Posts tagged thisisMYstem

STEMinista meets a nobel laureate

Nobel(before we begin, please note this post contains medical content that may make some younger readers uncomfortable)

Now, let’s really begin this post with a quick vocabulary lesson, because Laureate is a tricky word – I had to look up how to spell it myself.

According to Google,

Laureate: a person who is honored with an award for outstanding creative or intellectual achievement

Thus what we’re talking about today is me, a young scientist, meeting Nobel prize winner Dr. Harald zur Hausen. This is like meeting a rock star, seriously. Nobel prizes in science and medicine are given to people who make completely transformative discoveries that change the way the entire research community approaches a problem. This hope to change the world is the reason many people choose to go in to STEM, and it is inspiring to meet someone who has achieved that goal.

At the welcome dinner, there was literally a line of young scientists and clinicians who waited in line to meet Dr. zur Hausen and get a picture with him, and he was so kind to speak with all of us and humor us with taking countless pictures.

me with Dr. zur Hausen, a true science and medical rock star

me with Dr. zur Hausen, a true science and medical rock star

Dr. zur Hausen was one of 3 Nobel prize winners in Physiology/Medicine. Just for context of the importance of the work he did, the other two researchers who won that year discovered HIV. Kind of a big deal. Dr. zur Hausen won the award for discovering that human papilloma virus (HPV) is the source of most cervical cancers in 1984. We now know that it is associated with a host of other cancers as well. I’ll spare you the details.


Think about the implications of that work.

First of all, it led to dramatic improvements in screening for cervical cancer.

More importantly, 22 years later, this led to a vaccine for HPV, which should dramatically reduce the incidence of cervical (and other) cancers.

This man could be responsible for almost completely eradicating cervical cancer.

Remember when we talked about inventors the other day? The discovery made by this man has dramatically impacted the lives of millions of women (and men) worldwide.

He didn’t just stop once he made this revolutionary discovery. His career was pretty much set, but he kept doing incredible research in virus work.

When I went to Dr. zur Hausen’s lecture, I was expecting to hear about cervical cancer. Instead, the title of the talk was something about cow meat and cow milk being pathogenic.


This is completely outside the world of cervical cancer and I was fascinated to see the talk. (spoiler: the talk was fantastic!!) Dr. zur Hausen showed us lots of data about how international colon rates internationally vary based on the amount of red meat consumed. He also showed how as countries have increased their meat consumption, the rates of colon cancer have gone up accordingly, and how rates are also impacted by which species of animal is being consumed, and how it is prepared.

Traditionally, the source of carcinogens in red meat is thought to be hydrocarbon byproducts from cooking. Fish and white meat are prepared the same way and have the same potential carcinogen byproducts in the cooking process – but there isn’t a link to cancer rates like there is with red meat. Therefore, maybe something else is at play besides the known carcinogens.  Perhaps consuming infected meat is a co-factor that acts in connection with some other process to aid in cancer development.

At this point, I was really enjoying the talk – but it got more mind-blowing from there.

The colon cancer story made a lot of sense because meat that you consume goes through the colon during the digestion process. Next, Dr. zur Hausen showed some compelling data which suggested that there might be a link between cow milk consumption and the incidence of both breast and lung cancer. It’s pretty incredible that you could make the leap that there might be a virus playing into the risk factors for those diseases – and hugely significant.

For this work, his lab collected samples of cow milk and serum and did analysis to see what types of viruses were most commonly present. Then, they compared the findings with diseases found in humans. What’s interesting is that so far, the disease they found where the virus DNA was similar between the animal milk and human disease was multiple sclerosis (MS).

Dr. zur Hausen showed a potential theory for the development of MS as a combination of two viruses in early age (including one from cow milk). Later in life, if there is a vitamin D deficiency, the viruses can be re-activated and mutated, causing brain lesions consistent with MS. Wow, just wow.

If that is true, and there is a virus that is part of the MS puzzle, then preventative therapies can be developed. . Instead of treating people, cows can be vaccinated for the identified virus, so the virus never reaches humans. Absolutely incredible, earth-shaking medical research.

I left the lecture inspired, and tempted to pursue a career change to virology. It is incredible the type of impact a single person can make. What kind of impact will you make in your career?


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.


Dream Beyond STEM (really!)

dream beyond stemHold on, hold on friends, before you send me hate mail – I know that this sounds totally counterintuitive, but follow my logic on this before you judge me.

Remember last week, we talked about the stereotypical ‘scientist’, ‘engineer’, and ‘mathematician’? I told you that you could succeed even if you don’t meet that stereotype. But – when I was younger, I didn’t necessarily want to fight my way into a ‘geeky’ profession, either. I admit – I’m pretty high on the ‘nerd’ scale, but I didn’t want to confine myself to a (real or perceived) life of pocket protectors, safety glasses, and social awkwardness either.

Because that was basically my perception of technical careers. Maybe you have the same worries when you think about pursuing science and math? You like that material, but you don’t want everyone to label you as a ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’ or ‘bookworm’.

What I didn’t know then, but what I know now is that there are really, really neat career options in STEM, and some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet are in STEM careers. Scientists, mathematicians, and engineers as a whole are far more interesting than society gives us credit for.

STEM isn’t necessarily your single defining feature – it is just one part of you as a whole. If you want to build your life around science or math, you can. But you can also have a highly technical career, and be a ‘real’ or ‘normal’ person outside of – and within your career.

Let me tell you about my ‘a-ha!’ moment:

One day in graduate school, my dear and brilliant friend (she has a master’s degree in math!) told me a great story about her seven year old daughter. She asked her daughter what she wanted to be when she grows up. And her daughter – always an original – said, “I want to be a doctor-scientist-princess”.

‘OF COURSE!!!’ I thought (yes – really, yelling at myself in all caps, like in Charlie Brown)

‘THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I WANT TO BE WHEN I GROW UP TOO!!!’ Why pigeon-hole yourself into just fitting into one role? Isn’t that holding yourself back?

This is me - the day I defended my PhD dissertation - tiara and all!

This is me – the day I defended my PhD dissertation – tiara and all!

Instead, pursue what makes you YOU, and what makes you happy. Even if it’s unexpected. Even if other people don’t quite understand it. Think about what will make you happy going to work every day for the rest of your career, and go for it.

Let’s say you love science and engineering and the environment and golf? Why not go for all of those things? What’s holding you back?  You could go into golf course design (my grandparents had a friend who did this), or you could be an engineer for a few years, save up some money, and then put your career on hold to try out a career in professional golf (Mr. SciGuy has a friend actually doing this – right now).

What if you like videogames, and coding, and you also love fashion and design? I bet you could figure out a really cool way to integrate all those things into a career. Or why not pursue a career in game development, and look adorable doing it? Who’s going to tell you no?

Let’s say you like math and you love cars, but you also love the outdoors. The auto industry is dyyying to hire you. Now. They literally can’t hire enough qualified professionals right now. And guess what – many automotive jobs start with 4-6 weeks of paid vacation time a year, on top of flexible hours that would allow you to get out and enjoy nature early in the morning or in the afternoon on a regular basis.  You CAN have more than just a STEM job.

Don’t let other people’s stereotypes of science and engineering make you feel forced to choose between your interest in schoolwork versus the rest of your other interests. You can still maintain your personality while also being a smart (brilliant!) cookie.

Ask anybody who works with me – they’ll all agree that I fit the “doctor-scientist-princess” mold pretty well. It’s perfect – for me.  That little 7 year old’s insight has stuck with me for years, and I’ve added onto it. I’m a doctor-scientist-princess-runner-swimmer-foodie-traveler-wife-mother-sister-daughter-friend-mentor and so much more.

How is it that a 7 year old had the insight to see that you can be more than ‘just’ STEM, when I couldn’t come up with that myself in 26 years?  It was so freeing to me to be able to look at my career as just a part of the person I am instead of defining who I am.

Now, when people get to know me, and ask about my job, I’m proud to tell them what I do (I do love it, after all). If it happens that they’re surprised (more often than not, people are), I smile a little on the inside, happy that I’m doing my part to break people’s stereotypes of what exactly a STEM ‘geek’ is.

So – what about you – what do you aspire to become?  in STEM and outside of STEM?



Big Accomplishment Friday – May 1, 2015

Dinner with a view

Dinner with a view


Ladies and gentlemen of STEM, it’s FRIDAY! We’ve made it through another work week. For me, this week wasn’t as high-profile as last week, but it was still pretty busy. On the work front, a graduate student presented her Master’s thesis work, and another one had a big step forward in some of her experiments – all good things! I also made it through a couple of big/tedious projects on my task list. I’ll never be all the way caught up (note to self: that deserves its own post sometime) but it was nice to take a few hours at a time to focus on finishing one big task.

On the blog front, some readers who aren’t my immediate family (Hi Mom, Dad, sisters, and SciGuy) came here to check things out. Welcome to all of you! I’m so glad you took a few minutes out of your day to stop by and visit. Please feel free to send me suggestions – I want to make this a valuable resource for you. I’m hoping as I develop relevant content and figure out some formatting issues, you’ll keep checking back, and maybe even share this site with your friends.  Sometime next week, we might also have a special guest talk about the awesome experiences she got to have this week because of her STEM career.  If you have a cool or unique STEM-enabled experience, I’d love to have you share it with our readers!

The SciGuy and I also spent some time figuring out Google Hangouts On Air this week. My biggest motivation in writing this blog was to provide career perspectives from different people in STEM to help you, my brilliant readers, figure out where you fit in that picture, or to provide you support and encouragement in your current job. I haven’t done that yet, and it’s making me crazy! I want to interview people in video format so it’s more personable than a written article, but I’ll give you a written article to refer to also. So far, we’ve figured everything out on the software side, now I just need to get access to a better webcam. I am in STEM, but everything in the world of blogging is all brand new to me.

We built a lake!

We built a lake!

For those of you who live in Michigan (or the north in general), can we talk about someone else who had a big accomplishment this week? Mother Nature. She got the memo that it is spring, and has made our weather absolutely beautiful. If you’re in the south and you’ve been enjoying spring for months, you should invite me on an all-expenses-paid visit to see you in one of our cold months. My kids, the junior STEMs love this weather as much as me, and insisted on going to dinner at the beach, with ice cream for dessert tonight. I’d be a bad mom if I didn’t deliver, right? I’m sure I’ll say this a million times in the future, but I love that my STEM job gives me the flexibility to have these date nights with my kids.

Want to know what I love more? I love watching how little kids develop, and learn through playing. They’re doing science all the time, without ever realizing that what they’re doing involves some big thought processes. One of their favorite beach games to play is ‘build a lake’. Basically, I (or the Sci Guy) dig a little hole near the water. Then, we pour buckets of water into the hole, and watch how the water eventually digs itself a channel back to the lake. Last year playing this game, we talked about erosion, and how the strong flow of the water can wash out the sand. Today, we experimented with putting flags (sticks), islands (sand piles), rocks, and grass balls in the lake, and seeing what would get washed away by the water and what wouldn’t. Great fun was had by all, and I’m looking forward to many more afternoons like this throughout the summer – starting with tomorrow!

I hope you guys had a great week too, and get a chance to see something beautiful outside this weekend! Let me know – what were your accomplishments this week? What do you look forward to this weekend?


–the STEMinista

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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