Month in STEM: October 2014

October is heading to close, and we’ve got you covered with the latest in STEM news for the month. We’re keeping things a little creepy to celebrate Halloween. From ghostly stars to creepy critters that help solve crimes, here are some of our top picks.

The Animal Kingdom IconAnimal Kingdom

A new report recently came to light about the rapid evolution of a lizard species native to Florida in response to pressure from an invading Cuban species. Scientists have observed and documented this lizard species evolve in the relatively short span of 15 years and 20 generations.

After initial contact with the invasive species, native lizards, called Carolina anoles, began perching higher in trees. From one generation to another, their feet evolved to become better at gripping the thinner, smoother branches found in the higher parts of the trees. Now, their toe pads are larger and there are more sticky scales on their feet.

Researchers believe that the changes are a response to competition for food and living space. It’s also noted that both lizard species have been documented to eat the hatchlings of the other species. Thus, the ability to scale trees at a quicker pace may be the difference between getting to safety and becoming a meal. Read more here.

Under the Sea IconUnder the Sea

New science suggests that if you’re a leatherback sea turtle, staying on the plump size may make it easier to get around the ocean. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Florida Atlantic University (FAU), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have found that long and lean sea turtles are not as efficient swimmers as the ones that are more robust in size. To come to these conclusions, scientists measured the forces that act on a swimming animal and the energy that is expended by the animal to move through the water. After using their measurements and recreating an environment with virtual sea turtles and experimenting with different parameters, they found that rounder sea turtles are able to cover more ground while using up the same amount of energy as their skinnier counterparts. Read more here.

Forensics

We’re getting into the spirit of Halloween with this creepy video. Dead or alive, a body plays host to all sorts of organisms. There are innumerable types of flora that are naturally found on a person’s skin, as well as inside stomachs, noses, mouths and other body parts. But when a dead body begins to decompose, it also becomes a breeding ground for certain types of bugs that act as decomposers to return the body’s nutrients back to the earth. Knowledge of the life cycles of these bugs can help forensic scientists during crime scene investigation. Watch more here.

Medical Innovations IconMedical Innovations

Miniature human stomachs can now be grown in Petri dishes. By bathing stem cells in a concoction of chemicals that boost growth, scientists have managed to create clumps of gastric tissue the size of a pin head. Like normal human stomachs, the lab-grown stomach globs contain cells that are able to make mucus and pump hormones. Scientists are hoping to use the tissue to further study gastric diseases, such as stomach cancer. Read more here.

Robotics IconSpace

NASA’s Hubble Telescope has picked up the faint glow of stars that were ejected from ancient galaxies that were gravitationally wrenched apart several billion years ago. The “ghost lights” from the dead galaxies are no longer bound to any one galaxy. Instead, the stars drift freely between the nearly 500 galaxies in the cluster known as “Pandora’s Cluster”. By observing the light from the stray stars, scientists have gathered enough evidence to believe that as many as six galaxies were torn apart over the course of 6 billion years. Read more here.

Video Games IconTechnology

A team of scientists and engineers at the University of California recently created a new nanoparticle-based material that has the capacity to convert absorb and convert to heat more than 90% of the sunlight that it captures. It is also able to withstand temperatures of more than 700 degrees Celsius, and has the ability to withstand many years of outdoor exposure to air and humidity. In comparison, current solar absorbers have significantly shorter life spans, and are unable to function at higher temperatures. The type of energy that the material is harvesting is called concentrated solar power (CSP). The sun is still an emerging source of power, but it has a great deal of potential within the alternative energy market. CSP currently produces approximately 3.5 gigawatts worth of power at power plants around the globe, or the equivalent to the energy needed to power more than 2 million homes. Read more here.

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

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.

The Coolest of the Cool (jobs, that is)

We talk a bit about our Cool Jobs campaign that we launched on our websites last fall. While we completely encourage everyone to take an hour, a day, a month to peruse all of these wonderful interviews, we thought that we would take a second to highlight a few of these wonderful professionals. All of these men and women offered incredible wisdom about how they landed their careers and how students might follow in their footsteps. But some of them offered really wonderful life stories and incredible insights into the struggles they faced or the dedication required of them…

And don’t forget that our STEM Works websites offers four different versions of these interviews containing questions aimed specifically for different age groups: Elementary, Middle School, High School, and Undergraduate. So if you really love one of these articles and want to show it to your students, group, or children, be sure to find the version that is best suited for them!

The Animal Kingdom IconAnimal Kingdom

Katrina McCauley always knew she wanted to work with animals, but the journey to becoming a Zookeeper wasn’t easy. McCauley, armed with the educational background and ability to promote herself, broke into zookeeping and has been building her relationship with Colo, the oldest gorilla in a zoo, ever since. Read more to learn how McCauley spends her days as a Zookeeper at the Columbus Zoo! Read article.

Extreme Weather IconExtreme Weather

Lightning struck when Dr. Josh Wurman landed on the Discovery Channel’s reality series Storm Chasers and the IMAX film Forces of Nature.  Dr. Wurman was joined by his colleague Dr. Karen Kosiba to discuss what life is really like as a meteorologist and tornado chaser. A fun fact about this interview is that it was literally conducted while these two storm chasers were en route to a site in their meteorology van.  Read article.

Medical Innovations IconMedical Innovations

After a chance introduction to the field of public health, Allison Brown caught the bug! She passed up medical school to become an epidemiologist and now travels the world for the CDC to solve some of the world’s biggest public health problems. Read on to see why Allison’s interests are contagious! Read article.

Robotics IconRobotics

Robots are not just a thing of science-fiction.  Robots are in places you might not expect, whether they are helping people around the house or traveling to Mars.  We caught up with Dr. Chris Jones, former Director of Research Advancement with iRobot to discuss the power of mentorship, the emerging market for robotics, and even “soft” robots!  Read article.

Space IconSpace

We couldn’t conduct an interview related to space without first going to world-renowned NASA! Luckily, we were able to speak with Carlie Zumwalt, who is one of NASA’s Flight Dynamics Engineers. So what was this girl who works for such a high-profile organization like? She was surprisingly humble, incredibly candid, and wonderfully addicted to hard work. Her article is definitely a must read. Read article.

Under the Sea IconUnder the Sea

Shannon Johnson, Deep-Sea Research Technician with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), described her job as like watching the Discovery Channel in real time. Shannon explores the oceans through the use of ROV’s, or Remote Operated Vehicles, and gets to discover new things about the ocean every day. Oh, and not to mention that her office is in one of the most beautiful coastal areas on the West coast… Read article.

Video Games IconVideo Games

Kelly Murphy, a Video Game Designer for Walt Disney, spends his time balancing tight deadlines for game releases while ensuring Disney games are exciting to play and keep gamers’ coming back for more. Read more to learn what makes a Video Game Designer such a cool jobs here.

Wind Energy IconWind Energy

At first glance this job might not seem very wind related… but it’s more wind related than you might think. After entering a Ph. D. program in aerospace engineering, the current of Jonathan Colby’s career swept him away from aerospace and toward renewable energy. Jonathan now works to turn the flow of New York’s East River into clean, renewable power. Read on to learn how blue water turns into green energy. Read article.

BeakerOther STEM Subjects

Because we are very aware that the wonderful world of STEM includes far more than the subjects above, we feature didn’t limit our interviews to these subjects alone. One of the professionals featured in this section is green chemist Dr. John Warner. Many products in our world today are made with toxic materials. Now, picture a world without toxins – no pollution, no hazardous materials, and no harmful products. Green Chemists, like John Warner PhD, are working to make this dream a reality. Learn what makes Dr. Warner’s work not only important to us, but critical for generations to come. Read article.

This month’s exciting STEM news – August, 2013

You asked, we listened. We got quite a bit of feedback expressing a deeply felt, passionate, and undying love for our last “This month’s exciting STEM news” feature. Since we could not allow such love to go unrequited, we bring you exciting STEM news from the month of August, 2013.

Ok, we’re being totally dramatic. But really, we think quite a few of you enjoyed this feature last month, so here is some cool news pertaining to the other 8 subjects featured on our STEM Works and Kids Ahead websites: 

The Animal Kingdom IconAnimal Kingdom

The discovery of a new mammal is an incredibly rare event in the 21st century. In 2013, however, scientists discovered a new mammal species called the olinguito,which lives in the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador. Read article.

Extreme Weather IconExtreme Weather

Wildfires have been a hot topic this month (no pun intended), as much of the country has been up in flames. Though fire in and of itself is not necessarily a weather phenomenon, oftentimes wildfires are caused by weather-related phenomena such as lighting. But enough talk, check out this slideshow of some of the weather the world experienced this month. Read article.

Medical Innovations IconMedical Innovations

It’s about time we all put aside our differences, especially since scientists have determined that all humans are 99.9% the same. Genetically speaking, that is. Read article.

Robotics IconRobotics

Robots are proving to be a source of inspiration for Ford as the company seeks to find better ways to help create safer vehicles. And not just any robots… space robots. Oh yeah. Read article.

Space IconSpace

Our skies treated us to a Perseid meteor shower this month. In case you missed this Perseid shower— so named due to the fact that its point of origin lies in the constellation Perseus,— here is a time lapse video of the show for your viewing pleasure . Read article.

Under the Sea IconUnder the Sea

Shark Week! Shark Week! Shark Week! Just kidding. It would totally be cheating to list Shark Week two months in a row… though this really was the month that brought us this year’s Shark Week. Instead, this month’s under the sea news brings the ocean to you. Literally. Due to the fact that many people have reported health benefits associated with the smell of salty sea air, a sea breeze generator is being developed for public consumption. Dibs! Read article.

Video Games IconVideo Games

A Stanford mathematician argued that video games are the perfect platform for teaching mathematics. No seriously. Read article.

Wind Energy IconWind Energy

Cleveland played host to the “Power Up for Offshore Wind” event this month. The event was intended to demonstrate to power companies that the demand for wind power in the area is strong. As a result, over 4,500 have pledged to buy offshore wind energy from turbines in Lake Erie. Read article.

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

Earth, the Final Frontier

Space Earth, the final frontier.

I was greeted this morning by this article, which explains how NASA scientists have recreated the aurora borealis in a lab. Seeing as how witnessing the Northern Lights is at the top of my bucket list, I was automatically intrigued with the prospect of avoiding a trip to the North Pole. But avoiding the trip and reducing the size of my bucket list were not the only things this article got me thinking about.

By The High Fin Sperm Whale (Self-taken photo) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By The High Fin Sperm Whale (Self-taken photo) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s easy to wonder about things in the sky. The vastness of our atmosphere and the universe beyond it are as inviting to our imaginations as a blank canvas. As an adult I have grown into a space enthusiast, but even as a kid I was not exempt from endless star gazing, wishing on those that zipped across my line of sight.

Yet what about the things that are right here on earth? There is so much mystery that exists right in front of us if we have the eyes to see it. I admit that words like physics and geology (and even biology to a certain extent) used to invoke in me feelings of dread, but the more I learn about these fields of study, the more they intrigue me.

NASA scientists were able to recreate a beautiful atmospheric phenomenon using physical properties like magnetic force and charged particles. Science teachers have told me time and again about “the building blocks of our universe,” and an article like this provides a wonderful example of what this really means. Physics, geology, chemistry, biology—all of these subjects dance together to explain our world, our universe, and beyond.  Our planet and its components provide infinite possibilities for exploration and discovery.

I’ve said it before—I come from the place of a former sciencephobe. Yet in a way I credit my early aversion to science with a renewed sense of wonder in my adult years. I’m late to the science party, but now I am ready to rock! (get it?) So join the party by defending the following statement:

Earth, the final frontier.

By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This month’s exciting STEM news

Ok, so we know that lately we’ve been bombarding you with post after post about our CSI camp programs. And while we love these programs and could talk about them all day, everyday, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on some cool news pertaining to the other 8 subjects featured on our STEM Works and Kids Ahead websites. Here’s some cool things we did not get around to addressing during the month of July:

The Animal Kingdom IconAnimal Kingdom

A zonkey was born in Italy. You read that right, a zonkey. Part zebra, part donkey, Ippo was born in Florence, Italy last week, and the best part… he’s not the only one of his kind. Read article.

Extreme Weather IconExtreme Weather

NOAA’s National Weather Service more than doubled its computing capacity with newly upgraded supercomputers this month. These supercomputers will provide forecasters with more accurate information as the hurricane season ramps up. Read article.

Medical Innovations IconMedical Innovations

The race is on to produce a $100 genome test. As interest in DNA sequencing gains traction, entrepreneurs and scientists are trying to reduce the price of sequencing an entire human genome from $4,000 to $100. Read article.

Robotics IconRobotics

Robotics was declared as the next big growth industry in the US. Robotics Business Review estimates that consumer robot sales will reach $15 billion by 2015. Read article.

Space IconSpace

NASA turned 55 years old this month. We’ve come a long way since launching a chimpanzee into space, so check out this review of some of the most iconic moments in NASA’s history. Read article.

Under the Sea IconUnder the Sea

Shark Week! Shark Week! Shark Week! Ok, Shark Week didn’t exactly occur in July, but many of us spent the entire month gearing up! If, like us, you live for the gratuitous teeth shots, jump shots, and time-lapse shots, here are some fun shark facts to keep you occupied until Shark Week begins on August 4th. Read article.

Video Games IconVideo Games

STEM educators will love this one. The winners of the third annual STEM Video Game Challenge were announced this month. Learn all about the winners and applicants here.

Wind Energy IconWind Energy

According to National Geographic, scientists are exploring the possibility of storing excess wind energy in volcanic rock reservoirs. Didn’t know there was such a thing as excess wind energy? Neither did we! Read article.

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

Apps help put the “T” in “STEM”

It is hardly news that modern technology has given us access to a breadth of knowledge at a moment’s notice. With organizations and corporations around the world adopting these modern technologies, we are seeing a wider variety of smart phone and tablet apps that give the world access to whole new realms of information and knowledge.  Check out the apps listed below to get some of this knowledge in the palm of your hand!

Aspire Institute’s STEM AppWe had the opportunity to contribute a CSI activity to the STEM App launched by the Aspire Institute this spring. The goal of this app is to provide a daily STEM activity that parents and kids can do together. Aspire wrote a wonderful blog post about this app last April, so rather than reading our second-hand version of this post, you can check it out here!

 

NASA App for Android and iOSJust when we thought NASA couldn’t get any cooler… The NASA app gives you VIP access to tons of NASA content, including images, videos, NASA television, mission information, news, satellite tracking and much more! And here’s the best part… it’s free!

photo

“Solve the Outbreak” iPad App from the CDCThanks to a follow-up email from Allison Brown, our CDC contact and Cool Jobs professional, we were recently made aware of the CDC’s new “Solve the Outbreak” iPad app. Many jobs are emerging in the field of public health, and this app gives teens and young adults a glimpse into the life of a working epidemiologist. In this interactive, engaging app, you get to decide what to do: Do you quarantine the village? Talk to the people who are sick? Ask for more lab results? Get the app to learn about diseases and outbreaks in an engaging way. Oh yeah, it’s free too.

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Are you looking for a certain type of STEM app but can’t seem to find it? Do you know a technologically-minded student? Why not have that student make the app? Organizations like CoderDojo and TekStart teach students how to develop apps through the use of code. If you know a technologically-minded student who wants to get into coding, check to see if there is an organization like this in your city. After all, there can never be enough STEM-related apps!

Why I Now Think STEM Jobs are Cool

In 2012, I was brought onto the STEM team at SMU’s Caruth Institute for Engineering Education to work on the Cool Jobs initiative, which launched last fall. Having come to the team from a non-STEM related field, I was completely unprepared for the impact these interviews had on me. During the interview process, I spoke to STEM professionals from all over the country whose jobs were as diverse as their locations. One thing is for sure—these professionals, and those out there like them, make our world and everything in it go round.

Dr. Josh Wurman from the Discovery Channel's Storm Chasers

Dr. Josh Wurman from the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers

For those of you unfamiliar with the Cool Jobs interviews, these interviews provided a rare glimpse into the jobs, lives, and journeys of working STEM professionals from across the broad STEM community. These articles provide practical information and advice for students interested in pursuing a career in STEM, but the most striking aspect of these accounts is the human voice these professionals lend to the issue. Interview participants showed that there are many paths that lead to STEM professions; there is no single way to pursue, or even to identify, one’s passion in life. Some of the professionals we spoke with knew from an early age that they were meant for STEM, and others followed a winding road to their current STEM career.

Carlie Zumwalt, NASA

Carlie Zumwalt, NASA

If there is one constant that spans the entirety of this showcase, it’s that STEM professionals found a variety of ways to turn their passions into careers they absolutely love. I remember the excitement in the voice of Carlie Zumwalt, Aerospace Engineer with NASA, as she discussed the possibilities her position allows her to consider (like putting a human on Mars).

Cara Santa Maria

Cara Santa Maria

Cara Santa Maria, Senior Science Correspondent for The Huffington Post and Host of “Talk Nerdy to Me”, said that she is constantly inspired by the relationships she makes with remarkable STEM professionals, all because of her career. I felt honored to speak with these inspirational people, and I feel even more honored to share their stories with this community so they may continue to inspire people from around the world.

While many of these interviews showcase high-profile professionals and organizations, I was also struck by the realization that STEM professionals are everywhere! Many of the people I have known and worked with are hard at work applying STEM principles to solve problems and create solutions that address the many needs of our world. If you enjoyed our Cool Jobs series, I challenge you to find a STEM professional near you; they might be closer than you think! Talk to them, listen to their stories, and see if their experiences can apply to your own journey.

Brian small

Brian Groark

Speaking of STEM professionals being everywhere—the newest addition to our Cool Jobs showcase comes to us from our own work family. Our director, Lindsey Groark, happens to be married to a STEM professional working in the field of construction. Brian Groark, Electrical Construction Senior Project Manager with Truland Systems Corporation, turned an early interest in construction into a rewarding STEM career. He now spends his days working on large-scale construction projects, transforming them from holes in the ground into the buildings we live in, work in, and play in.

Be sure to check out Brian’s interview, then stay a while and peruse our wonderful showcase of STEM professionals!