Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Students: Apply for the Polar Research Experience!

Good news if you're currently a 10th or 11th grader: the National Science Foundation (NSF) is currently accepting applications from 10th and 11th grade students with a strong interest in the natural sciences and a passion for learning to participate in the 2013 Joint Science Education Project (JSEP).  JSEP is a unique summer research project in - are you ready for this? - Greenland! The program has two parts: The Kangerlussauq Science Field School, sponsored by the Government of Greenland; and the US-led Science Education Week, sponsored by the NSF.

So, what happens if you're selected? This summer, all of the selected US high school students will join their peers from Denmark and Greenland to spend three weeks conducting field science in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland and visiting a research station on the Greenland ice sheet. Students will work with Arctic scientists along with their peers on research projects in a variety of fields including biology, geology, climatology, chemistry and engineering.

This program is sponsored by the NSF's Office of Polar Programs and is in collaboration with the Joint Committee. Each year, JSEP is led and supported by one of the Albert Einstein Distinguished Fellows. Leading the 2013 JSEP experience is Lynn Foshee Reed (NSF, '12-'13).

Students have until February 15, 2013 to submit their applications. The application and more information can be found at www.arcus.org/jsep. Spread the word and apply today!

JSEP 2012

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2012 Olympus Bioscapes Digital Imaging Top Prize Given to Video

Take a look at the winning image - or in this case, video - of the 2012 Olympus Bioscapes Digital Imaging competition, an annual microscopic photography contest now in its tenth year. Although there were a number of stunning photos captured via several imaging and microscopy techniques, Ralph Grimm's video of colonial rotifers - microscopic beings that sustain themselves on dead bacteria and the like, for those of you who aren't too biology savvy - stole the top prize.

Though you might suspect him to be, Grimm isn't a professional videographer nor a research scientist able to get his hands on the latest and greatest imaging equipment. Instead, he's a 45-year-old high school teacher from Australia that thought the lilypads growing in his pond looked much cooler at 200X magnification than they did just sitting in the water. 

Check out Grimm's video at the top of this post and view the other top images here.

Monday, January 21, 2013

1 Million STEM Grads in 1 Decade

In honor of inauguration day, it only seems appropriate to talk about the bright future President Obama has promised when it comes to STEM. Just one month ago, the Obama Administration announced that increasing the number of students who earn undergrad degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by 1 million over the next decade was formally designated as a Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) goal. 

Before the announcement, President Obama had said time and again that science and innovation are key components of a strong American economy and that increasing opportunities for young Americans to gain STEM skills can create jobs and enhance our national competitiveness simultaneously. The Department of Commerce estimates that STEM occupations will grow 1.7 times faster than non-STEM occupations between 2008 and 2018. This means that the U.S. will need just about 1 million more STEM professionals that are projected to graduate over the next 10 years.

Making this happen is going to require a lot of work. Not only on behalf of the Federal Government and other involved entities, but huge efforts on retention of STEM majors during their initial years of college will need to take place. Currently, less than 40 percent of students who enter college intending to major in a STEM field actually walk away with a STEM degree. Increasing STEM retention rates to just 50 percent would generate around three-quarters of the 1 million!

While work has already been conducted to figure out ways to keep STEM students on course to earning a STEM degree, the CAP goal announced in December proposes to focus efforts in five promising areas of opportunity:

  • Identifying and implementing evidence-based practices to improve STEM teaching and to attract students to STEM courses
  • Providing more opportunities for students to engage in meaningful STEM activities through research experiences, especially in their first two years of college
  • Addressing the mathematics preparation gap that students face when they arrive at college, using evidence-based practices that generate improved results
  • Providing educational opportunities and supports for women and historically underrepresented minorities
  • Identifying and supporting innovation in higher education

Industry, academia, foundations and other partners are coming together with the Federal Government on this issue. It should be exciting to see the ups and downs of this journey towards better STEM education unfold. Read more about the CAP goal and Michael Feder's initial report here.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Weekend Experiment: Make a Sparkly Explosion!

It's Friday again. That means your trying to figure out exactly what you're doing this weekend. Well, good news: I have a science experiment that will be fun for you and your children! What child doesn't request experiments that explode, sparkle or use fire? The more she-bang, the better. Let your children lead you through this sparkly explosion and you'll love the creation as much as they do.

Here's what you'll need:

  • A vase
  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Food coloring (in your child's favorite color, of course!)
  • Blue glitter (Glitter is integral to this activity, but you can use any color you'd like.)
  • Other supplies like salt, spaghetti noodles, pepper and anything else you and your child dream up
  • A pan to contain the mess

Now that you have everything you need, here's what you'll need to do.
  1. Start by placing 2-3 tablespoons of baking soda into the bottom of the vase and then place the vase in the pan.
  2. Add 6-7 drops of food coloring and 1-2 teaspoons of glitter to the vase.
  3. Quickly pour in about 1/2 cup of vinegar and then...watch for the sparkles!
  4. When the reaction is over, repeat the experiment, but this time let your child choose what supplies they want to add. For example, what does pepper look like in the "explosion?" Does salt change how the reaction works? What if you add spaghetti noodles? Remember that you and your child are experimenting, so let them change the variables, predict what they think will happen and then view the results.

At some point in the experiment, review with your child that baking soda and vinegar react when mixed together to make an explosion. If you're child is old enough, go further and explain that baking soda is a base while vinegar is an acid, and that mixing any base with an acid results in some sort of reaction. Carla did this experiment with her children, check out how it went and what she has to say.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Preview: NSTA & NGSS are Coming to SA!

That's right, NSTA's National Conference all about Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the learning, literacy and living behind them will be in the Alamo city this April! NSTA aims to bring together science education leaders and professional development experts with thousands of educators to immerse themselves in the finest industry resources, providing content, concepts, strategies, techniques and information on the critical issues in science education today. Not to mention all the cool things you'll get to see while you're there!

This conference's featured presentation is - you guessed it - a Next Generation Science Standards Town Hall Meeting. Since the final version of NGSS will be released sometime in March, speaker Stephen L. Pruitt will talk about what's next. He'll address how the next standards will affect science education, including classroom instruction, professional development, curriculum materials and state assessments. We went to Pruitt's presentation in Phoenix and he didn't disappoint. Not only did he deliver valuable information on the progress of the NGSS drafts, he was hilarious and brought what could have been a very dry presentation to life. You don't want to miss him when he's in San Antonio in April!

The headquarter hotels for the conference are the Grand Hyatt San Antonio and the Marriott Rivercenter. Conference registration along with exhibits and the NSTA Science Store will be at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Most sessions and event have been scheduled at the Convention Center as well as the Grand Hyatt, Marriott Rivercenter, Marriott Riverwalk and the Hilton Palacio del Rio. 

The conference begins on Thursday, April 11 bright and early at 8 a.m. and runs through Sunday, April 14 at noon. Find more information on NSTA's website

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Thermo Fisher on Board with The Pittsburgh Promise

Thermo Fisher ScientificJust yesterday, PR Newswire reported that Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. has made a $1 million commitment to The Pittsburgh Promise Scholarship Fund. The significant gift from the world leader in serving science also creates a designated scholarship fund called the Thermo Fisher Scientific Scholars of The Pittsburgh Promise. So, what does it all really mean? Each year, the fund will support five high performing student scholars with whom Thermo Fisher will develop and maintain a relationship with while the students complete their STEM related education. The main goal: a career in the science discipline upon graduation.

This is another victory for the science world and it's becoming more common to see gifts this large recently. In fact, Thermo Fisher is now among six corporations that have committed $1 million or more to The Promise's Executive Scholars program. The program prides itself on personalized student development that begins when a student is in high school and continues until they walk the stage with their college degree. Even better, students in the program have the chance to build professional networks and connections in the Pittsburgh region throughout college.

I know what you're thinking: how do you get selected as a Thermo Fisher Scientific Scholar of the Pittsburgh Promise? Well, the criteria is pretty straight forward there. A student must have high academic performace (3.5 GPA or higher), advanced placement achievement in STEM fields, commitment to volunteer service, demonstrated leadership skills and a reference from the high school principal. 

Read more about Thermo Fisher's involvement in the program and check out what Marc Casper, President and CEO of the company had to say in Tommy Cornelis' report.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Official Launch: STEM Students & STEM Jobs

STEMconnector - The One Stop Shop for STEM EducationYou aren't going to want to miss this. On January 30 (that's a Wednesday, people), STEMconnector and My College Options will team up to host a live webinar, presenting the findings of their national report, Where are the STEM Students? What are their Career Interests? Where are the STEM Jobs? Even better, the webinar will be a live broadcast of the event launch in Washington, DC hosted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

What's great about this new report is that it identifies the STEM interests of more than one million U.S. high school students interested in pursuing STEM careers, and links them to increasing demand for STEM jobs - which will be over 16 million when 2018 rolls around. And if you really want to dive into the minds of students, the report does that for you too. In-depth profiles of more than one million students interested in STEM majors and careers with breakouts for all 50 states and the District of Columbia will provide educators with more insight into this generation's minds than ever before. Sounds like a win for everyone involved!

The report was designed to motivate students interested in STEM fields by providing a breakdown of "hot" and up and coming STEM jobs, salary figures and a projection of the future STEM market. 

The "Town Hall" style webinar will begin at 3:00 p.m. CT on Jan. 30 and run until 4:00 p.m. CT. At 2:45 p.m. CT on Jan. 30, you will be able to join the WebEx session by visiting STEMconnector.org/townhall and registering. You can also join in the Twitter Chat on Jan. 30. The twittersphere will begin to chat about the discussion at 2:00 p.m. CT on Jan. 30 using hashtag #WHERESTEM. @STEMconnector will be moderating the live chat.

This is an excellent opportunity to learn about today's students and generate ongoing STEM interest and excitement; let's do it!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Make a Lava Lamp This Weekend!

Make a simple lava lampLooking for a fun and easy experiment to do with your kids this weekend? Well look no further. Do you remember being mesmerized by the mystery of a lava lamp when you were a kid? The brightly colored "lava" would float back and forth from the top and bottom of the lamp, combine with other "lava" blobs and then break away from them - it was seriously magical!

With just water, a clear plastic bottle, vegetable oil, food coloring and some Alka-Selzter (or other tablets that fizz) you can create your own lava lamp on your kitchen counter.

Once you have everything you need to get started, here's what you'll need to do:

  1. Pour some water into the plastic bottle until it's about a quarter full.
  2. Pour some vegetable oil into the bottle until it's just about all the way full. 
  3. Wait until the water and oil have clearly separated.
  4. Add around a dozen drops of your favorite color food coloring to the bottle.
  5. Observe the food coloring make its way through the oil and into the water, mixing.
  6. Cut an Alka-Selzter tablet into five or six smaller pieces and drop one of them into the bottle - things should start getting a little crazy, just like a real lava lamp.
  7. When the bubbling stops, add another piece of the Alka-Selzter tablet and enjoy!
If you're wondering what the science is behind this experiment, check this out: you know that oil and water don't mix very well (or at all), so the two separate from each other with the oil on top because it has a lower density than water. The food coloring is able to fall through the oil and mix with the water - key to this experiment! When you drop the Alka-Seltzer in, it releases small bubbles of carbon dioxide gas that rise to the top of the bottle, taking some of the colored water with it. The gas escapes when it reaches the top of the bottle and the colored water falls back to the bottom. To read more about the science involved, visit the Science Kids website.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

5 Science Stories to Watch in 2013

2012 held a ton of scientific milestones, advancements and discoveries. Take the landing of NASA's mobile laboratory on Mars, for example, that was no easy feat.  As always though, science is defined by its ability to move on and march forward; there is always more to learn and more questions to answer. After putting together 2012's most surprising (and significant) scientific events, the Smithsonian brought us the most exciting studies, projects and science developments to watch for in 2013. (And let me tell you, you'll be glad you were watching for these!)

1. Comet Ison: In September, a pair of Russian astronomers discovered a new comet heading in our direction. While it was only detectable with the most sophisticated microscopes then, now astronomers are predicting that when it passes by us and closely orbits the sun in November and December of 2013, it could be the astronomical sight of our lifetime. Sounds memorable to me!

2. Lake Vostok: For over a decade now, a team of Russian scientists have worked to drill just about 12,000 feet down into Antarctica with one goal: to obtain samples from the ultra-deep isolated subglacial lake known as Lake Vostek. It's estimated that the lake has been isolated for as long as 15 to 25 million years and after just reaching the water's surface last Antarctica summer, the team will return at the end of 2013 to drill fully into the lake and use a robot to collect water and sediment samples. This has potential to be some of the coolest H2O out there - literally!

3. Algae Fuel: Predictions say that 2013 will be the year! For vehicle fuels derived from algae of course. A small number of biofuel stations in the San Francisco area started selling algae-based biodiesel commercially for the first time last month, and after the product met state fuel standards, the plot program is expected to expand. This could be the best of two worlds for the states: there is a possibility that algae-based fuels could wean us off petroleum without using up precious food crops. Score! We'll definitely have to see how this one pans out.

4. Cosmic Microwave Background: Since there's still energy left from the Big Bang radiating thorough the universe, why not make some sense of it? The European Space Agency plans to use the Planck satellite to measure the leftover energy more precisely than ever before to help us better understand the formation of the universe. The Planck satellite actually launched in 2009 - and has already collected a wide range of valuable astronomical data and images - but has plans to release all of this data in early 2013. Finally - something we won't have to wait until the end of the year for!

5. Supercomputers: Who needs Superman when you have Supercomputers? Over the next year, it's speculated that various supercomputers around the world could have a remarkable impact at solving problems in health, the environment and other fields. Yellowstone, a 1.5 petaflops cluster computer in Wyoming, was installed this past summer and will spend 2013 crunching numbers to refine climate models and help us better understand how storms and wildfires move across the planet. Then there's Watson. Watson, IBM's world-famous Jeopardy winning supercomputer, is currently being trained by doctors (yes, trained) to recognize medical symptoms and serve as a diagnostic tool, providing treatment options based on case histories and clinical knowledge. Thus far, Watson has been trained to recognize breast, lung and prostate cancer. A win for technology and humanity!

Learn more about the five science stories to watch for in 2013.