This Month in STEM: August 2014

Summer wrapped up with a plethora of exciting STEM news. Here are some of our favorite headlines for the month of August.

The Animal Kingdom IconAnimal Kingdom

According to a new study, we have more in common with spiders than we may like to think. Researchers have discovered that some spider species are capable of forming friendships and developing personalities. The study focuses on the idea that within social groups, individuals feel the need to stand out from each other, a theory known as social niche specialization. In this case, relationships between spiders were tested by creating colonies of spiders and testing the spiders’ responses to environmental stress or stimulus. The spiders were then classified as having either a “bold” or a “shy” personality based on their responses. Read more here.

Under the Sea IconUnder the Sea

Whether you’re soaking up some last minute summer rays on the beach or splashing around in the shallow end of the ocean, chances are that you don’t want to take a bathroom break when you’re having so much fun. Nature calls though, so what do you do? Well, according to the American Chemical Society, why bother walking all the way to the bathroom stall when peeing in the ocean is A-okay! In case you needed any more convincing, the American Chemical Society has also taken the liberty of creating a video to assure everyone that tinkling a bit in the ocean is completely backed by science. Watch it here.

Extreme Weather IconExtreme Weather

The number of man-made earthquakes in recent history is on the rise. From 1978-2008, Oklahoma averaged only 2 earthquakes over a magnitude 3.0 per year. Now midway through 2014, Oklahoma has surpassed California’s record, with 230 earthquakes registered at a magnitude 3.0 or higher. So who is at fault? Scientists are dividing the blame between global warming and fracking disposal methods that inject waste water from the fracking process into the ground to avoid contaminating water sources. Read more here.

Medical Innovations IconMedical Innovations/Robotics

Xenon gas is already used in the medical field as an anesthetic, but a new study believes that xenon gas holds the key to treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the root of the problem. The study found that xenon disrupts the process in which memories, and fear or trauma associated with those memories, are processed and re-encoded. Scientists believe the xenon gas works by interfering with specific receptors in the brain that are involved with the memory re-consolidation process. Read more here.

Robotics IconSpace

A number of international astronomers have compiled a video of two entire galaxies colliding with each other. Since the light from the collision would have taken a significant amount of time before it became visible on Earth, scientists believe the actual collision occurred when the Universe was half of its current age. Watch the video here.

Video Games IconTechnology

We live in a world saturated by smart phones, smart cars and smart houses. The next natural step would be a smart motorcycle helmet. The Skully AR-1 is a new gadget that intends to protect motorcyclists from all angles by putting a real-time video of their surroundings in a transparent screen directly in their line of vision. The helmet also comes equipped with GPS navigation, traffic conditions and weather updates. Read more here.

Wind Energy IconWind Energy

As the overall cost of mass producing wind turbines decreases, the total cost of wind energy is also dropping to record lows in the United States. This is great news for those in search of sustainable sources of energy to combat the environmental impact of fossil fuel consumption. Despite a growing market in the United States for wind energy, other countries are still at the forefront of converting and committing to sustainability. Nationally, wind energy only constitutes 4 percent of America’s electricity production. This is in comparison to the 35 percent of total electricity that is garnered by Denmark through wind farms. Read more here.

Okay STEM lovers, what stories did you enjoy? What stories did we miss this month? We want to hear your thoughts!

A School Year of STEM Reading

As the month of August nears a close, the nip in the air is back, which signals the start of a brand new school year. Between the hustle and bustle of soccer games and homework, it’s often difficult for students to find spare time for extracurricular reading. Yet, helping your student find that extra hour to read instead of watching television or playing video games may be the key to overall improvement in school performance, according to research done by the University of London. Without a good book though, reading may be more painful than pleasurable. Finding engaging books may be a challenge, which is why we’ve compiled a list of resources that will help your student find a STEM-related book that he or she will actually enjoy reading.

STEM Reading for Teens: A reading list created by the Young Adult Library Services Association of the best STEM Reads.

Suggested Reading: Cinder by Marissa Meyer


Cyborg Cinder, a talented mechanic living in the disease and alien-ridden area of New Beijing, meets Prince Kai when he brings in a robot for repair. As their lives intertwine, Cinder is forced to uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her future.

Women in Science: Goodreads list of STEM-related titles about women.

Suggest Reading: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


The creation of the polio vaccine, as well as extensive science research, including information about cancer and viruses, all began from the cells of one Henrietta Lacks, a poor African American tobacco farmer. Henrietta’s cells were harvested and used for research without her knowledge or consent. Her complicated story was the catalyst for the development of bioethics.

STEM Read: Science Behind the Fiction: Program developed by Northern Illinois University to encourage STEM engagement through reading.

Suggested Reading: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Several years after the initial alien invasion on Earth, Ender Wiggins is recruited to train at a battle school in space to prepare for the next attack. As he trains on the space station, Ender is forced to face increasingly difficult questions about humanity, isolation and the morality of warfare.

RocketSTEM: Online magazine with content focused on fostering a love of STEM within parents, teachers and students.

Other Suggested Readings:

Adaptation by Malinda Lo

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Matched by Ally Condie

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku

Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku

Starters by Lissa Price

The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

The Art of Tinkering by Karen Wilkinson

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

The Compound by S.A. Bodeen

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

When We Wake by Karen Healey

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

So STEM lovers, which books did we miss? What’s your favorite STEM-related book? Tell us in the comments section!

Encouraging STEM By Engaging Parents

Here at STEM Works, we absolutely adore our Twitter followers because they are a fantastic group of individuals who willingly come together for inspiration, advice, and to share their love of STEM with the world.

As of late, we have initiated a number of Twitter discussions using #STEMWorksDiscussions. We recently asked our Twitter followers the following question:

How do we engage parents in order to drive interest in STEM at school?

Twitter didn’t disappoint, so we’ve compiled a list of their answers, as well as a collection of ideas and resources to help drive STEM via parent engagement.

“Invite them to a school STEM night and show them how great it can be!”


“[Our] school is hosting a 2 week STEM Festival utilizing parents and community members as STEM presenters.”


“A hands-on learning experience within school [ bridges] the gap between study & workforce.”


“Outreach work starting with 4 year olds! When children learn about doctors, we talk about STEM careers.”


Parental Engagement Resources

  • Parents are vital to the success of students, especially during the middle school years, a critical point in students’ educations. Middle schoolers are at a higher risk to lose focus and parental involvement also takes a hit. Prevent this with these tips for successful parental engagement from the Afterschool Alliance, available here.
  • A solid foundation in STEM is critical for the future of society, and we all know that kids are the key to the future. Here’s why we should teach our kids to embrace STEM by starting them young. Article here.  
  • Earlier this year, a panel of educators and experts at the U.S. News STEM Solutions conference discussed some of the often neglected methods of teaching and encouraging students, particularly those in the under-served and minority populations, to take an interest in STEM. Article here.
  • Keeping kids actively thinking, whether it’s after school or during summer vacation, is vital for long-term educational success. The National After School Network is a fantastic resource in offering strategies for parental engagement, available here.

Do you have ideas of your own for parental engagement? Comment on this post or send us a tweet @STEM_Works.

Future of STEM: Role of Mentors

Every single day, STEM professionals wake up and head to jobs that keep the world afloat. From software engineers to marine biologists, these people apply their extensive expertise and knowledge of the various STEM fields to an incredibly vast array of jobs that help lead the way to new discoveries and innovations.

Before these professionals were running the world, however, they were once young and impressionable. Through the assistance of various mentors and influences, these people were encouraged to develop their strengths and foster their passions into full-fledged careers.

Read more to learn about what or who inspired some of the coolest professionals out there to turn their love of STEM into an absolute reality.

The Animal Kingdom IconAnimal Kingdom/Under the Sea

On land or in the sea, these biologists turned a love of animals and wildlife into lifelong careers. Don’t believe it’s possible? Then ask Dr. Kenneth Krysko, a herpetologist and professor at the University of Florida, who was inspired to pursue a career in herpetology after meeting Dr. Roy Crabtree, a fish biologist who helped him realize that it was possible to find jobs for people who didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day. Amy Eggers is another scientist who merged her passions for marine biology and genetics into one amazing career as the laboratory manager at the Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology. When asked about who inspired her, Eggers credits Tanya Vickers, a biology professor at the University of Utah, who provided her with encouragement and support, as well as assisting Eggers with her first laboratory job.

Video Games IconTechnology

For many, video games are a form of entertainment. As a video game designer for Disney, Kelly Murphy’s job is to ensure that gamers enjoy the entertainment enough that they come back for more. Murphy was inspired to pursue a career in video game design by a childhood friend, as well as Shigeru Miyamoto and Yugi Naka, the creators of Mario Brothers and Sonic the Hedgehog, respectively. Murphy liked that both Miyamoto and Naka took real-life passions and re-envisioned them into the virtual worlds they created.

Robotics IconSpace

Carlie Zumwalt shot for the stars to land her dream job, and as a flight dynamics engineer for NASA, it’s clear that she succeeded. Now, Zumwalt is hoping to send others into space as well, with particular aims to one day land a human on Mars. When asked about who inspired her, Zumwalt gives credit to her parents and her high school physics teacher, Ms. Warden for being supportive and encouraging her to be ambitious with her goals.

From the looks of it, mentors come in all ages, shapes and sizes. Yet, one thing is certain: without guidance and encouragement, these STEM professionals would not become the great scientists and intellectual beings that they are today. Thus, the future of STEM lies in the hands of parents and teachers who are willing to support and expound their knowledge in a way that excites new generations into exploring careers in STEM. So go out there today, STEM teachers or STEM parents, and be an encourager or supporter for that new generation of STEM lovers.