This month’s exciting STEM news – September, 2013

Here we go again folks… some cool STEMy things from the month of September:

The Animal Kingdom IconAnimal Kingdom

You may have already read this one, but the votes are in, and the blobfish was named “the ugliest animal on earth.” But don’t worry, it’s all in the name of conservation. Read article.

Extreme Weather IconExtreme Weather

Ok, so we know that earthquakes are not really a weather phenomenon, but this story was too interesting not to share. So, for lack of a better place to put it, check out this story of how an earthquake in Pakistan created a mud island…. Read article.

Medical Innovations IconMedical Innovations

Soccer fans rejoice cry yourself to sleep. Heading the ball turns out to be bad for you. Read article.

Robotics IconRobotics

In the endless pursuit to rid us of the tedium of house cleaning, the Mab Automated Cleaning System was revealed. Now get to work, tiny flying robots!  Read article.

Space IconSpace

This month researchers at the University of Sydney revealed a sleeping dragon: a colossal explosion at the center of the galaxy . Read article.

Under the Sea IconUnder the Sea

The sea is looking a little bit more like outer space this month, as research has revealed how ocean eddies and black holes have a bit in common…. Read article.

Video Games IconVideo Games

Think video games have no real-world applications? This blogger explains how video games can affect real-world sports car design. Read article.

Wind Energy IconWind Energy

Wind energy has long been criticized for its affect on birds. Solano Energy is now committing itself to the conservation of a particular federally-protected bird of prey: the golden eagle. What do you think? Is it enough? Read article.

So there, various STEM subject lovers. We’ve got you covered!

Want to save the world? Study STEM!

When people think of the term “humanitarian”, it doesn’t always conjure up images of scientists and engineers. But it should. If you were to skim recent headlines relating to some of the world’s biggest problems—disease, poverty, starvation, environmental degradation—you would find that the STEM subjects do, or could, play a major role.

Take Bill Gates, for example. This technology icon is now finding ways to incorporate his skillset to find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing health concerns. As he explains in this video, diseases like polio and malaria can benefit from advances in science and technology.

More and more it seems that people are picking up on the fact that the STEM subjects will provide solutions to many of the problems our modern-day world is now facing. Academic programs are popping up in universities around the world that are devoted to finding these solutions. One such program is at the newly founded Center for Urban Science and Progress located in downtown Brooklyn. According to this article,

“CUSP hopes to become the world’s leading authority on ‘urban informatics’ — the acquisition and analysis of an enormous amount of information related to city systems. The center ascribes to the belief that “big data” will one day make all city operations and planning more efficient. That’s critical to what Koonin calls the center’s ‘mission-driven’ focus: to study city problems, yes, but also to solve them.”

Our own Cool Jobs professionals echoed the same sentiment regarding the problem-solving nature of STEM. Whether you’re a 3D designer helping to develop clean energy solutions, a green chemist working toward a world without toxins, a LEED engineer designing buildings that require less energy use, or a statistician helping to solve some of the world’s most pressing health concerns, one thing is for sure… the world needs you!

So the next time you think about how you can leave a positive imprint on the world, look to the STEM fields for help. What are some of your favorite ways that science, technology, engineering, or math are helping to solve the problems of individuals, communities, societies, or the environment?

Got Brains? Teaching STEM Zombie-style!

It isn’t all that uncommon for teachers and parents to hear students lament about their lack of understanding of how they will use particular skills or content they are learning in school in their real life. Here on the STEM-Works team, we will openly admit to being those kids (and adults). As STEM advocates, we feel like these kinds of questions are our opening to get students of all ages engaged in the world of STEM. As a result, we wanted to share some ideas to get you thinking outside your existing curriculum or advocacy materials and then get your thoughts on other ideas.

To start with, we are firm believers that if you find it cool, there’s at least a distinct chance that your students will as well (maybe not always, but we’re sure there are some common interests). For example, we recently stumbled on a Social Studies/Geography curriculum entirely based on Zombies. Using a project-based learning (or Zombie-Based Learning as the developer calls it), this curriculum provides a framework for students to learn important geography concepts by planning for and surviving a zombie apocalypse scenario. In addition to the curriculum being novel and engaging, it is standards-based, which makes it much easier to incorporate into traditional classrooms.  Check out the developer’s explanation of how he came up with this concept:

So think about it and share your thoughts! What concepts, TV Shows, or life events do you think would make a good curriculum or framework for STEM advocacy?

The Coolest of the Cool (jobs, that is)

We talk a bit about our Cool Jobs campaign that we launched on our websites last fall. While we completely encourage everyone to take an hour, a day, a month to peruse all of these wonderful interviews, we thought that we would take a second to highlight a few of these wonderful professionals. All of these men and women offered incredible wisdom about how they landed their careers and how students might follow in their footsteps. But some of them offered really wonderful life stories and incredible insights into the struggles they faced or the dedication required of them…

And don’t forget that our STEM Works websites offers four different versions of these interviews containing questions aimed specifically for different age groups: Elementary, Middle School, High School, and Undergraduate. So if you really love one of these articles and want to show it to your students, group, or children, be sure to find the version that is best suited for them!

The Animal Kingdom IconAnimal Kingdom

Katrina McCauley always knew she wanted to work with animals, but the journey to becoming a Zookeeper wasn’t easy. McCauley, armed with the educational background and ability to promote herself, broke into zookeeping and has been building her relationship with Colo, the oldest gorilla in a zoo, ever since. Read more to learn how McCauley spends her days as a Zookeeper at the Columbus Zoo! Read article.

Extreme Weather IconExtreme Weather

Lightning struck when Dr. Josh Wurman landed on the Discovery Channel’s reality series Storm Chasers and the IMAX film Forces of Nature.  Dr. Wurman was joined by his colleague Dr. Karen Kosiba to discuss what life is really like as a meteorologist and tornado chaser. A fun fact about this interview is that it was literally conducted while these two storm chasers were en route to a site in their meteorology van.  Read article.

Medical Innovations IconMedical Innovations

After a chance introduction to the field of public health, Allison Brown caught the bug! She passed up medical school to become an epidemiologist and now travels the world for the CDC to solve some of the world’s biggest public health problems. Read on to see why Allison’s interests are contagious! Read article.

Robotics IconRobotics

Robots are not just a thing of science-fiction.  Robots are in places you might not expect, whether they are helping people around the house or traveling to Mars.  We caught up with Dr. Chris Jones, former Director of Research Advancement with iRobot to discuss the power of mentorship, the emerging market for robotics, and even “soft” robots!  Read article.

Space IconSpace

We couldn’t conduct an interview related to space without first going to world-renowned NASA! Luckily, we were able to speak with Carlie Zumwalt, who is one of NASA’s Flight Dynamics Engineers. So what was this girl who works for such a high-profile organization like? She was surprisingly humble, incredibly candid, and wonderfully addicted to hard work. Her article is definitely a must read. Read article.

Under the Sea IconUnder the Sea

Shannon Johnson, Deep-Sea Research Technician with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), described her job as like watching the Discovery Channel in real time. Shannon explores the oceans through the use of ROV’s, or Remote Operated Vehicles, and gets to discover new things about the ocean every day. Oh, and not to mention that her office is in one of the most beautiful coastal areas on the West coast… Read article.

Video Games IconVideo Games

Kelly Murphy, a Video Game Designer for Walt Disney, spends his time balancing tight deadlines for game releases while ensuring Disney games are exciting to play and keep gamers’ coming back for more. Read more to learn what makes a Video Game Designer such a cool jobs here.

Wind Energy IconWind Energy

At first glance this job might not seem very wind related… but it’s more wind related than you might think. After entering a Ph. D. program in aerospace engineering, the current of Jonathan Colby’s career swept him away from aerospace and toward renewable energy. Jonathan now works to turn the flow of New York’s East River into clean, renewable power. Read on to learn how blue water turns into green energy. Read article.

BeakerOther STEM Subjects

Because we are very aware that the wonderful world of STEM includes far more than the subjects above, we feature didn’t limit our interviews to these subjects alone. One of the professionals featured in this section is green chemist Dr. John Warner. Many products in our world today are made with toxic materials. Now, picture a world without toxins – no pollution, no hazardous materials, and no harmful products. Green Chemists, like John Warner PhD, are working to make this dream a reality. Learn what makes Dr. Warner’s work not only important to us, but critical for generations to come. Read article.

The Power of Putting Our Heads Together

Ok students, this one’s for you.

Our story today started when we came across this article about a group of over 1,000 programmers who gathered this month at Penn for the world’s biggest university hackathon. Ok, before you think us too provocative, according to this article the term hacker does not allude to crime and espionage— rather it simply means build. So anyway, the fact that over 1,000 brilliant minds all joined together for “the programmer’s version of a slumber party, science fair, and Super Bowl rolled into one” got us thinking about something that we heard many times in our cool jobs interviews.

If you aren’t familiar with our Cool Jobs feature, it’s probably one of the coolest things that we have posted on our websites. We tracked down over 50 current STEM professionals and asked them to share their stories about how they ended up in their careers. These professionals also offered practical advice to students about how they too could follow in their footsteps and land themselves a similar career. And one of the main things we kept hearing from these STEM all-stars over and again was how students should get involved with other people who share their interests.

Dr. Chris JonesPeople like Dr. Chris Jones, a researcher with the high-profile company iRobot, suggested that kids interested in robotics can get hands-on experience with robotics by participating in such competitions as First Robotics.


Dr. Josh Wurman, a meteorologist and storm chaser that you may recognize from the Discovery Channel’s series Storm Chasers, advises students to get involved in meteorology clubs in the local area. And if your school or community does not have a group for your subject of choice, don’t let that stop you… start one! You might be surprised exactly how many of your peers are interested in the same things you are!

So yes, it’s definitely cool that over 1,000 programmers got together at Penn to create amazing things. But we think the coolest part of this story is how it illustrates what is possible when people get together. Whenever like-minded people from different backgrounds and with different experiences join together, the whole is almost always greater than the sum of the parts. So get out there and join a club, a competition, or a community event… or start your own!

But enough from us… what do you think? Have you participated in a cool event or club recently?

At-home Resources for Students

We all know how much impact a great teacher can have and how cool it is when schools offer special robotics or software classes. But, let’s face it, sometimes the real world limits access to these types of resources. In light of this fact, we thought we would share some of our favorite resources for students wanting to supplement their education at home. These resources are great for students wanting to further their understanding of a certain subject, software, or process. So without further ado, here they are!

Bad Astronomy YouTube Channel

Love to explore Space? This completely free YouTube channel explores many different topics related to astronomy, space, and science. This channel doesn’t shy away from total space eye candy also, which can be wonderful for those times when you brain needs a break! In fact, here’s some eye candy now for your viewing pleasure!

Gaming Resources

Just in case you haven’t stopped by our website recently, our Video Games activities page contains a number of wonderful resources for those who want to get into video game design. Many of these resources involve coding and allow you to recreate old games like Frogger, as well as new ones of your own!

Khan Academy

This is another totally free website that gives students access to lessons on a vast number of subjects. And instead of us telling you all about this one, we’ll let Mr. Khan speak for himself.

Online learning is gaining in popularity these days, and caters to this trend. This site is very useful for educators in both the classroom and homeschool settings and provides online educational tools for grades K-12. This site does require a fee. is a wonderful resource for students and adults alike. This website offers a TON of video tutuorials on a TON of different software. Whether you’re wanting to learn how to create a website, animate a 3D graphic, or design a game, can probably help you out. This website does, however, charge a monthly subscription fee.


So, are there any other great resources for students that we missed? Leave us a comment and tell us about it!

Scavenger Hunts


Now that our camp season has come and gone, our STEM Works team has been working on an exciting new feature for our Kids Ahead website. Since we know how often teachers, parents, and other educators are often looking for more fun and interactive ways to incorporate STEM learning into their daily routine, we are excited to present our new Scavenger Hunts feature.  Whether used as a warm-up exercise or a continual activity, these scavenger hunts will introduce students to some exciting new concepts and connect them with the larger community. A new Scavenger Hunt will be launched on the first and third Tuesday of every month. And don’t put off joining in on the fun… these activities must be completed before the next one is launched!

The first hunt to kick off our series will take you on a tour of the world to learn about biometric technology. So don’t wait! Grab your class, family, group, or club, and take advantage of our new Scavenger Hunts! Click here to visit the first activity.