Posts in category #thisisMYstem

Love Travel? Try STEM!

STEMtravelHave you guys missed me? I’ve missed you lots, but I’ve had an amazing few weeks, months even! I know it’s pretty counter to the social media dogma, but I tried to shut off my phone, and live in the moment as much as possible.  But now, I’m back, and ready to talk STEM again.  I’ll try to share some of the highlights of my travels with you in detail over the next several weeks, but first let’s talk about why STEM may be an awesome career choice if you’re like me and love to travel.

First, a benefit of most STEM jobs is that they usually come with great benefits packages, including lots of vacation time. You’ll probably also have a pretty good salary, which means you’ll have some spare money to use over your vacation time. In June, I went to Cedar Point with family to run a half marathon with my sister-in-law. It was my first half-marathon, which I was pretty excited about.

Pretty out of gas after a 13.1 mile Sunday morning jog - and getting geared up for rollercoasters!

Pretty out of gas after a 13.1 mile Sunday morning jog – and getting geared up for rollercoasters!

In July, we went on a family vacation with my parents and sisters to go to Tennessee. I blogged about the week in Tennessee here. It was really fun to spend the whole week with my kids adventuring, exploring, and experimenting!  The lake we visit in Tennessee was created by the Tennessee Valley Authority back in the great depression by damming a river.  Much like the Hoover dam, this helped with flooding issues in the area as well as providing a renewable energy source.  The views on the lake are absolutely stunning!

With a view like this, you'd turn your phone off too!

With a view like this, you’d turn your phone off too!

Mr SciGuy and I just returned from Traverse City, MI with his family. If you’re not from the great state of Michigan, maybe you haven’t heard of it, but it’s a fantastic place to visit. If you think of the lower peninsula of Michigan like a mitten, Traverse City would be situated just about on the fingernail of your ring finger.

We took a ride on the biggest catamaran on the Great Lakes - we love the NautiCat!

We took a ride on the biggest catamaran on the Great Lakes – we love the NautiCat!

It has 2 big bays that connect to Lake Michigan, and there’s lots of outdoor things to do, and also a big cherry and wine industry on the peninsulas around the bay.

The view across one of the bays, just before a BIG storm rolled in

The view across one of the bays, just before a BIG storm rolled in

Vacationing is an obvious way to get travel in, but there’s also opportunity to travel for your job in STEM, too! For example, Mr. SciGuy spent a week in St Louis, MO for job training. I also got the opportunity to go on a quick trip to Toronto, Canada last month for business meetings. I spent a full work day in (really awesome, inspiring, educational, and fun) business meetings, but got to spend the evening I was there downtown. We went to an Iron Chef’s restaurant (Lee, by Susur Le) which was fantastic, walked through downtown, and spent some time on the hotel roof, which had an incredible view of the Toronto skyline. I wish I could’ve squeezed in a trip to the CN Tower, but didn’t have time on this trip, because I had to fly home and re-pack my bags to go on another trip! Guess I’ll have to go back to Toronto again soon!

Love the Toronto skyline!

Love the Toronto skyline!

Now, let’s talk about my favorite method of work travel. If you go into academic research, scientific conferences are I’ll devote an entire blog post on another day to why conferences are so awesome. To summarize, though, conferences are a way to share your work with others, see the current research in your field from all the scientific leaders, and to get the opportunity to meet leaders in the field and develop new collaborations. A bonus? They’re usually held in pretty cool places.

Previously, I’ve been to local conferences around Michigan, and travelled to Chicago, Washington DC, Boston, and Puerto Rico. This summer, I had the opportunity to go to Budapest, Hungary for a conference on lipid research. Budapest was amazing! I spent workdays working at the conference and listening to seminars, but we had nights, plus the day before and the day after the conference to see the city. Our hotel was right at the end of the Chain Bridge, one of the most famous sights in the city. Originally, Buda was split into two cities: Buda, and Pest. When the two cities merged to Budapest, the Chain Bridge was the first bridge to join the two cities. Now, there are several more bridges throughout the city, but the Chain Bridge is the most famous.  The picture at the top of the blog is of the lions guarding the Chain Bridge.

The view from our hotel roof - the architecture in Budapest was phenomenal!

The view from our hotel roof, with the Academy of Science across the park – the architecture in Budapest was phenomenal!

The conference was held in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, another very famous site in the city, and we were within walking distance of Hungarian Parliament, the Academy of Art, a cathedral, and several marketplaces. Plus, if you follow me on Twitter (@theSTEMinista), you might already know I got to go to dinner in a castle – I lived my own personal fairytale for a night! Later in the week, I toured the underground dungeon/labyrinth attached to the castle, where Vlad the Impaler (aka Dracula) was imprisoned – if you like haunted houses and scary movies, this labyrinth is something you have to see!

I ate dinner at a castle - it was amazing!!  What a princess moment!

I ate dinner at a castle – it was amazing!! What a princess moment!

Did I mention the science at the conference was really good, too?  I learned a ton, met great people, and might have a couple future collaborations up my sleeve as well.

So, to summarize, my STEM career allowed me to travel my heart out this summer: to Cedar Point, Tennessee, Traverse City, Toronto, Budapest, and home with my kids while my husband went to St. Louis. What a whirlwind! I loved the travel, but I’m pretty excited to be back home, and getting back into my normal routine. If travel is a goal you aspire to, STEM is one of the best ways to achieve that goal – take it from me!

As I get back into my routine, and enjoy the last, precious few weeks of summer, I’m looking forward to talking more about STEM with you and gearing up for the 2015-2016 school year!


TBT: Viewing a Space Shuttle Launch

The beauty of the vapor trail of the shuttle launch was amplified by the sunset

The beauty of the vapor trail of the shuttle launch was amplified by the sunset

Note: this post has been edited (changes are in italics) and may be edited again as we get more great information about space shuttle launches

Friends, I took a longer absence than planned, and I apologize. Today, we’re throw-back Thursday-ing to talk about a space shuttle launch I saw in 2009.  How did that come up, you ask?  Let me explain…

Last night, I posted to Twitter about how the Northern Lights are visible further south than usual because of a solar storm. If you haven’t seen them, the northern lights are astonishingly beautiful – they almost look magical. I have great memories as a teenager of going on trips to northern Michigan with friends, and laying on a dock to watch the stars and northern lights.

I peeked outside a couple times last night to look for myself, but didn’t have any luck spotting them. Too bad for me! Guess I’ll have to make a trip up north sometime soon to get my northern lights fix.

Anyway, I digress.

@FLBeach_MG and I struck up conversation about the northern lights which then led to talking about what he does – space shuttle launches!! What a great job – really, really cool #STEM, with the side bonus of working in really, really nice places.  No northern lights, but usually no snow, either!

John shared some videos of space shuttle launches, which reminded me about the time I went to a space shuttle launch (more about that in a minute). Turns out, we were at the same launch: STS-119!  One of the last launches of the space shuttle Discovery.

John dug up this really cool video that shows not only what a bystander sees when they go to a launch, but also what you can hear over the radio, while showing a timed graph of the altitude, metrics, and clues about different phases of the launch process including a picture of the shuttle showing its orientation.

It’s a longer video, but very informative if you (like me) aren’t familiar with shuttle launches. There’s a lot that happens after 3…2…1… A couple minutes after liftoff, the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) come off. These provide the primary thrust in the first two minutes. They are super heavy (2.6 million pounds) but provide 13,800 kN of thrust – wow!

I was surprised to see on John’s video that there’s actually a descent about 5 and a half minutes after liftoff. A maximum height is reached, and then the goal changes to building speed. During this phase, the shuttle rolls over to what we think of as an upright position. (John asked astronaut Nicole Scott why, the shuttle was head-down before TRDS, and reports her response “We’re pilots.  We like the horizon”.  Makes sense, right?) It goes through a downhill slide of several miles in altitude drop, and then starts to gain altitude again to go into orbit. Less than 8 and a half minutes after liftoff, the main engines cut off, and the external tank is released (John and other space experts out there, please correct me if I’m mistaken, or over simplifying!).

Thanks to John, we can see that after only about 8minutes and 30 seconds, the shuttle accelerates from rest to a speed of more than 16,900 miles per hour, and an altitutude of 65.3 miles. Also, the space shuttle is nearly 800 miles away (down-range) from where it started in Cape Canaveral. That’s an average of about 94 miles – per minute!! Too bad we can’t all get around that quickly!

Here’s another narrated video John shared which shows up-close vantage points of the features pointed out in John’s video.  One thing that stood out to me is how much show there was when the SRBs come off, versus a relatively peaceful release of the external tank.  The external tank was a little more like hippos doing ballet in Fantasia (at least to me).  Also interesting to me, which is pointed out in the video, is that there is a several minute window after liftoff where the shuttle can be averted and return to Earth should anything go wrong.  I always thought there was no going back once you’re in the air, but if the shuttle can land on a runway on return, why not return to runway in the case of an aborted mission?  Again – makes sense! For much more detailed information, check out NASA’s website. They have tons of great resources available for readers at all experience levels.

Even though it’s not my area of expertise, I’ve always had a fascination with space shuttles. They’re just plain cool, right? Mr. SciGuy is an even bigger space lover than me, though. In 2009 before we went on a vacation to Florida, he brought up that he was bummed because we were just missing a shuttle launch, and he’d always wanted to see a shuttle launch.  And Discovery was nearing retirement, so opportunities to see it were dwindling.

Bummer, right?

Actually, not so much.

Turns out the launch faced delay after delay. First, the mission team delayed the launch to examine (and then replace) the hydrogen flow control valves that send hydrogen from the fuel tank to the engine. Then, the launch was delayed because of a hydrogen vent line was leaking. If I remember correctly, the launch was then rescheduled to March 15 based on the weather conditions– this was a day we were scheduled to be in Florida, with no other plans (except now to go see a space shuttle launch).

nasa1So, we packed some bottles of water and our camera and drove from Tampa (on the west coast of the state) to Cape Canaveral (on the east coast). The launch was in.cred.ible. It was more intense than I imagined. The general public can’t actually get anywhere near a shuttle launch. We went to a beach in Titusville, ~10 miles away from the ACTUAL launch. At first, I was a little bummed. 10 miles away – could you even see something from 10 miles away? Let me tell you. Yes.


The light of launch, from 10 miles away was staggering. The noise? Even more intense, but the sound travels slower than the light. For a second, you think, “wow, that’s really bright.  too bad we can’t be closer”. Then, there’s a rumbling like nothing else you’ve ever felt, and you think “oh – now I understand why we shouldn’t be any closer”. You can feel in completely to the core. It’s really cool.  And then things really get moving.

<<Side note: after posting, John sent this video too, which shows damage to brick walls at the launch site following launch.  First, seeing people and work trucks in the area gives a great sense of scale about just how big a space shuttle and it’s launch gear is.  The damage to the wall itself may not seem super impressive – just some missing bricks, right?  Until about 2 minutes into the video, when you can see just how far the brick debris was thrown from the launch site.  There’s a reason they keep the general public miles away!  Good thing we did kinematics in my last post, because projectile bricks would be another really fun physics problem.>>

Beautiful reflections in the vapor cloud

Beautiful reflections in the vapor cloud

It’s amazing to watch the shuttle slowly leave the ground, and head toward space. Then, too soon, it’s gone from sight, but there’s a veil of excitement still in the air. And, in the case of this launch, there was a killer reflection of the sunset off the vapor trail. Even the launch director called it the most beautiful launch he’d ever seen. I’m clearly an amateur photographer, but I’ve included some of my favorite pictures from the night in the post to try to convey the beauty.

edit: After originally posting this, John sent

Big questions lay in the sky - literally and figuratively

Big questions lay in the sky – literally and figuratively

Did you notice this one, where the vapor trail looks like question marks? It was windy, and the wind blew the vapor trail into a really cool pattern. I’ve used it in a number of presentations during Q&A segments. Turns out John and his team did some calculations based on the time of flight, and altitude at each time (see the video), and determined the big question marks in the sky were at about 16,000 ft altitude.  How many of you readers are thinking in your head that it would be amazing to spend a couple days in John’s shoes?

Have you been to a space shuttle or other launch experience?   What was it like for you? If not, how do you envision the future of space shuttles? Do you think they’ll still be a rare occasion worthy of a special trip, or do you think eventually they’ll be as routine as watching airplanes take off at a busy airport?

–the STEMinista

Big Accomplishment Friday – June 5, 2015

BAF 060515

Last Friday, @SKZingales and I had a little Twitter chat about work-life balance, and whether or not that’s something that young faculty members can achieve.  This was not a good work/life balance week for me.  I did accomplish a lot of things though – and that’s what we talk about on Fridays – right?

If you follow me on Twitter (@theSTEMinista), you may have some guesses about what my big accomplishments were this week – but I’ve saved the most exciting news to share with all of you here.

The highlight of my week was not getting a review paper accepted – although I’m pretty pleased to bring some Raman spectroscopy love to the farmers, and farm love to the Raman spectroscopists.

The highlight of my week was not a paper revision being resubmitted – although that was cool too.  Some other researchers at my institution did some really cool work on a biomedical project a little outside my area of expertise.  Their reviewers asked them to throw in some work on characterization on the material they developed, so I got to hop in on the project and help them out with some molecular characterization (which is my area of expertise!).  New collaboration, really cool project, and there are lots of opportunities to work together with this group again in the future – exciting!!

The highlight of my week was not submitting an R01 proposal – that was pretty much the low-light, LOL!  For those of you not in research fields, R01’s are big government grant proposals, that are due February 5, June 5, and October 5 every year (at least in my areas of study).  Putting them together can be tricky.  The proposal itself is only 12 written pages, but then you need a whole volume of accompanying paperwork to go with it.  If you do a proposal with multiple leaders, across multiple institutions, things get really crazy.  It can be frustrating to wait for everyone on the team to do their part to finish the proposal.  I am glad that it is done, but this is the main area where I lost on work/life balance this week.

Are you still wondering about my exciting news?  All those things got accomplished this week – what else could there possibly be to celebrate?

Well, my friends

I’ve been keeping it to myself until everything was official And now it’s pretty much official So, the big news is:


What’s in Budapest, you ask?

The 14th International Conference on Bioactive Lipids in Cancer, Inflammation, and Related Diseases.  Depending on what you do, or want to do, that may or may not sound amazing.  To me, it sounds amazing.  Lipid research has really taken off in the past 20-30 years.

When I was a kid, we were taught the lipids and fat were the body’s energy store, and that was pretty much the end of the story.  Now we now that adipose tissue is really an endocrine organ, and there is a lot of really important signaling going on within your fat, and with lipids found in your other cells as well.

You can sequence all the lipids in your body just like you can sequence all the genes in your body – it’s really cool!  They respond really quickly to various stimuli, so they’re often the fastest way to identify a physiologic change.

Not coming from a chemistry and biology background, a lot of the science and characterization methods are new to me, so I still have a lot of learning to do.  I love learning about the types of problems lipids researchers are studying, and developing ideas for how the technologies I work on can be translated to solving their problems.

And, did I mention the obvious?


I am really excited for the opportunity to travel to a new place, and see some of Europe!  The conference hotel is right in the heart of the city, and we’ll get great views of the Danube.  The Gala Dinner for the conference takes place on a river cruise – if you haven’t already noticed, I love love LOVE the water, and can’t wait to spend the evening at a fancy dinner, on a boat with brilliant scientists and beautiful views!

If you’re in the lipids field, you should definitely check out the conference.

Hopefully while I’m there, I’ll have the opportunity to share part of the experience with you, through pictures, and updates about all the cool science.

So that’s my week, in a nutshell!  What were your accomplishments this week?


PS –Mr.SciGuy also celebrated a birthday this week!  If you get the opportunity, wish him a happy birthday.

STEMinista, do you even do STEM?

Do you even DO STEM?Yay! I thought you’d never ask! Since you asked, I’d love to take a few minutes to talk about my job tonight. I work in the Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems Laboratories at Wayne State University.

Want to guess what we do?

I’ll give you a hint: it has to do with sensors and microsystems – but I presume you used your context clues to figure that one out on your own already. So beyond that, what do we do? Most of the work we do is biomedical, and ALL of the work I do is biomedical. If you aren’t into biomedical problems, don’t worry – we use lots of other areas of science and engineering to solve biomedical problems, so this may be of interest to you, too.

We start with a problem. Sometimes our partners approach us with a specific problem in mind. Sometimes, we immerse ourselves in a clinical environment to identify problems ourselves, and sometimes, we come up with our own problems. I think it’s safe to say – in all areas of STEM – if you don’t have a really good understanding of your problem, you can’t come up with a viable solution.

Learning about surgical problems - by spending serious time in the operating room

Learning about surgical problems – by spending serious time in the operating room

I bet you can guess our next step….

Next, we brainstorm potential solutions. My boss (he’s kind of a big deal) likes to say we take an ‘atoms-to-man’ approach, meaning that we look at solutions at all scales – from the atomic or molecular level, to organs or parts of organs, to whole-person or process based solutions, and everything in between.

We’re stepping through the scientific process here, so I bet you can guess what happens next….

We evaluate the potential solutions to see what’s been tried before, what is viable and what isn’t. We have some traditional tools to do this (like libraries for research), but we also have a really cool and pretty unique design and simulation laboratory with teleconferencing capability to include all the key players (doctors, funders, scientists, engineers, etc) and all the latest and greatest design and simulation software (more on that in a future post, maybe?). A lot of times, we’ll also do some preliminary clinical or laboratory studies to test out our hypotheses before we proceed with a solution.

This is where things start to get cool, my friends.

Once we have an idea, and a simulated design, we have a whole series of micro- and nano-fabrication facilities to build solutions (usually sensors are involved in some way, hence the name smart “sensors”).

What is microfabrication? It’s basically the process of making really small-scale things (like sensors!). Again, this is an overview – we’ll probably talk more about this in future posts. For those of you not used to the names, micro is 10-6 meters, and nano is 10-9 meters. The features on the sensors and devices we’re making can be as small as ~0.000000003 m. For reference, a human hair is typically 20 – 200 micrometers (0.000020 – 0.000200 m). So the patterns we’re designing are much, much, much smaller than a human hair – cool, huh? Fabrication is done in a ‘clean room’, which is a room with specialized ventilation to prevent contamination from dust or other particles that may interfere with the device you’re building. Clean room ventilation is also designed to keep users safe, by preventing them from being exposed to chemicals or biological contaminants that are being used in the room.

Suited up to work in a clean room - no contamination is coming off of us!

Suited up to work in a clean room – no contamination is coming off of us!

We also have the equipment necessary to take a sensor and build it into an “integrated” (there we are with the creative naming system again!) circuit board, so that it can be placed into an actual electronic device.

How do we make sure that the sensors we make turn out correctly if they’re so small? Good question! We have another entire laboratory dedicated to characterization. For now, you should know that means we have a bunch of REALLY powerful microscopes, to look at things up close, as well as a whole bunch of other materials science tools to study the various properties of our sensors (or anything else whose properties we might find interesting).

Big microscopes come in big boxes - I couldn't resist!

Big microscopes come in big boxes – I couldn’t resist!

Lastly, we have a number of ‘translational’ labs, where we can test out the final or near-final devices. Within our clean room fabrication area, we have a dedicated lab for doing biology work. Then, a sensor can be built, packaged into a device, and tested in a biological laboratory without ever leaving the ‘clean’ environment.

Working in a biology tissue culture laboratory - and perfecting the foot pop!

Working in a biology tissue culture laboratory – and perfecting the foot pop!

So, that was a quick, broad overview of what my lab does, without any actual mention of any of the projects I work on – do you feel cheated??? I feel a little like a cheated you….

Before we go into detail about the projects I work on, let’s talk a little about my role, and the other types needed to make the lab a success.

One of my primary jobs is to serve as a ‘clinical interface’. What does that even mean? I have a pretty good understanding of the science and engineering work we do, but I also have a pretty good understanding of the medical side of what we do, so I spend a lot of time meeting with doctors and researchers making sure the science matches the medicine and the medicine matches the science. This is important to make sure experiments are setup correctly, and to make sure the experiments we do in the laboratory will be relevant to the doctors who will use the final product we develop.

Another part of ‘clinical interface’ is managing administrative paperwork – a lot of it. It is tedious, and it’s not science-y at all (at least not the kind I want to spend my time with), but it is absolutely required anytime research is performed on humans or animals. In the past, there have been a LOT of really unethical experiments done on both people and animals, so the government-mandated regulations to make sure that people and animals aren’t unfairly exploited. Even if it isn’t fun, it’s important, and the systems are in place for a reason. Unfortunately for me, I really understand the system and processes, so I’ve become the go-to girl for managing all that paperwork.

I’m also expected to write peer-reviewed research papers and grants, so I spend a lot of time analyzing experimental data, formatting it for presentations, papers, and grants, and writing the accompanying documents to go with the data. Since I work in a big laboratory, I also get to mentor a constantly-rotating group of students (ranging from high school students, to graduate students, to medical students, to post-medical or graduate-school researchers) to help them on their various research projects. This is fun because a lot of the projects are outside of my specific areas of expertise, so I’m constantly researching new topics to help out students.

Oh, and on my lucky days between everything else, I get to go in the laboratory and do science too. Those are my favorite!

As you may have guessed, it takes a big, diverse STEM team to go from identifying a problem, to designing, building, and evaluating a solution.  The types of STEM jobs we need in the lab where I work aren’t unique to biomedical problems. They are universal to problem solving. The team I work with includes scientists (physicists, chemists, biologists, etc), mathematicians and statisticians, engineers (of all disciplines), medical professionals (doctors, nurses, veterinarians, etc), artists and designers (you have to make the device look good AND be easy to use), and business people (to commercialize final products). I love working in a job where I can clearly see the importance of each of those specialties. In a lot of big companies, you can lose sight of exactly how diverse a STEM team is needed to solve problems.

Thanks for sticking around to read this far. I think we’ll stop here for now. I didn’t mean to type nearly this much, and I still didn’t tell you about all the cool projects we’re doing at my job. I’ll save that for a series of future posts – promise! For now, I hope all of my on-the-job pictures give you a little peak into what my daily job is like and you’re looking forward to hearing more.


Big Accomplishment Friday – May 15, 2015

Cadillac square - got routed into a detour - love going by this gorgeous building!

Cadillac square – got routed into a detour – love going by this gorgeous building!

If you ever ask my husband, he will tell you I am perpetually late – to everything.  All.The.Time.

I disagree…I can think of lots of occasions (at least three) where I’ve been punctual, and I’m really good at coming up with excuses for the rest of the time.

Here we are, late on Friday night, and I’m just getting the chance to sit down to talk about the week with you – but remember how early I posted last Friday?  I figure it’ll still be Friday on the West coast by the time I finish tonight, so that’s ok.  It’s close enough to punctual in my book.

I kind of feel like a broken record, telling you guys and gals that every week is great and productive.  Guess what?  That happens when you have an awesome job you love!  Every week is about making progress, and going to work is almost as great as coming home from work.  Although coming home is pretty fun – I have a great time hanging out with the STEMboy and juniorSTEMinista:

Playing with rocks // Learning by play // Learning rocks!

Playing with rocks // Learning by play // Learning rocks!

Want to know what one of the highlights of my day is, every day?  I love, love, LOVE checking on my twitter (, or my facebook (, or my instagram ( or my wordpress (you’re here now!) and seeing that all of you are stopping by, more and more consistently. I love you gals and guys!! My sister tells me that I write just like I talk, and I am thrilled that all of you are interested in ‘hearing’ what I have to say.  More importantly, I hope that it brings you useful information, or encouragement, or empowerment in your day.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I had a few big milestones at work this week.  The first one isn’t mine to claim at all – but it made my week!  A student in the lab figured out a fractal coding project in autoCAD.  Sounds simple, but totally isn’t.  Coding in autoCAD is a little different than coding in other languages, and there was a lot of geometry and trigonometry involved for her to figure out the positions and angles of successive layers of branches.  Something that took me an afternoon in Matlab took quite a while longer to replicate in autoCAD, in great part due to learning their coding methods.  There are still many, many more steps in that project, but it’s good to celebrate all the little milestones along the way.  I made a lot of progress in several other projects this week, and have a ton of things in the ‘exciting news’ pipeline.  But I’m going to keep that quiet for now – you’ll hear about them soon!

Look!  It's a fractal! In autoCAD!

Look! It’s a fractal! In autoCAD!

This afternoon, I submitted the first couple of documents to begin the application process to get promoted from ‘assistant professor’ to ‘associate professor’.  Don’t get too excited, though.  If I get it, it won’t be active until August — of 2016!! And just like the fractal project, there are SO MANY steps to go through to get to that point.   If any senior academics stopping by want to proofread my professional record or personal statement, feel free to offer – haha!  And speaking of ‘haha’ – I was so impressed with how hilarious I was this morning:

My three COOLEST friends in STEM LOL (get it?  liquid nitrogen is -321F!!)

My three COOLEST friends in STEM LOL (get it? liquid nitrogen is -321F!!)

Last week, I was really excited to tell you that I got the video updates figured out, and was set to start STEM job interviews.  Then I got distracted.

Have you guys seen Finding Nemo?  You know the fish Dory?  And her attention span?  That’s me sometimes…  It works out in my job a lot of the time because I switch from task to task really well and am pretty good at handling interruptions.  But sometimes I get distracted.  The key to success is to find a way to turn your ‘shortcomings’ to an advantage.  Hey – that’s actually good – write that one down…we’ll revisit that in the future

Getting back to my story – I got the video setup, but then I noticed lots of you were stopping by the ‘shop’ section.  So I got a little distracted trying to set that up.  Because as the STEMinista, obviously I love shopping, and I want to get you guys a whole bunch of really cool, really empowering, really lovely things.  But getting a store setup was far more of a process than I expected.  So, it’s in progress now.  And maybe NEXT week, I’ll have more updates for you on the cool jobs, and on the store. For now, you get a Friday update, and my eternal gratitude to you for visiting.

That’s it for me for now – I’m still on track to meet my “Friday” deadline – for those of you on the West Coast.    How was your week?  Did you have any big accomplishments?  Let me know – I’d love to celebrate with you!


PS – since this is a STEM site, and we’re all a little nerdy, can we talk for a moment how the dates this week are all palindromes?  How lovely!

Big Accomplishment Friday – May 8, 2015

accomplishment friday 050715Happy Friday ladies and gentlemen of STEM – the weekend is almost upon us!

Around here, Friday is the day we talk about our accomplishments and celebrate each other.

IMG_5157Yesterday was the highlight of my week in the real world! I spent the morning doing an outreach program at a local middle school. At this particular school, beginning in 6th grade and running through 8th grade, each student maintains a portfolio which shows their progression in academic, personal development, and teamwork pursuits. At the end of 8th grade, professionals from the local community (that’s me!) come in to do one-on-one interviews with them. The students get to showcase their accomplishments, and talk about their future goals and aspirations.

IMG_5192It was invigorating getting the opportunity to talk to them – every student I spoke to had their own interests and excelled in their own individual way. It made me wonder how I would have presented myself in 8th grade, and if an activity like that would have given me more self-confidence since I was such a brainiac geek. Some of the students also had insightful feedback about the problems middle schoolers face in STEM education and in education overall.

IMG_5191After a delicious lunch with some fabulous ladies, I took the rest of the afternoon off to take the kids to the zoo. Just like I mentioned last week, kids learn through play, and it’s important to me to give them fun, easygoing, learning opportunities. I’ve included some pictures from our adventure for your viewing pleasure.

IMG_5190You’ll notice there aren’t a ton of pictures of the traditional zoo sights. My bad. My natural instinct is to grab a kid and point at the really cool sights when I see something cool, rather than grab my camera. I’m trying to be more conscientious about taking pictures to share with you, but I’m not going to try that hard.  My bigger priority is the experience with the kids. Sorrynotsorry, Internet.

(↑↑↑)Did you guys also notice the the youtube video right there (↑↑↑)?? I’m suuuuper excited to finally have that process up and running. I can’t wait to start bringing you content from other people in real-life STEM jobs. They can talk about their perspectives so much more effectively than I can repeat it. I hope next week I’ll have another really great update for you on the video portion of this website.

Seal?  Mermaid?  You be the judge...

Seal? Mermaid? You be the judge…

This week, I dipped my toes a bit into the social media pond, and I’d like to thank everyone on twitter who followed me, shared or liked my posts, and came to visit. I’m so excited to have a few ‘virtual’ connections. Welcome to all of you, I’m so glad you’re here, and I’d love to hear more about you. What is your involvement in STEM? What brought you to the site? What kind of content are you interested in seeing?

That’s all from me for now, have a great Friday, stay brilliant, and enjoy your weekend!


Go get ’em, Tiger!

You can do it!

You can do it!

Am I the only one who kind of has a case of the Tuesdays? I am pretty behind on my normal tasks because of all the amazing things I got to do last week. Plus, I missed work yesterday because my little STEMinista wasn’t feeling well. Today, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed from all the catchup work I have ahead of me.  I thought we could all use some animal motivation to power through the evening and the rest of the week. Big things happen when you attack your goals!

Plus, later this week, we’re going to have another tiger-themed discussion – I can’t wait!! Go get ‘em, all you STEM tigers!


Big Accomplishment Friday (Sunday edition) – April 24, 2015

View of snow squalls moving into the city

View of snow squalls moving into the city from dinner on Wednesday

This week was HUGE for me.  The kind of week that’s so busy your head spins, and the days are long but rewarding.  Weeks this full and busy only happen maybe once a year.  Here’s a quick summary of all the greatness that transpired week.

As you all know, on Monday night, I had the opportunity to hang out with the Cub Scouts, talk to them about science, and build marshmallow buildings with them.  It’s always rewarding to see little ones excited about science.

Wednesday morning, I got another opportunity to speak with some outstanding young women at a local high school career day.  A lot of the girls knew what they wanted to do – physicians assistant, nurse, veterinarian, engineer, and teacher were all mentioned as planned career paths.  Of course, many of the girls didn’t yet know what else they wanted to do.  I hope that some were inspired by the different professions that were discussed in my presentation, or at least encouraged to consider further education in STEM.

Long-distance view of the Tiger's game from dinner Wednesday evening

Long-distance view of the Tiger’s game from dinner Wednesday evening

Wednesday afternoon, my lab submitted a grant on breast cancer research.  Submitting a grant proposal is BIG work.  The proposal we wrote was a 12 page proposal, but also need to include four different one-page descriptions for various reviewers, budget information, information about the people doing the work and where it will be done, and a number of other documents.  Putting it all together takes a lot of team work, and is a quite a task.  I think we will be submitting 2 or 3 similar-sized proposals in early June.

Also on Wednesday (did I mention what a week this was?), a research group I’m in put on an all afternoon symposium about different aspect of lipids research.  Five speakers from around the country came to speak, and there was a student poster competition.  All of the talks were fantastic, and the posters were great too.  This particular research group is very interesting, because it involves people from lots of different disciplines who are brought together by their study of lipids.  We had medical doctors, biologists, chemists, physicists, engineers, physiologists, and many others.  The work done by our student researchers was so impressive – it was very hard serving as a judge for their competition with all the fantastic work they are doing.  This conference was very scientific, and used a lot of cutting edge technologies to better understand very specific processes at a cellular or molecular level.

Everyone loves a giant chair!

Everyone loves a giant chair!

A fun part about helping plan symposiums is that the planning committee gets to entertain the out of town guests.  I enjoyed fantastic company over fantastic dinners on Tuesday and Wednesday as well.

Many delicious desserts were consumed this week!

Many delicious desserts were consumed this week!

The week didn’t stop there!  Friday I had the opportunity to attend a brain tumor symposium put on by Henry Ford Hospital.  As opposed to the Wednesday conference, this conference was very clinically focused, with the aim of improving treatment and outcomes for brain tumor patients.  A lot of the talks were what you expect – how to treat tumors, understanding the genetic processes causing brain cancer, and what types of treatments are in development.  But – some of the talks were unexpected too.  Things like quality of life, how to standardize care, and research funding.  Working in academics, it’s always great to attend clinical conferences to get a better understanding of the problem we’re studying and find new ways we can help.  I walked away from the conference refreshed, and with lots of new ideas for the future!  That evening was another fancy dinner, and party to celebrate an amazing leader in brain cancer research.  The work he’s done has completely changed the way the entire country looks at and treats brain cancer, and the impact he’s made in research, clinical treatment, and to his patients and their families is an inspiration.

Design by Marshmallow

2015-04-20 cub scouts outreach

NOTE – tonight is the first in my series #thisisMYstem.  In these posts, I want to highlight aspects of how STEM is used in my everyday life.  Enjoy!

Tonight I had the opportunity to spend some time talking to some local cub scouts (and their sisters) about STEM. It is so cool that the scouts have a patch program for STEM now – they’re really keeping up with the times.

First, the young gentlemen and I spent a few minutes talking about science and careers in science. Of course, they were super interested in robots and all the different forms that robots can take. Can robots look like dogs, or fish, or Baymax?  I’m really glad my sisters recently introduced me and the kids to Big Hero 6, so I could understand the kids’ point of view. And, I’m so thankful to Disney for making a movie about scientists that portrays them as diverse individuals with unique, interesting personalities.  (My sisters tell me I’m just like Honey Lemon!)  I recommended the boys and their parents check out the this big dog robot video on YouTube.  It’s a cool example of a real-life animal robot in action.  This video is put together by TARDEC and highlights many of the robots used in military applications.  Detroit is actually a big area for robotics – TARDEC is based right here in Warren!

Next, we talked about how science works – what is a hypothesis, how do you test it, etc?  And of course, the best way to understand is by doing!  What’s even better than doing?

Using yummy food as your learning medium!!

Look at these brilliant little hands at work!

Look at these brilliant little hands at work!

The kids teamed up, with simple instructions to build a marshmallow building.  It was amazing that each group took a different approach to building, and that every child started with a different vision.  It was also interesting to see the dynamics in how each group worked together (or not!) to build their designs.  The final products (or what was left of them after snacking) were amazing!

We wrapped up by circling back to the hypothesis concept.  The kids had an idea (or hypothesis) in their head of how to build their structure, and they experimented by trial and error to see what methods worked and what didn’t to get to their final marshmallow buildings.  The kids wrapped up their night with a paper airplane contest.  How fun!

kids are amazing at thinking out of the box!

kids are amazing at thinking out of the box!

Of course, all of the marshmallow building made for one very hungry STEMinista.  Since it’s cold and rainy today, s’mores were out of the question, but the second best option was rice krispie treats – yum! I couldn’t wait to get home and whip up a batch! Watch out food bloggers – I took that yummy marshmallow picture (but don’t feel too threatened – you’ll notice there are no beautiful pictures of my finished product!).  Rice Krispie treats were a huge thing in my house growing up.  I have one sister who prefers very marshmallow-y treats, and one who prefers very not-marshmallow-y treats.  Entire vacations have been ruined in fights over marshmallows.  I am sorry to report that neither sister would be impressed with my culinary expertise tonight – my snacks didn’t turn out very well.  At least the cub scouts and I had fun tonight!

UPDATE: My kids took one look at my rice krispie treats and informed me that they no longer like rice krispie treats – ha!  At least I know how to make cookies – next time I’ll have to come up with a cookie themed project.

Big Accomplishments Friday – April 17, 2015

starsI’m a little late in posting this today, but my big accomplishment for the week is…..

setting  up this blog!

The whole concept of this blog is so exciting to me – I wish a resource like this (or what I envision this to be) was available to me in school and the very early stages of my career.  I have so many ideas I want to implement, but I am completely new to the blog world.  SO – please bear with me as I figure out this blogging thing, and please let me know what would make this website a more valuable resource to you.

In smaller accomplishments, I am super excited about my new dishwasher.  We recently moved to a new house, and it needs a LOT of work.  My husband, Mr. SciGuy, is also an engineer.  He uninstalled our old dishwasher and installed our new dishwasher in a snap.  We now have a kitchen full of nice, new, functional appliances – YAY, and thanks to Mr. SciGuy!

The nasty dishwasher is gone – thanks Mr. SciGuy!

Stay tuned for next week’s Big Accomplishments Friday – next week is a big week for me at work!


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