This Month in STEM: September 2014

September is wrapping up, and we’ve got your monthly STEM news! Here are some of our favorite stories.

The Animal Kingdom IconAnimal Kingdom

Researchers have discovered a brand new species of poison dart frog in Donoso, Panama. At 12.7 millimeters in length, the freshly dubbed Andinobates geminisae is tiny enough to fit on a fingernail and is distinguishable by its unique call and smooth, bright orange-colored skin. Scientists believe that habitat loss is a significant issue of concern for these newly found frogs, as it appears to only be found in scarce regions of the Panama rain forest. To guarantee the survival of their species, the creation of special conservation plans have been recommended. Read more here.

Under the Sea IconUnder the Sea

Several groups of fish in Antarctica have developed the ability to manufacture their own “antifreeze” proteins in their blood that help them survive in the icy Southern Ocean. Unfortunately, it appears that this evolutionary survival tactic has created some undesirable consequences. Researchers have discovered that the same temperature regulation proteins are helping internal ice crystals that accumulate inside the fish resist melting, even when the temperatures warm. Read more here.

Extreme Weather IconExtreme Weather

At least 36 people have been killed following the unanticipated eruption of Mount Ontake, Japan’s second largest active volcano. The eruption is believed to have stemmed from a kind of steam-driven explosion that scientists say are especially difficult to predict. Ontake had a minor eruption in 2007, but it’s first major recorded eruption was in 1979. Japan is considered by seismologists to be a hotbed of seismic activity. Read more here.

Medical Innovations IconMedical Innovations

Each year, over 2.5 million children die worldwide because they do not receive life-saving vaccinations. To combat this global issue, researchers at Michigan State University are currently developing a fingerprint-based recognition system that has the potential to save babies’ lives through vaccination tracking. Vaccinations are normally tracked by paper documentation. However, keeping track of babies’ vaccinations on paper is highly ineffective in developing countries because they are easily lost or destroyed. Researchers are hoping that, over time, the new electronic registry systems will fix the issues of lacking and lost patient information in third world countries. Read more here.

Robotics IconSpace

Water is crucial for sustaining biological life. Consequently, scientists believe that finding the original source of Earth’s water is crucial for understanding how life-fostering environments are created, as well as estimating the likelihood of finding other environments that have the potential to hold life. Scientists at the Carnegie Institution now believe that the water found on Earth is older than the Sun, and originated in interstellar space. Read more here.

Video Games IconTechnology

Harry Potter fans likely dream of owning an Invisibility Cloak. They may be excited to learn, then, that researchers at the University of Rochester, in New York, have discovered innovative new ways to use complex lenses to hide objects from view, in a process called cloaking. The so-called “Rochester Cloak” is realistically not cloak-like at all. Nonetheless, the cloaking device has been able to successfully make a hand, face, and a ruler disappear from view. Earlier versions of cloaking devices have been complicated and financially unfeasible. This new device breaks the mold, costing researchers little more than $1,000 in materials. The implications for these types of devices are broad, and researchers believe that they can be applied everywhere, from health care to the military. Read more here.

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

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!



5 STEMy things that will blow your mind

Since it’s Tuesday, and the holiday break is so close, yet so far away, we thought we would give you a break from your daily grind to throw some amazing facts at you. Some of these will seriously blow your mind…

The Animal Kingdom IconLike, for instance, did you know that monkeys have an inherent propensity toward fair compensation? No it’s true. However complex of a concept you may think fairness to be—the video mentions that one philosopher claimed that fairness was invented during the French Revolution—it turns out us humans aren’t the only ones to internalize it. Frans de Waal explains this concept further in his TED talk.

Oh, also, cows have best friends.

Space IconOr, did you know that time travel is actually possible? A fast spaceship could theoretically take you to the future: Light speed travel causes time dilation, in which time passes more slowly for the traveler than for the universe outside. Therefore, a light speed voyage of several months could see many years pass at home, effectively sending the traveler into the future.

CSI iconMost people know that our fingerprints are unique to us as individuals, but did you know that we also have unique tongue prints? So be careful who you kiss… they may be trying to covertly identify you!

Medical Innovations IconOur brains contain hundreds of trillions of connections, which is more than all the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. And while we’re on the subject of brains, did you know that the human brain stops growing at age 18?


Do you know more awesome STEM-related facts? Tell us about it!

Hand Turkey Geometry – A STEMy take on a holiday classic

turkdance9The leaves have changed, snow has arrived in much of the country, and Thanksgiving is only days away! Before we leave to spend a day celebrating all that we are thankful for with our families, we’re sharing an activity that shows that the Thanksgiving holiday can be about more than gorging ourselves on the best food the year has to offer. So without further ado, let’s put those hand turkeys to mathematical use!

First, a little background information. This Hand Turkey Geometry activity is based on the Hand Geometry activity we use in our SMU CSI curriculum. Hand Geometry is a biometric tool that is used to identify people in a variety of places. However, hand geometry is not completely unique to each individual and is not typically used for highly secure information.

800px-Handprint_turkey_activityFollow these procedures to make and analyze your hand turkey. The materials needed for this activity are pretty basic, but if you’re feeling particularly crafty you can take some time to decorate your hand turkey too. Let’s bring the arts out to play with STEM!

Materials you will need:

-Paper (construction paper is great, particularly if you want to decorate your turkey)
-Pen or pencil
-Your hand
-Scissors (optional)
-Calculator (optional)


  1. Trace your hand on a piece of paper. To do this, just place your hand on the paper, palm down and trace all the way around. Cut this out if you would like (you don’t have to, but it makes a much better looking turkey if you cut it out!)
  2. Measure (in centimeters) the length and width of each of your fingers and write these down (you can click on the table below to get an easy-to-print version or you can just make your own table to organize your information).  Record the length as a fraction in the first length column and then convert the fraction to decimal and record the number in the second column. For example, if index finger from point A to B is 3 ½ cm, the length is 3.5 cm in decimal form. Repeat the same process for the other four fingers and record the measurements in the table.
  3. Measure your palm length and width. The length of your palm should be measured from point C to point L and the width of your palm should be measured from point I to point K in the picture shown.
  4. Multiply the length and width of each of your fingers and your palm to find their areas. Write these answers in the table.
  5. Add all of these results to find the total area of your palm.

Hand Turkey Geometry Table

So, what did you find? Are there similarities in your hand turkey areas?

Now that you’ve used your thanksgiving hand turkey to learn about your hand geometry, put these numbers to further use to find your Biometrics Alias! Whether it’s Frankie “Danger” Blitz or Bonnie “Black Widow” Mayfair, your biometrics alias is sure to keep you incognito!

We wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

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.

Teacher Workshop Day 2

The second and final day of our CSI Teacher Workshop was a huge success. We kicked the day off with a focus on law enforcement careers, as Special Agent Ron Goates, NCIS, and Special Agent David Marshall, FBI, joined our teachers for a panel discussion.


SA Ron Goates (left) and SA David Marshall (right)



Participant Pamela Gantt-Lee and SA Goates


Participants take time to pose with SA Goates

These law enforcement officials revealed the diversity of the skill sets needed in their respective organizations and gave teachers practical information about how students can go about pursuing these careers. “It’s a world we don’t get to see on a daily basis,” explained participant Gavin Eastep, and participant Elizabeth Lattier was happy to find out that kids can bring such a wide variety of skillsets to these organizations.

Teachers then broke out into groups to continue yesterday’s exploration of subjects such as biometrics, change blindness, and soil analysis,

Hand geometry - one of the biometrics activities

Hand geometry – one of the biometrics activities


Mentor Jennifer Makins discusses change blindness.


Soil analysis activity

before turning their focus to DNA. A DNA extraction activity kicked off our two-part DNA segment, allowing teachers to learn first-hand how to extract DNA from a strawberry.

Like our campers, they smashed,




and took home their own sample of DNA.


Teachers then came together for a presentation on DNA electrophoresis. During this presentation, participants learned explored genetics, and learned how to conduct their own DNA electrophoresis experiment with their students.

DNA electrophoresis presentation

DNA electrophoresis presentation

After giving participants hands-on experience with some of our CSI activities, we decided to try something new. Participants spent the final session in groups applying their new CSI knowledge to create project-based units of their own. Teachers were paired with other teachers from their grade level and came up with wonderful ideas for how to incorporate CSI into their own classrooms.




During this session our teachers came up with a wide variety of wonderful ideas for CSI units at all grade levels. Stay tuned to read all of these wonderful ideas and adapt them for use in your classroom!

Closing in on the Perpetrator

Day 4 of our CSI investigation began today, and our girl campers are closing in on the perpetrator. But before getting to work, our girls were visited by the local branch of the FBI. FBI agents are often seen in television shows and movies, so these professionals separated fact from fiction to give our campers a realistic look at what a career in the FBI entails.

Once we said our goodbyes to these professionals, the campers were back at it, continuing the biometrics activities from yesterday. Gait, iris, hand, and ear recognition were the name of the game this morning!

Stay tuned to learn all about the fun activities we’ve got planned for this afternoon… The rumor is that DNA is involved!