7 Apps for a Fun and Safe Halloween

We had grandiose ideas for a Halloween blog post that would rock the world and blow the minds of all the STEM advocates and lovers out there. But unfortunately our minds were not where our hearts were, and all we were drawing were blanks. So rather than bore you with a mediocre post about the STEMy side of Halloween, we thought we would pass along this post featuring 7 Apps for a Fun and Safe Halloween.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Spooky Science!

The week of Halloween is a time for ghouls, frights and treats which in our minds means it’s the perfect time for some fun STEM! We have a lot of great activities on our Kids Ahead and STEM-Works websites but we wanted to help get everyone in the Halloween spirit with some activities uniquely suited to this week. Thank you to Deborah Lee Rose from HowToSmile.org for compiling a great list of activities. Check it out here!

It's Alive!

Also, for the braver readers check out this list of real-life scary science experiments. Pretty creepy stuff!

Do you have a favorite Halloween STEM activity? Share it with us in the comments section!

The World in 3D

As usual, the inception of this post came after reading a super cool article. This article, which explains one of the many new and creative ways that 3D technology is being used to advance medical science, sparked the realization that 3D technology is EVERYWHERE! Those of you familiar with our mother ship, STEM-Works.com, will know that we categorize our content into a number of different “Super Subjects,” such as Medical Innovation, Robotics, and Crime Scene Investigation. It is not often that we find a type of technology that can apply to every single subject we have, among many others. 3D technology is one of those technologies that can be, and is being, used for almost anything these days.

3D technology is advancing the way orthopedic surgeons are approaching knee replacement surgery, providing new ways to study archeological artifacts, and allowing engineers to improve the design of structures to protect them against natural disasters. The list just goes on and on.

So what does this rising technology mean for the next generation of professionals? Opportunity, opportunity, opportunity! As Collin Kobayashi—3D Designer and Cool Jobs alum—explains, “with the progression of 3D technology, there are no limits.” With knowledge and experience with 3D design, students can translate an interest in virtually any STEM subject into a rewarding career.

So how do students get this kind of experience with 3D? Believe it or not, there are a variety of tools and software available to both students and educators free of charge. Companies like Autodesk, creators of AutoCAD and other 3D design software, provide their software to students for free. Seriously, free. These programs are also available to educators, so if you want to incorporate 3D software instruction into your classroom, you should seriously check out their education center.

But enough from us, what are your cool ideas for how 3D technology can blend with your STEM interests?

Using Science to Prove our Best Friends Love Us

If you have seen our previous series of posts about our Canine Championship, you know that we love dogs here on the STEM-Works team. Based on the fact that this championship placed our dogs in a series of head-to-head competitions to battle for the title of “Smartest Dog”, you can also guess that we take pride in working with our dogs to bring out their smarts. While we’re proud of our dogs and their ability to conquer tricks and impress at parties, we are all pretty confident when we say that there is about a zippy chance that any of our pooches would have the mental wherewithal and calmness to lie completely still in an MRI for an extended period of time (we’ll be honest – we’ve all had to have MRIs and didn’t particularly enjoy it ourselves).

This is more like our dogs’ smarts.

Although the Canine Championship was a fun and scientific method-based competition to determine which of our dogs was smartest, it was wrought with challenges and imperfections related to the ways each of the dogs had been trained and how each of us as owners facilitated the competition with our pooches. So how can we really learn about what’s going on inside our best friends’ head?

Is she thinking: "I love you so much" or "Food, food, food, food, food..."

Is she thinking: “I love you so much” or “Food, food, food, food, food…”

Well, the New York Times recently published an interesting article titled “Dogs Are People, Too”  which piqued our interest and gives a glimmer of hope for answering these types of questions.  A neuroscientist from Emory University has been investigating how dogs’ brains work in order to gain insight into animal emotions, sentience, and even thoughts (full scientific paper can be found here). As you might suspect, when animals are anesthetized, it isn’t possible to get a clear picture of brain functions or how the animal responds to particular stimuli. This methodological hurdle was overcome by Dr. Gregory Berns and an animal trainer colleague, by working with dogs to train them to enter an MRI and lie still for up to 30 seconds while a scan is completed. The dogs are even provided with a custom headrest and earmuffs.

Now for the obligatory “awwwww”

Although we were intrigued by the methodology of this study, the findings are even more exciting! What Dr. Berns discovered after doing a series of functional MRI scans (or fMRIs) on two dogs (and he is continuing his research with even more dogs now), is that dogs have a neurological response for enjoyment or positive association similar to humans. In particular, the part of a human and dog’s brain that shows activity related to enjoyment was activated when the dogs were presented with hand signals that indicated food, scents of familiar humans, and even other animals that live in the same house as the dog. Here’s a great video where Dr. Berns explains it himself:

Although this research is still in its early stages, we’re excited to see signs that our dogs love us for more than just the food we provide them. We won’t go so far as to say that dogs are people, but it’s pretty cool to get scientific evidence that demonstrates affection from our best friends.

So, as this research progresses, tell us, what would you be interested in learning about dog’s thoughts?

Also, just for fun, what do you think:

Where are they now? Cool Jobs alumna Cara Santa Maria

Ok, I admit it. As a science communicator I was thrilled by the opportunity to interview Cara Santa Maria, science journalist and former host of The Huffington Post’s “Talk Nerdy to Me,” for our Cool Jobs feature in the fall of 2012. Since I last interviewed her, Santa Maria has undergone a bit of a career change. I sat down with her again to discuss her new gig and how her love of science and science education plays a part in this new role.

D: When we last spoke with you, you were hosting a show called “Talk Nerdy to Me”. Since then you have made a career change. Could you tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now?

Photo Source: takepart.com/live

Photo Source: takepart.com/live

C: I am co-hosting and producing a show called Take Part Live on a new network called Pivot. The show is tailored toward young people and is somewhat cause-driven. This network was founded by the Participant Media film production company, a company which produces a lot of socially conscious films—documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth and Food Inc., and narrative films like The Help and Lincoln. Many of these films are promoted alongside related social action campaigns. Take Part Live is a live, one-hour news/talk show that discusses what’s going on the news and politics. And, quite often in this role I get to talk about science. It’s really exciting for me because I still get to  be a science communicator, but now I get to present science within the greater context of what’s going on in the world. Now I am really able to reach people who may not specifically be seeking science content.

D: Many of our Cool Jobs professionals spoke about the transdisciplinary nature of STEM. It seems that you are touching on this idea with your mention of the “greater context.” Do you often find that STEM concepts play an unseen role in issues that one might think are removed from these fields?

C: Yes. I recently traveled to Washington DC to moderate an event on the topic of science communication. I got to meet and spend time with wonderful science professionals who work in labs, but also with professionals who studied journalism, business, and marketing. These latter professionals are now using their educational background to communicate science effectively.

When we are presenting our news stories there is almost always a scientific side that may not be visible at first glance. We might be able to incorporate components of science, math, or technology in a story that appears strictly political in nature. I think it still comes down to making sure that we are utilizing our critical thinking skills in all of our conversations—that, fundamentally, is what underpins all of STEM education. Science, technology, engineering, and math are all fields that use heavy critical thinking, and we should use evidence-based thinking to make decisions that are not based on intuition but rather the data. I think that’s something we need to see more of in the news.

If, for example, we are leading a discussion on the sequester, this type of conversation can sometimes get very heated and complicated. We often look for someone to blame, and we want to get at the root of these issues. Being able to use the evidence and data available instead of just jumping to conclusions can empower us to formulate educated opinions. I often use the tools I gained from my science education when presenting different topics.

D: Then do you think it’s a fair statement to say that communication can serve as a bridge between many different stories and concepts?

C: Definitely. It is so obvious now in the digital age that there are great scientists doing great things. But, if nobody is around to tell the public why those things are great, the work of these professionals can seemingly happen in a vacuum. Changes in legislation and opportunities for funding are often prompted by public support. People have to know what’s going on in science. They don’t only have to know about it, but they also have to know why it matters to them, why it’s important.

D: You talk a little bit about how your network is geared toward cause-driven work, but can you explain how empowering people with information can lead to action?

C: Every time we do an interview with someone who has done something impactful, we provide the audience with information for how they can get involved. You also don’t have to be an active participant to take action—even when you’re passively observing you are still participating in the news.

I think that’s a really important point to make. One-way communication is still participatory, because every time we learn something new it illuminates our understanding. Knowledge takes us out of a fearful state. If the information isn’t available to us, and if we don’t take the initiative to choose programming that will bring us that information, it can be difficult to break out of that fear cycle.

I just interviewed a man who wrote a great book about nuclear war. He wanted to write this book because our younger generations weren’t alive during the Cold War, and we didn’t grow up with fallout bunkers and bomb drills. But there are still nations with massive nuclear arsenals, and nuclear accidents still happen, which makes this issue a political problem with  major STEM underpinnings. The takeaway from his interview was that it is important to know this stuff. How better to be prepared than to know what you are being prepared for? I think that’s a really important point.

D: During the last interview, you spoke about how you didn’t initially plan on a career in science journalism, but rather you basically fell into it. Do you know people who work as science communicators and always knew that was the career they wanted?

C: I don’t think I know one person in this field who always wanted this type of career. I have met some young people who are starting to work toward it—they are taking both science and journalism/communication classes and are putting together their own curricula—but every science journalist, on-air personality, and writer that I know didn’t follow a clear path into their respective professions. It’s funny how many things actually happen during the career phase and not necessarily during the education phase.

I do, however, think that we are one of the first generations for which this has become a viable career choice, so it’s cool to see young people making their own path. When someone asks me how they can work into a career like mine, my biggest piece of advice is not to be afraid to walk through doors that are open, even if they don’t appear to be on the path you envisioned for yourself. Almost everyone I know that has been really successful in my field or related fields never anticipated that this was what was in store for them; they either really loved science and grew to love outreach, or they were writers and journalists that stumbled upon science.

D: Is there a piece that you’ve worked on in your new job that you are particularly proud of or that you thought was particularly interesting?

C: There’s a cool segment that we have on the show called NewsVille, which is the game show-esque segment of the show. During this segment we pair an audience participant with one of our comedians, and we ask them questions about the news. There are three different segments of NewsVille: the first one is Headlines or BS We Just Made Up, in which the participants try to discern real headlines from fake ones. In the second segment, called Now or Then, we ask participants to determine whether certain headlines are from 2013 or sometime in the past. In Science or Science Fiction, the third segment, we determine how well participants can separate real science news from fictional science news. I find it particularly fun to work on Science or Science Fiction because we get to present science stories that aren’t necessarily common knowledge. Sometimes we may discuss the discovery of a new species of animal, and sometimes we report a new improvement in solar technology. It’s interesting how often people don’t really realize how far along we are in scientific technology.

I’m also developing a new segment right now, so hopefully in the coming weeks I will be doing a regular “wow” piece about something really interesting happening in science news. I’ve also been able to interview some really great people, which is always one of my favorite parts.


So there. Now that you are well and truly inspired by this communication powerhouse, what do you think you can be doing to blend your love of science with communication?

A Glimpse at the Human Side of Scientific Discovery

With the recent Nobel Prize announcements, the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle is a pretty exciting one (and one that Peter Higgs has been pursuing diligently for over 40 years). This discovery is quite a complex one so rather us than trying to flesh it out and explain it, here is a clip from PhD comics:

Now that you have a better idea of all of the work that went into this discovery, it is easy to understand how emotional it would be to share it with the researcher’s peers. This video shows the moment when evidence of the Higgs Boson is shared with CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research and one of the most respected scientific organizations in the world). Dr. Higgs is the gentleman that the video pans to after the discovery is shared and the audience starts to applaud.

It’s quite an incredible and rare glimpse at the meaning that this discoveries and accomplishments hold for the scientists, engineers and mathematicians that spend their life’s work bringing theories to demonstrated fact. We don’t always get to see/share the human side of STEM and we think this is a poignant example of just that.


Save the World, Study STEM: Refugee Housing, Hydropower, and Gaming for Good

So, after we recently posted our Want to Save the World? Study STEM! post we learned two things:

1- People LOVED hearing about the world-changing effects of STEM.

2 – These types of stories are absolutely everywhere!

In light of these two realizations, we thought that we would take this concept further and highlight these types of stories in a recurring feature. So welcome to part 2 of the infinity-part series: Save the World, Study STEM!

Reinventing Refugee Housing

Food, water, sanitation, and housing all pose recurring challenges to both inhabitants and facilitators of refugee camps. To address these challenges, the Ikea Foundation recently joined forces with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to create a new and improved design for refugee housing. Assembling your own bookshelf is a thing of the past… assembling refugee housing is the thing of the future!

A New Approach to Hydropower

Photo courtesy of Verdant Power

Photo courtesy of Verdant Power

Not to toot our own horn or anything, but we introduced the Wind Energy subject to our Kids Ahead and STEM Works websites because we believed that the issue of sustainable energy is of great importance. Located in that subject is the Cool Jobs interview with Jonathan Colby, a hydrodynamic engineer who is working to derive energy from New York’s East River. If hydropower and wind power had a baby, it would be this sustainable project! Check it out!

Gaming for Good

Think gaming is a waste of time? This article from Mashable.com shows how technology and gaming come together to provide a platform for social activism. Whether racing virtual bikes so an impoverished community can get real ones or virtually stepping into the shoes of a refugee, these games bring conscience and purpose to an often criticized technological field.

So what do you think… inspired yet?

What do you think should come next?

First, we want to thank you for checking out our blog. We have had a lot of fun over the last five months sharing STEM-related ideas and applications that we think are pretty cool and have learned a lot in the process.

Maybe it’s the beautiful weather, the changing leaves, or just the government shutdown blues, but in our writing this week, we seem to be struggling with an overload of ideas and are not unlike Dug the Dog from Pixar’s movie Up! (see below short clip for the full visualization of this).

So, instead of writing a post today on one of the ideas we have been mulling over we want to hear from you!

What would you like to read about?

Who do you want to hear from?

Do you have an interesting idea that you want to share with the community?

Let’s start this conversation in the comment section of this post and make sure that we’re giving you want you want in this blog.

Thanks for being a part of this journey with us, we’re really having a blast!