in STEM subjects was dulled through monotonous exercises in school, like memorization. Yet a growing trend of active learning has been emerging within the sciences, and our CSI programs have embraced this active learning model to provide kids with project-based and inquiry-based approaches to STEM education.

Tomorrow, Lindsey will be discussing in further depth the need for these types of learning models as well as giving an overview of the structure and execution of our CSI programs. She will give this presentation in the hopes to increase awareness of our programs, and also to empower and inspire STEM advocates to think about how this model can be applied to their personal endeavors.

If you are at the ASEE conference in Atlanta this week, you definitely will not want to miss Lindsey’s presentation! If you can’t make it to her presentation, she will also be manning our exhibit at the conference this week. She also happens to be a very nice person, so make sure you stop by the exhibit, or hang around after her presentation to chat with her!

ASEE Conference in Atlanta

Hi all!

We are at the ASEE conference in Atlanta, GA this week! If you’re at the conference, please stop by and say hi to our Director, Lindsey, at booth 808. She will also be giving a presentation on Wednesday afternoon discussing our CSI Camp programs and her paper “The CSI Experience – Incorporating Engaging Curriculum into Middle School Classrooms across the Country” that is not to be missed!

Assignment Exploration: My Weekend on a Lake in the Middle of the Desert

View of red rock formations from on Lake Powell

Life for me has always been about new experiences. So, a couple of years ago when my husband of only two months told me that we had the opportunity to move from the Washington, DC area to Utah for a few years, it didn’t take long for me to agree to this adventure. After moving to Utah, we started what we have been affectionately referring to as our “Utah Bucket List” which includes all of the things that we want to see and explore while we live in this part of the country. As we have made new friends in the region, this list has evolved and grown immensely, leaving us with a list that has been impossible to accomplish in the two and a half years that we have called Utah home. During this time, life happened and our list sat there, items getting crossed off only when family came to visit and when we filled the role of impromptu tour guides. However, a couple of weeks ago we confirmed that our time here was quickly coming to an end and we planned a long weekend boating/camping trip to Lake Powell located on the border of Utah and Arizona.

More rock formations

More rock formations

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Lake Powell (I certainly wasn’t!), it is a somewhat controversial, albeit spectacular man-made lake in the middle of the desert that was built in the mid-1900s by damming up the Colorado River. It is closely located to Canyonlands National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as well as various state parks. The lake is actually the 2nd largest man-made reservoir in the US and has nearly 2,000 miles of coastline just waiting to be explored. As you can expect, it has become a large tourist attraction with over 2 million visitors every year. The great thing about the lake is that since it is so large, even with hundreds of people visiting the lake at the same time, you can spend a significant portion of a full weekend not seeing other people. Beyond the tourist aspect of the lake, the Glen Canyon Dam that helped to create this massive lake provides power through hydroelectricity to over 20 million people in the southwest US. For those of you who are interested in learning more, here is a great article from Energy Kids explaining what hydropower is and how it works.

Our three day adventure map

Our three day adventure map

Panorama of our Camp Site

Panorama of our Camp Site

We started our adventure on Friday and after parking our car, we didn’t see it again until Sunday afternoon. We spent three days boating the river and investigating various finger canyons that jetted out from the main channel of the lake. In most places on the lake we were surrounded by hundreds of feet of red rock and we were boating in water that was typically deeper than 150 feet. In the evenings we camped on a secluded beach and enjoyed spectacular sky gazing; we even saw a bunch of shooting stars! After three days and nearly 90 nautical miles, we left the lake with memories to last us a lifetime.

Our dogs enjoyed the adventure too!

Our dogs enjoyed the adventure too!

No matter where you live or how long you have lived there, there are new experiences for you to have and environments or phenomena for you to explore. Whether your adventure includes going to a local park and learning about a new animal or plant, visiting a museum, or taking a road trip to experience a new environment, do it! Take the time to let your inner explorer out – you’ll be amazed what you learn about the world and yourself when you do.

If you have plans to explore somewhere interesting and want to share it with us, please send us a note using the Submission form and we can talk about sharing it on this blog for the broader community to see!

Canine Championship

We on the STEM team have a confession to make… we are total dog nuts. Just give us an excuse and we’re happy to regale you with tales of our canine’s crazy antics and fantastic feats. So when someone mentioned dedicating a blog post or two to our dogs, who were we to argue? However, we are also science-oriented people, and it wouldn’t do for us to just gratuitously dote on our pets. So we thought we would take a second to dig into the science behind our dogs’ intelligence and apply what we learn through a doggie showdown to crown one of our pooches smartest of them all!

It may seem easy to speculate about the intelligence level of our dogs by assessing how good they are at tricks and how well they listen to their owners. In reality, these types of assessments only get at part of the picture. According to Stanley Coren, author of the book The Intelligence of Dogs, working/obedience intelligence is only one of three types of dog intelligence. The other two types of intelligence are adaptive intelligence, which marks a dog’s problem-solving abilities, and instinctive intelligence, which marks how sharp their instincts are.  So just because your dog may not do what you say, that does not make him/her a dumb dog!

So how do we get a better idea of the overall intelligence levels of our dogs? Well, it turns out we weren’t the only ones to ask this question. PBS Kids came up with a wonderful collection of tests to test dogs’ problem-solving skills. So we thought we would follow suit and put our dogs up to the test!

Here’s the lineup:


DollyAge: 7 months
Gender: Female
Breed: Shih-tzu
Favorite Toy: Rawhide bones
Little Known Fact: The shih-tzu is an ancient breed from China and played a part in many royal families.
Trick Repertoire: When she has her stuffed animal toys she will shake them so hard that they flip up in the air and she will jump and catch it.
Owner: Candice

LENNU (pronounced Len-oo)

LennuAge: 5 years
Gender: Male
Breed: Australian Shepherd
Favorite Toy: FRISBEE!!!
Little Known Fact: Lennu disappeared last year and found his way back home after 4 days.
Trick Repertoire: Sit, Stay, Down, Rollover, High-five, Figure 8 (through the owners’ legs), Back up, Speak, Leave it, Drop it
Owner: Danielle


MillieAge: 2.5 years (estimated)
Gender: Female
Breed: American Pit Bull Terrier
Favorite Toy: Anything Roxy is playing with
Little Known Fact: She was rescued off the streets and was in pretty bad shape, but after being nursed back to health she’s turned into the perfect family dog who lives for giving anyone and everyone lots of kisses!
Trick Repertoire: Sit, Stay, Down, Dance, Leave It, Wait, Back
Owner: Lindsey


Roxy_2 (3)Age: 2.5 years
Gender: Female
Breed: American Staffordshire Terrier Mix
Favorite Toy: Squeaky Ball
Little Known Fact: It takes Roxy less than 30 minutes to annihilate “indestructible” toys but she loves playing with inflated balloons so much that she has learned how to be gentle with them so she can play with them for hours.
Trick Repertoire: Sit, Stay, Down, Sit Pretty, Dance, Sing, Leave It, Wait, Back
Owner: Lindsey


SammyAge: 3 years (estimated)
Gender: Male
Breed: Black Lab/Border Collie Mix
Favorite Toy: Lennu
Little Known Fact: Sammy is in an on-again-off-again relationship with his owner’s sister’s Yellow Lab/Border Collie Mix named Abby
Trick Repertoire: Sit, Stay, Down, High-five, Rollover, Drop it
Owner: Danielle


FitzAge: 3 years
Gender: Male
Breed: Shih-tzu
Favorite Toy: ALL TOYS, including his bed (he will herd all of the toys around the house into his bed then carry the bed by mouth to another room)
Little Known Fact: The Shih-tzu breed wasn’t brought to the United States until WWII.
Trick Repertoire: Fitz loves to dance on his hind legs & he can talk and say “I wuv you Candice.”
Owner: Candice

So what do you think? Who will come out on top?

Weigh in with your prediction of the smartest dog, and tell us why you made your choice!

Where Are They Now: Cool Jobs Alum Dr. John Palmer



You know the story… Super Bowl XLVII, the Baltimore Ravens lead the San Francisco 49ers 28-6, when all of the sudden… the lights went out. Officials were scrambling, players were pacing the field, and fans were eager to get back in the action. Super Bowl XLVII will live on in infamy for the 34-minute delay caused by a power outage. So how do things like this happen at such crucial times, and, more importantly, who gets called in to deal with them?

???????????????????????????????Forensic engineer, and Cool Jobs alum, Dr. John Palmer answered the call to determine what caused the blackout at the Super Bowl. Forensic engineers like Dr. Palmer are charged with investigating fires, explosions, and electrical system failures. Ironically, Dr. Palmer’s analysis of the power outage at the Super Bowl narrowed the cause of the event to “an electrical relay device that [was] installed specifically to prevent a power failure at the dome.” (

toasterBut this investigation was not an unusual workday in the career of Dr. Palmer. His job calls him to investigate product or system failures, and he focuses, in particular, on cause and origin analysis of electrical accidents, electrical equipment failures, electrical fires, structural fires, vehicle fires, and explosions. The scope of the investigations he conducts ranges from house fires started by a toaster to large power plant explosions resulting in 600 million dollars in damages. If there’s one thing Dr. Palmer can count on from his job, it is a wide variety of projects!

To learn more about Dr. Palmer’s cool job as a forensic engineer, be sure to check out his original Cool Jobs interview!

Activities-In-Action: Tornado in a Bottle

Our first Activity in Action comes from our very own student research assistants. We gave them a break from the daily grind to try one of the activities from our STEM-Works website, and since tornadoes have been such a hot topic as of late they decided to go with the Twister in a Bottle activity. Read on to learn about their experience!

 Tornado in a Bottle

Like it or not, tornadoes are a part of our world. The recent tragedy in Oklahoma motivated us to find out why these powerful weather phenomena occur. In this experiment we decided to make our own little tornado to learn more about the science and mechanics behind them.

This easy experiment is something you can do using materials you can find in your own house! We used two bottles, duct tape, water, and food coloring to create our own tornado.Materials0

Firstly, we poured water into one of the water bottles, then we added three drops of food coloring.Preparation 1

Secondly, we taped the two water bottles together at their mouths, leaving the water in the bottom bottle.Preparation 2

Lastly, we inverted the bottle with the water on the top and gave it a twist!Experiment 4

We found that the colored water swirled from the bottle on the top bottle to the bottle on the bottom, just like the wind pattern of a tornado! But don’t take our word for it… Try this experiment yourself. What results do you come up with? Can you change the size or shape of this experiment?

Want to learn more about the inner workings of a tornado? Check out this video taken by a camera placed directly in the path of a tornado.

Where Are They Now: Cool Jobs Alum Tim Marshall

Tim Marshall, Civil Engineer and Meteorologist

When disaster strikes, our cool jobs alumni are there. Tim Marshall, Civil Engineer and Meteorologist, has been busy responding to the devastating tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. Somber events like this one leave an abundance of damage in their wake, and Marshall gets called in to assess that damage—“mother nature’s fingerprint,” he calls it.

Marshall recently spoke to NPR’s Melissa Block to discuss his assessment of the structural damage in Moore, Oklahoma. In his interview with  NPR he drew attention to the positive changes in the structures of Moore following the devastating tornadoes in 1999 as well as the concerning oversights in those structures. He also discussed how buildings leave evidence of how they failed to withstand large tornadoes, even when these structures are no longer standing. “Even a house that is no longer there provides ample evidence for us,” he explained. Something as small as a nail can leave a mark, and that tiny mark can explain how an entire wall had failed.

MarshallMarshall is no stranger to the wrath of tornadoes. During his Cool Jobs interview he spoke of how a tornado he personally experienced as a child amplified his natural curiosity toward weather.  “I really didn’t know what this thing was that came out of the sky and did all of this damage, and I got very interested in the damage itself” he explained. Marshall now assesses the damage caused by major natural disasters in the hopes that he can help communities avoid fatal flaws in building construction.

Check out his full NPR interview, or find out more about Tim Marshall’s journey to his cool job in his original Cool Jobs interview.