July 2014 Recap: Exciting STEM News

July has been filled with exciting headlines for STEM subjects. Here’s a summary of some of our favorite stories for the month.

The Animal Kingdom IconAnimal Kingdom/Under the Sea

Scientists from York University have found a new solution to combat a certain species of toxic grass fungus: moose and reindeer saliva! As plants evolve defense mechanisms like thorns or poisonous berries, scientists wondered how moose were able to eat grass that harbored toxic fungus in such large quantities without showing symptoms of illness. The team of scientists collected samples of moose and reindeer saliva and smeared them onto samples of grass that carried toxic fungus. Results showed that the saliva inhibits fungal growth within 12-36 hours. Read article.

Extreme Weather IconExtreme Weather

The heavy drought in California means trouble for locals, who have resorted to extreme measures, like punishing those who water their lawns to often, in an effort to conserve water. The effect of the extreme drought affects more than Californians, though. Those of us who enjoy avocados, almonds, walnuts or any of the other 250 plus agricultural commodities produced in California will be seeing a steep increase in prices as the drought continues to impact agriculture. Watch video.

Medical Innovations IconMedical Innovations/Robotics

3D printing is having a huge moment in STEM as scientists find a multitude of ways for their application. An 12-year-old boy who lost both his arms during a bomb explosion in Sudan is benefitting from this new technology as a 3D printer recently created a new robotic arm that allows him to regain some of his mobility.  Read article.

Robotics IconSpace

New reports show that an exploding asteroid that injured more than 1,000 people with flying glass and debris in Chelyabinsk, Russia last year collided with another asteroid about 290 million years ago before the asteroid chunk headed towards Earth. Scientist believe that the asteroids struck each other at a speed of 3,000 mph. Blasts from the asteroid destroyed buildings as it exploded with a force nearly 30 times as powerful as the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima. Read article.

Video Games IconTechnology

No matter where you turn, you can’t get away from technology. This is now literally the case, as a new Indian company has created a shoe equipped with an app and Google maps to help guide the wearer to the right place. The shoe and insole is connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth, and it vibrates to let you know if when should turn left or right. Read article.

Wind Energy IconWind Energy

Powerful winds are nothing new for the residents in “Tornado Alley”, the colloquial term for the area in the U.S. where tornadoes hit hard and often. For those looking to harness wind energy, those strong winds may have an upside,  particularly as wind turbines continue to pop up as a source of generating renewable energy. Read article.

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

STEM Industries: Bionic Technology

Technology is an integral part of STEM, with far-reaching applications that includes playing a vital part in modern medicine. From limbs to organs, innovation in the field of bionic technology bodes well for the future of healthcare, particularly for people who are forced to live with deformities or debilitating disease. Human prosthetics have been in play for hundreds of years, with evidence of usage that dates back all the way to 1500 B.C. Luckily, the days of peg legs and hand hooks are long gone. The sophistication and function of bionic technology has now developed into a multi-billion dollar industry, and there is plenty of room to grow as new discoveries are made.

Limbs of Life

Source: Shariff Che'Lah | Dollar Photo Club

Source: Shariff Che’Lah | Dollar Photo Club

Prosthetic limbs are a godsend for those who live with physical birth deformities, or those who have been forced to undergo amputation as a result of tumors, infections or accidents. New bionic technology allows amputees to regain mobility while promoting self-esteem and independence at the same time. A new FDA approved bionic arm nicknamed “Luke”, after the Star Wars character, now has the capacity to perform multiple, simultaneous movements by detecting electrical signals from the contraction of muscles that are close to the attachment site of the prosthesis. Amputees who need prosthetic legs are also benefiting from innovation. Before, prosthetic arms were the only type of limb that was capable of being controlled via neurosignals. Those whose legs were amputated were limited to either mechanical or motor powered prosthetics. However, a new bionic leg now has the ability to be controlled via the user’s thoughts through electrodes that pick up electrical signals in the upper leg muscles when they contract. Affordability of these prosthetics is currently the most prominent issue, with prices ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per limb. With continued advancement and engineering, developers are confident that these computerized limbs will gradually become more accessible to the public.

Organs Opening Doors

Source: Olexandr | Dollar Photo Club

Source: Olexandr | Dollar Photo Club

Transplants have helped millions of people, but that still doesn’t wipe away the risks and complications of receiving an organ. Finding organ donors are a battle in itself, with an average of 18 people dying per day while waiting for an organ to become available. Innovation in bionic technology may assist in situations where waiting for an organ is not a viable option. The cornea is the most commonly transplanted organ, but when corneal transplants aren’t the solution to the vision problem, a bionic eye might help with patients who need to regain vision from degenerative eye disease. A great deal of bionics is still experimental, such as a newly developed bionic pancreas that measures the glucose level of diabetic patients and then supplies either insulin or glucagon to stabilize blood sugar levels. For those who suffer from Type 1 diabetes, this technology advances from the current standard of insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors. Researchers are also experimenting with a new bionic heart that is entirely self-contained. For the thousands of patients waiting for life-saving heart transplants, this technology is quite literally a matter of life or death. An internal battery powers the mechanical heart, which can be recharged from an external pack through the patient’s skin. Although it might take time to implement the technology on a widespread scale, the creation of such devices gives hope for the revolution of healthcare in the near future.

Organs from 3D Printers

Source: hopsalka | Dollar Photo Club

Source: hopsalka | Dollar Photo Club

3D printing is finally having its well-deserved time in the spotlight and is a true testament to the spectacular range of modern technological innovation. At the moment, medical applications for 3D printers are concentrated in the dental industry, with crowns, caps and fillings. However, scientists are hoping that 3D printers will one day be able to create living organs, which could eventually help reduce organ shortages. There is already a project in the works to sell strips of liver tissue created from 3D printers to drugmakers. The liver strips would be used to test the toxicity of certain treatments. Currently, the biggest issue with printing organs would be finding an adequate blood supply to keep the organ healthy and alive. With continued experimentation and research, Organ printing is still at least 10 years away from fruition, but with continued experimentation and research, science is closer than ever to radical change in medicine.

CSI Boys Summer Camp – Day 4

Our gumshoes made significant strides on day 4. First, campers witnessed a compelling presentation by Special Agent David Marshall with the world-renowned FBI.

DSC_2463Special Agent Marshall gave campers the inside scoop about what FBI agents do on a daily basis,


and how they too could pursue a career with this high-profile organization.


Campers (and staff) had a lot of fun during this presentation, but you know what they say: All good things must come to an end.



After getting jazzed about a potential future with the FBI, campers got straight to work processing some more evidence that was found at Monday’s crime scene. Our investigators were able to further narrow their list of suspect based on a soil sample found at the crime scene and a note written by the perpetrator.

It was suspected that the soil sample found at the scene came from the bottom of the perpetrator’s shoe. To find out how this piece of evidence could help the investigation, campers compared this sample with samples of the soil found at the different places that each suspect had been that day.


After looking closely at each sample,




investigators were able to determine where the soil sample came from. Then, armed with this information, they were able to make a determination about who they could eliminate from the suspect list.
DSC_2572The next piece of evidence they processed was the note written by the perpetrator. How did they do this? Through a paper chromatography experiment. Since each suspect on the suspect list was found carrying a different type of marker, campers were able to determine which type of marker wrote the note found at the scene

DSC_2799by seeing how differently the pigments in each marker separate when exposed to a solvent. In this case, the solvent was water.



While the morning was all about processing evidence and narrowing the list of suspects, campers returned to the wonderful world of DNA in the afternoon. Campers were first greeted by an after-lunch presentation by Dr. Teresa Strecker with SMU’s biology department. Dr. Strecker took some of the mystery out of DNA


and discussed why DNA can be so helpful in crime scene investigation.


Then, campers got to try their hand at DNA eletrophoresis. DNA electrophoresis is a technique used by forensic scientists where they compare DNA samples found at a crime scene with the DNA of suspects in a case.



Only one more day until all is revealed and this case is solved. Stay tuned for the gripping conclusion to this year’s CSI Boys Summer Camp!





CSI Boys Camp – Day 3

The CSI saga continued on day 3, and the human body was the name of the game. First, were visited by Medical Examiner Amy Gruzeski, who gave campers a first-hand look at the role forensic pathologists play during investigations. What is a forensic pathologist? These are the people who conduct the examinations that determine the cause of a person’s death. This presentation did include some “gross pictures” according to camper Drake,


but campers also “liked learning about the medical examiner’s job.”


Then, campers took their understanding about the human body a step further in the forensic anthropology activity and gait recognition activity. During the forensic anthropology activity, campers learned that you can predict someone’s height based just on the length of his or her leg bone.


Campers also learned how investigators can differentiate between people based on the way they walk during the gait recognition activity.



From there, it was on to DNA, as campers learned how all living things, including fruits and vegetables, contain DNA. In this experiment, campers learned how to extract DNA from a strawberry by mashing it,


combining it with a solution,


and extracting the separated DNA using a highly scientific instrument—a paperclip.



Campers ended their day learning fact from fiction when it comes to the world of an NCIS agent. Special Agent Don Goates visited our investigators-in-training to dispel the myths about what it means to work for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.




Stay tuned for more tales from our CSI summer camp!


CSI Boys Camp – Day 2

The events of day 2 had a… shall we say, furry start. To lend our campers some help, and to potentially track down our kidnapping victim, Deputy Clayton Wood and K9 Rocky kicked off day 2.

DSC_0490Although the tracking trail went “cold” near the parking garage, these two visitors also gave campers a glimpse into the lives of law enforcement K9s and their handlers.


And while Deputy Wood gets a salary as a reward for his service, Rocky is content with his verysion of a bimonthly paycheck—a 50 lb bag of food, and a couple of treats of course.

DSC_0486After the K9 and his handler departed the scene, today’s events were all about biometrics. Biometrics is the science behind using biological traits in identification. First, campers learned all about what makes our fingerprint unique, and got to see their own fingerprint up close using a fingerprint scanner.

DSC_1733Then, campers learned how to dust for and collect a fingerprint from a crime scene (with a little help from the SMU police).






And rather than just learning interesting stuff, this activity had an end game: campers made their first discovery that helped them narrow their list of suspects. The suspect’s fingerprint type was a loop!

Next, campers learned other ways in which different parts of our bodies can be used to identify us. They learned what is unique about our hands and our eyes.


DSC_1766To round out the day’s events, campers had a surprising visit from the SMU Police and SWAT team. This visit was most surprising for camp director Phil Munsterman, who was ordered to get down on the ground upon their arrival.


But their dramatic entrance was all in good fun, and they spent the rest of their visit giving campers insight into what it takes to enter a career like theirs and what their daily duties include.




Day 2 was definitely full of excitement, so stay tuned to see what the rest of the week has in store for our investigators!



Another Investigation Begins at the 2014 CSI Boys Summer Camp

Another week, another crime. Yesterday we welcomed boys from around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area to our second, and final, CSI summer camp. In order to provide a real-world look into the lives and professions of those who work in CSI-related fields, campers were treated to a presentation by Dallas Police Department’s Sean Kearney. Kearney introduced campers to the types of skills and tasks required of crime scene investigators.

After Kearney’s presentation, the campers walked in on a ghastly sight… a kidnapping had occurred at camp! Though this was bad news, it gave the investigators-in-training an immediate chance to test their CSI skills. Campers documented the scene,



collected evidence,


and took measurements


for a scaled sketch of the scene.


After the scene was thoroughly processed, campers learned about DNA evidence through a presentation from Forensic Biologist Amanda Webb.


Webb’s job as a forensic biologist requires her to process DNA evidence found at crime scenes. When asked what was the most unique object she’d ever had to test, she replied that “The craziest thing we had to test was a fried chicken leg with a big bite taken out after a crime was committed.” This goes to show that evidence can be everywhere!

Campers finished up their day learning all about change blindness, the phenomenon that explains why eyewitness testimony isn’t always the most reliable piece of evidence. And just so we don’t let the campers have all the fun, you can get in on the CSI action by watching the following videos. These videos will introduce you to the change blindness phenomenon and also allow you to test your observational skills.

This knowledge of change blindness came in handy when campers observed an interview with an eyewitness.



And lastly, did we mention that the campers had fun? These students were introduced to a number of new friends, a fact that is sure to make this coming week a memorable one. Stay tuned throughout the week to follow their investigation!




CSI Girls Camp – Day 4

Today our investigators-in-training got straight to business with a visit from Lt. Kevin Clark and other members of the Denton County Sheriff’s SWAT team. Since no one likes being cooped up first thing in the morning, the girls were called upon to gear up



and man their stations.



After their call to battle, it was time to start processing some hard evidence found at Monday’s crime scene. Campers were able to narrow their list of suspects by analyzing a soil sample during the microscope lab



and find out which type of marker was used to write the perpetrator’s note in the paper chromatography lab.



After this evidence was thoroughly process, camper learned that DNA is becoming an afternoon theme here at our CSI summer camp. Yesterday, the girls tried their hand at DNA electrophoresis, and today the campers deepened their understanding of DNA through an engaging presentation by SMU’s Dr. Teresa Strecker


and an activity in which they extracted the DNA from a strawberry.




There are only a few steps left to solve this crime, so stay tuned for tomorrow’s gripping conclusion!

CSI Girls Camp – Day 3

Our CSI camps were still going strong yesterday as our gumshoes worked through a number of new CSI activities. And the name of the game for Day 3: the human body. First, campers were treated to a presentation by Medical Examiner Dr. Sheila Spotswood, who gave our girls a glimpse into a day in the life of a medical examiner.



After being acquainted with this new profession, campers learned how a person’s body, and even the way they move, can reveal a ton of information about them in the Forensic Anthropology and Gait Recognition activities.




Then, after grabbing a quick bit to eat, campers moved into an in-depth DNA exercise: the DNA Electrophoresis Lab. DNA electrophoresis is a technique used by forensic scientists where they compare DNA samples found at a crime scene with the DNA of suspects in a case. Scientists are able to use restriction enzymes (protein “scissors”) that cut a piece of DNA at specific points in the sequence. Because everyone’s DNA sequence is different (unless you have an identical twin), the pieces of DNA that are cut will be different lengths.






Lastly, the girls concluded their day by getting insight into the day in the life of an NCIS agent from Special Agent Don Goates.


After their third day of camp, these students have gained a number of CSI skills. Yet there’s still much more to come, so stay tuned to find out what Day 4 had in store for these investigators-in-training!

CSI Girls Camp – Day 2

Who says humans are the only ones that can get in on the CSI action? This morning, our CSI girls were joined by the furriest of this week’s presenters: K9 Rocky (and his handler Deputy Clayton Wood).



K9s play a key role in many investigations, and Rocky had a chance to show off his tracking skills. 


After the wonderful K9 unit presentation, the campers got straight to work processing their first piece of evidence: a fingerprint! To learn how to properly dust for and collect a fingerprint sample, the girls were joined by members of the SMU Police.



Campers dusted,




and analyzed the fingerprint found at the scene of yesterday’s kidnapping.


Campers also had a chance to try their hand at a few biometrics activities before being joined by more professionals from the SMU Police Department and tactical unit. These professionals discussed what it’s like to be women in law enforcement


and gave a real-world look into the day in the life of a SWAT team member.


Tomorrow promises to be another fun-filled CSI day as the campers work to further narrow their list of suspects. Stay tuned!





Save the World, Study STEM: Energy, Recycling, Disposal…Oh My!

©TT Studio / Dollar Photo Club

©TT Studio / Dollar Photo Club

Human consumption of fossil fuels has become a hot button topic for scientists in recent years as record breaking temperatures around the world and rising water levels threaten to disrupt and inflict permanent damage on various ecosystems. Thus, conserving our planet’s resources is an important part of keeping our earth healthy for years to come. From the energy we use to heat and cool our homes, to usage of recyclables like aluminum or plastic, we can all be smarter with how our planet’s resources are used and reused. Simple lifestyle alterations like donating and recycling unwanted items, or using alternative fuel sources can lead to positive environmental change if we all contribute a bit of effort.

Seasonal Sustainability

With the long, hot days of summer in full swing, the temperature isn’t the only thing that’s on the rise. Energy bills also tend to rise during the summer and winter. In the summer, turn up your thermostat when you’re not home to save money and energy, turning it back down only when you’re actually around. If your home is equipped with ceiling fans, use them! The air flow helps cool the room without using as much energy as regular air conditioning systems. During the wintertime, cover the bare floors with rugs or carpet to retain heat and add comfort. Leave window shades and blinds open during the daytime to allow the sun to heat your home. Whatever the season, remember to replace the filters in your heating and cooling systems to maximize their effectiveness.

iPhone Invigoration

Electronic devices are massive energy hogs; they require energy to manufacture, use and recharge. The impact of electronic devices on the environment can be lessened by donating or recycling these devices when they are no longer usable, which helps avoid air and water pollution, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are emitted when virgin materials like glass, plastic and metal is produced to build the electronic devices. If you’re wondering where to donate or recycle old devices, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has created a website that allows people to plug in the name of the electronic device and the device’s manufacturer. The results of the search gives users more details about how old devices can be responsibly recycled.

Closet Conservation

Is your closet brimming with unflattering jeans or shoes a half size too small? Instead of throwing them out, there are a multitude of options to give your clothes a chance at a new life. Some stores like H&M and Nike are improving their sustainability efforts by taking used shoes and clothes and refashioning them into recycled clothing fibers and material for sports surfaces, respectively. Clothing that is still in good condition can also be donated to a number of charities that redistribute recycled items to the needy. Shoes4Africa is a nonprofit organization that collects gently used shoes, which are then doled out to provide protection from diseases, like hookworm, that are transmitted via bare feet. There are also financial benefits to recycling clothes. Thrift stores like Goodwill and Savers provide receipts that can be used for tax deductions.

Seeing A Sustainable Future

Vision impairment can range in severity from a mild annoyance to dangerous detriment. Hundreds of millions of people around the world suffer from one or more forms of uncorrected vision, which is often a simple fix with corrective lenses. Unfortunately, eyeglasses are an unattainable luxury for many people in underdeveloped countries, which only furthers the poverty gap. These people struggle to even learn or earn a living because reading and working can be almost impossible tasks to accomplish. Thus, the need for donated glasses is an often overlooked but crucial solution to assist in both social and environmental change. Luckily, there are multiple charities like New Eyes, Vision Aid Overseas, and Lions Club International that accept donations for sunglasses, frames, and prescription lenses, which are sent to overseas missions and distributed to those who need them.

Effortless Excess Drug Disposal

It’s a common sight in almost every household to find a handful of bottles with varying amounts of unused prescription drugs in the bathroom cabinet. Instead of letting these bottles pile up, take advantage of programs that take back unused medicines for proper disposal. The common rule of thumb is to avoid flushing most expired or unused medicines down the toilet, which can result in residual, and potentially harmful, levels of drugs in communal drinking water. However, the United States Food and Drug Administration has established a list of medications that should be flushed instead of thrown away with the garbage.