Everyday Sustainability (Infographic)

Saving the earth may seem like an uphill battle at times, but little changes in your lifestyle can have a huge impact in terms of keeping Mother Earth healthy and happy.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, here’s a helpful little infographic to get you started. We want to hear your input, STEM lovers. What are you doing to go green?

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.

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.

Greener Future with Alternative Car Fuels

By Justina Tran

There’s no doubt that inflated gas prices have had a noticeable impact on our wallets, but the cost of refining and burning fossil fuels goes much further than our pocketbooks. Excess carbon emissions are a major detriment to our environment. Our indulgent fossil fuel usage has caused a buildup of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, in the atmosphere, which has resulted in the disruption of ecosystems and the endangerment of innumerable forms of life. At the rate of our current fossil fuel consumption, future generations are at risk of living in a world plagued by severe, unpredictable weather patterns and the continued destruction of habitats.

So what kind of alternatives do we have to fuel our vehicles, without creating additional problems for our environment? Cars are seemingly our first pick for transportation, but gasoline is no longer the only source of available power. Innovations within the past decade have proven that there are now a number of options for those of us who don’t want to get from point A to point B at Mother Earth’s expense.

Shocking Savings with Electric Fuel

charging battery of an electric carDid you know that the total cost to fully charge an electric car is a mere $2 to $4? The average cost of one gallon of gas in America is currently $3.56, and it continues to rise! One single charge from conventional family-sized cars can last approximately 100 miles, although actual mileage per charge may vary depending on the size of the battery. For most drivers, 100 miles is more than enough to last a day. The length of time it takes to complete a charge, from 30 minutes to 14 hours, also differs according to the size of the battery. Average electric vehicle prices range from $20,000-35,000, with makes and models for every budget.

Gasoline’s Friendlier Cousin

Photo source: gigaom

Photo source: gigaom

We use natural gas in our daily lives to heat our stoves and warm our houses, but natural gas is also a clean alternative for fueling natural gas vehicles, or NGVs. Besides helping America free itself from dependence on foreign oil, natural gas is safer and cheaper than liquid gas. In a car accident, natural gas dissipates into the air. On the other hand, gasoline’s flammability makes it relatively less safe. Natural gas also has the benefit of being significantly easier on the wallet; fueling up with natural gas saves $1.50 to $2 less per gasoline gallon equivalent.

Leave No Footprints with Hydrogen

Hydrogen car conceptThe biggest issue with fossil fuels is the monstrous carbon trail that’s left behind after it’s burned. But what if dangerous car emissions became a thing of the past? With the introduction of hydrogen-powered vehicles onto the roads, what was once an ambitious concept is now a reality. Automakers like Hyundai, Honda, and Toyota have all made announcements to introduce hydrogen-powered cars to the U.S. by 2015, or earlier. In California, hydrogen-powered cars hit the market in June, in response to California legislators who are pushing car companies to produce cars with a smaller impact on the environment. With water vapor as the only chemical byproduct, the recent push for cleaner sources of car fuel may make hydrogen-powered cars the biggest threat to fossil fuel companies, and our safest bet for a greener Earth.

Now that you’ve read about some alternatives, how do you think you can modify your transportation habits?

4 Reasons to Celebrate World Oceans Day

World Oceans Day is June 8th. While roughly 40% of Americans live directly on our country’s shorelines, the rest of us are also dependent on the health of the world’s oceans. The oceans provide billions of people with sources of protein-rich and nutrient-rich foods, drive our climate and weather patterns, and contribute trillions of dollars to economies worldwide. Because the oceans play such a major role in the lives of, well, all walks of life on earth, World Oceans Day provides us an opportunity to express our appreciation for the seas.

But, just in case there are some of you out there that still need convincing that our oceans are important, here are some major ways that the oceans could change our lives as we know them:

Sea level rise contributes to climate change

Beach_erosion_(8427148836)The rise in sea levels, even by a seemingly small amount, has been linked to a number of catastrophic climate events. Beach erosion, flooding, habitat loss, later winters, and earlier springs can all be linked to a rise in sea level. It has been documented time and again that the burning of fossil fuels and an increase in carbon emissions contributes to sea-level rise.

How you can help

Reduce your carbon footprint by swapping one carbon emitting activity each week with a non-carbon emitting activity. Can you walk or ride your bike to a friend’s house instead of driving? Can you use public transportation for a trip to the bank or the store? Swapping just one trip per week will dramatically reduce the amount of carbon making its way into the atmosphere, not to mention it will cut down on the amount of air pollutants we breathe.

Overfishing could leave over a billion people searching for protein

Workers in the fisheriesOver a billion people worldwide are dependent on fish as their principal source of protein. Fish are considered the last wild food available to humans, and this resource was once considered infinite. However, today “the world’s fisheries seem to have reached their maximum potential, and given that three-quarters of all fish populations are fully exploited or overexploited, there will probably be no significant increases in total catches in the future.” If fish populations are no longer available for widespread consumption, many people around the world will see a dramatic decrease in their protein intake, causing a wide variety of health concerns.

How you can help

Make informed decisions when you purchase fish and seafood. Swap out one meal per month with a non-oceanic protein source, purchase your fish responsibly by finding a certified fishery or using the Seafood Watch pocket guide, and eat fish that are lower on the food chain.

Coral reefs are being bleached, and that’s bad

Bleaching coralWhen you think of coral reefs, we bet that vivid images of bright colors and thriving ecosystems probably come to mind. However, hot summers can contribute to what is called coral bleaching—literally, the bright colored coral turns to a washed out white. Since coral get their bright colors from algae living within their tissue, and since those algae can only withstand certain temperatures, the sun’s heat can cause a dire circumstance for coral and render them dead. Coral play a vital role in the health of our oceans—they play home to a wide variety of marine life, they bolster the economies of tourist-reliant areas, and they protect shorelines all across the globe. (P.S. This information from this article, and it’s a worthwhile read if you want to read the whole thing.)

How you can help

Much of the world’s coral bleaching is also linked to an increase in carbon emissions, so repeat the steps listed to help reduce sea level rise.

The Pacific Ocean plays home to a new island… of garbage

Image source: natgeoeducationblog

Image source: natgeoeducationblog

Literally. A giant collection of garbage deemed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, has taken up residence in the Pacific Ocean. However, “the idea of a ‘garbage patch’ conjures up images of an island of trash floating on the ocean. In reality, these patches are usually made up of tiny bits of plastic, called microplastics.” Now, this is bad for a number of reasons. In addition to being super ugly, this debris in our oceans kill many animals who eat the garbage, block sunlight from reaching plankton, and disrupt entire food webs.

How you can help

Reduce the amount of trash you produce, particularly trash coming from plastic items. Keep a refillable stainless steel water bottle that you can use instead of purchasing plastic water bottles. Bring your reusable bags to the grocery store instead of taking your items home in plastic bags. There are a number of ways to reduce your consumption of products, thereby reducing the amount of waste you contribute to our world’s oceans.

While some of these issues can seem terrifying and insurmountable, rest assured that there are a number of organizations seeking to make a positive impact on our seas. Groups like Oceana, the Marine Stewardship Council, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Ocean Conservancy, and of course World Oceans Day are making tremendous contributions to our seas and the lives of those reliant on them. Celebrate this year’s World Oceans Day by making a small change to your behavior, educating yourself about the oceans, or supporting an organization you admire. And rather than allowing World Oceans Day to come and go, carry its legacy with you throughout the year to make a lasting impact on the future of our oceans.

Save the World, Study STEM: Air, Water, and Food

On the most basic level, there are a few things that we humans require on a daily basis to survive: air, water, and food. Yet the changing conditions of our planet have placed intense strain on these fundamental requirements of human life. Thanks to researchers from the STEM community, people are finding new and inventive ways to meet these needs. Read on to find out how scientists are providing creative access to air, water, and food.

Air

17r3x3lzcjd2vjpgBreathing is so passé. Scientists at Boston Children’s Hospital have recently discovered a way that can oxygenate a person’s blood should he or she stop breathing. Through the use of microparticles comprised of oxygen and lipids, medical professionals can keep people alive for 15-30 minutes after failing to breathe. Since every second can be crucial in a number of life-threatening situations, this new technology will have a major impact on the medical community. Read article.

Water

warka_water.jpg__800x600_q85_cropMany people in industrialized societies take access to clean water for granted. Yet the fact remains that a large percentage of people have minimal access to drinking water, making life in many parts of the world a daily struggle. Yet a new project called Warka Water may hold the key to providing gallons of fresh water to remote areas by…drumroll… pulling it out of thin air. No, seriously. Check it out!

Food

By 2050, Earth will likely be home to more than nine billion people. That’s a lot of mouths to feed. In a special eight-month series, “The Future of Food,” National Geographic investigates how to meet our growing need for nourishment without harming the planet that sustains us. Check out this amazing project.

So what do you think… inspired yet?

Save the World, Study STEM: Sustainability

In response to the reported threats to our world’s climate and carrying capacity, sustainability has been a majorly hot topic as of late. And while sustainability has become a highly-charged tag word, there seems to be a bit of confusion about what this concept really means and how it will impact our current ways of life. To answer this question, scientists, architects, and engineers (among many other professions) are working hard to re-envision cities and how they interact with the environment.

Productive Architecture

Rather than focusing on what buildings can be, architects are now shifting their focus to what buildings can do. From producing energy to producing food, the goal of architecture is less about being bigger and taller and more about meeting the demands of cities. This new approach to architecture actually produces more resources rather than depleting them.

So what would a totally sustainable city look like?

Source: Huffington Post

Source: Huffington Post

The Huffington Post recently covered an initiative that envisions one of the largest cities in the world, New York City, as a completely sustainable city. This vision for New York provides mechanisms that allow the city to meet all of its food and energy needs internally. Though the project has been described as a “pipe dream,” it’s holistic approach could help pave the way for future urban planning. Read more.

What does sustainability mean for us?

While it is highly important that our city planners, architects, engineers, and farmers start envisioning our world in a more sustainable way, this does not absolve us of our individual responsibility. Though is has been around for a good while, the old tagline “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” contains a lot of wisdom. It is almost a guarantee that there is one behavior that we can change today to make a lesser impact on the environment, whether it is finding ways to reuse (or upcycle, to some) materials that we may have been quickly casting out, or finding a way to reduce our consumption in the first place.

It is especially important for us STEM advocates who are working to influence and shape the futures of the next generation to adopt sustainable practices. Are there ways that your classroom, club, office, or home can be made more sustainable?

Save the World, Study STEM: Recovering from Catastrophe

In this edition of our Save the World, Study STEM series, we examine the prominent role that the STEM fields play in the recovery from and prevention of catastrophe. War, natural disaster, famine, disease… unfortunately these catastrophic events are all a part of being human. From the nuts and bolts of rebuilding a community to building peace in war-torn areas, STEM provides many tools that help humanity return to their daily lives.

Yet the contributions of STEM during catastrophic events go beyond the obvious, as many people are now taking new and innovative approaches to the recovery from these events. Fire and rescue workers in Australia are using tablet technology to address natural disasters, experts in design tools to help Syrians gain access to quality information, and professionals are using mathematics to coordinate disaster recovery activities.

Tackling Natural Disaster with Tablet Technology

Brockman_4_mine_brushfire,_2013Response time during natural disasters is of critical importance. According to a recent article in the Brisbane Times, Queensland Fire and Rescue Services is now trying something new to help cut down on response time: tablet technology. Instead of using a paper system, these responders will now be able to upload images and data of the damage caused by natural disasters instantaneously. This technology will allow governmental entities to get the most up-to-date information far quicker than the old system allows, making it easier for people to receive the help they need. Read more. 

Design Thinking in Syria

347px-Golan171Experts in design thinking are now applying their knowledge to help localize the peace-building process in Syria through localized communication networks. According to a recent story that aired on The Takeaway, this process is led by someone with “the mind of a designer and the heart and dedication of a great humanitarian.” This story has all the elements of innovation and applies seemingly unrelated concepts to the betterment of this war-torn community. Listen to the full story. 

Mathematics for Disaster Recovery

800px-Mathematics_concept_collageMathematics entered the equation of disaster recovery in 2005 when professionals in China proposed a mathematical approach “to express diverse entities in information and disaster recovery system such as applications, facilities, resources, sub disaster recovery plans, budget, etc.” This equation really takes everything into account and shows how mathematics can have humanitarian aims. Read paper*.

The Save the World, Study STEM series is aimed at shedding light on the heart and soul that guide people in their STEM-related pursuits and the contributions that the STEM fields make in bettering our world.

*Access to this paper requires access to IEEE Explore.

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?

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?