Wanted: A Nation of Bill Nyes. Making science mainstream, fun, and relevant. Part 1.

The United States rose to superpower status through a necessary, aggressive push towards innovation and scientific discovery in the last century. Many of the technologies developed in the last one hundred years were products of research funding by the U.S. government. In the old days, the gap between discovery/invention (public sector) and product development (private sector) was more easily traversed and companies were more than willing to take that leap. What scientists and engineers viewed was almost certainly drastically different from what consumers viewed, but either way, it was progress.

The world is a much different place now. Research funding (minus stimulus funding) has remained stagnant and the outlook is bleak.

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One of the overlooked aspects of this funding is the community outreach and broader impacts that result from grants. This includes money for paying undergraduates and graduate students for research conducted in the grantee’s lab. From personal experience, most of the undergraduates that came through our lab when I was a graduate student were STEM majors. However, this is misleading because the goal after receiving their B.S. was to attend a professional school including medical, dental, and pharmacy schools. To date, only one out of twenty or so undergraduates from our lab later attended a STEM graduate program.

Why aren’t more students interested in STEM?

“A society’s competitive advantage will come not from how well its schools teach the multiplication and periodic table, but from how well they stimulate imagination and creativity”

Albert Einstein, 1953

STEM Interest: How Can I Help?

I have wanted to write something for quite a while but have not had the proper inspiration (or motivation). When in doubt, go with your recurring thoughts. For me, this includes interest in the STEM fields locally or globally via the internet.

 

I recently did a search for local STEM organizations that I could volunteer my time or efforts. Knoxville, however, is not really considered a STEM-Mecca. Actually, I did not find a single NPO focusing on science. This was not a huge shock, but it was a huge disappointment. I know I am not the only Ph.D.-strapped person in the area who could potentially help spread science literacy or interests.

 

In graduate school, my major professor did talks at local middle schools that we gladly went to so these students could see what an actual scientist looked like. We were an eclectic bunch just like the science community itself. We could tell the students enjoyed and appreciated our visits, and hopefully some of them will pursue a career in a STEM field. I now try to fuel interest in my own undergraduate classroom for my students. I’m not satisfied with my current reach and would love the opportunity to expand it. The best way to a future with progress and prosperity is through a logical and literate society.

 

I do my little blog with my little graphics and illustrations. What else can I do? I need to channel my passions for spreading the science in a focused and steady way. So, I need your help: help me help others.

What’s the Big Idea?: We Need to Focus on the Big Picture

global warming
Oh, the irony…
Photo credit: Flickr/Vineus

The Big Picture?

This week, the House of Representatives’ Science, Space and Technology Committee unveiled the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act. This legislation wants to prioritize the way the National Science Foundation funds projects in life and chemical sciences, computer science, and mathematics based upon how the projects specifically address national needs. To increase the muddling between science and politics, the NSF would be required to justify the projects funded to Congress and how each benefits the national interests. The measure comes as the Republican-controlled House is pressured to cut federal spending and this would filter out projects with no tangible or timely returns. The bill would also limit the NSF from funding projects that already have funding from other federal agencies in an effort to prevent mission creep and double dipping. The bill fails to address how some projects are complex and have components that have benefits at multiple levels.

This legislation is the latest in a long line of efforts the GOP has used to hinder the scientific community from using its internal peer-review process to advance research and development which in turn would lead to the next generations of innovation desperately needed to sustain the United States’ leadership in science and technology. GOP efforts to appease the extremists within their party by slashing spending no matter who is affected are naive and short-sighted to say the least.

Beginning with the powers of the oil and gas industries masquerading as a conservative, grassroots Tea Party movement, conservatives have fought tirelessly to create an absurd climate debate instead of working on a bipartisan effort to ensure the sustainability of our planet. Congressional leaders have used ‘data’ gathered by conservative think tanks and biased institutes to assert the ‘science is still out’ about the man-made cause of climate change. Ultimately, what are their interests, protecting those who fund their elections or protecting…well, the rest of us? Who stands to lose by enacting cap-and-trade, emissions limits, or biofuel standards? The public as a whole? However, who wins if these and other efforts are in place to fortify our environment for future generations?

Also this week, the U.S. Global Change Research Program released the latest National Climate Assessment stating climage change is no longer a future threat. It’s here. Climatologists have sounded the alarm about global warming for over 30 years. Now the science is as solid as diamond and the consensus is strong. It is very apparent Congress will not actively take measures to grant future generations the awesome pleasure of enjoying our national parks as we have or enjoy time on local lakes or rivers. 

If there is something I’ve learned in the past couple weeks, it is the precious time we have with those we love can end at any moment. I cannot help but think what happens when I am gone? What do I leave behind? How can I show my children how much I loved them and wanted the best for them? It certainly is not doing everything possible to ensure I am victorious every election cycle by bowing to fundraisers.

What can we do to help?

 

It is past time to take back the power by electing members of Congress who can see the big picture by looking past this term in office to the selfless good they can do to help us all. The big picture is increasingly heating up as is our atmosphere.

Caring for Crohn’s and UC

The following is a guest post from Rebecca Kaplan.   Rebecca’s husband has Crohn’s disease and Rebecca writes a very informative blog: Caring for Crohn’s & UC which can be found here:   caringforcrohns.com     Clearing the Air…



Continue reading Caring for Crohn’s and UC

Earth: This is Our One Shot, Don’t Blow It

Tomorrow morning, early tomorrow morning, my wife and I are heading to the hospital for a scheduled C-section. I’m going to meet my son. Over the next 20 years or so, my duty as a father is to mould and shape him into an honourable and respectable human being. This is something I do not take lightly for it is one of the purest legacies we leave.

I found myself watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos Episode 13 this evening entitled: Who Speaks for Earth?. I was in awe of the profound and prophetic words and some points stuck with me. First, Sagan spends some time crafting an image of past civilizations with a comparison between the Greeks and Egyptians. With his explanation that Aristotle believed in two groups; Greeks and Barbarians, this concept rationalized the practice of slavery. There was no sense of a collective community to Aristotle. Sagan also explained the city of Alexandria as the first true cosmopolitan city. It was the heartbeat of innovation and discovery. Its library held invaluable volumes detailing observations and methods. It was not until the mob mentality of the religious deemed the library and its possessions as pagan that the library was razed to the delight of local politicians. It was at this point one of the most poignant statements I have ever heard was uttered…

History is full of people who out of fear or ignorance or the lust for power have destroyed treasures of immeasurable value which truly belong to all of us. We must not let it happen again.

Let that sink in….

My first instantaneous thought was of the Koch Brothers. Scientific discoveries do not belong to any one party or country. These discoveries belong to all of us because they tell of our shared kindredship. We are all in this together.

My second thought deals with the conviction Carl Sagan has to calm the rising nuclear storm among world powers, and he does it in blaring subtlety.  He could see the big picture; how all civilization could end within a short, short period of time. Thankfully, these tensions seem to have died down enough that it is not an imminent threat. But, it does remind me a very real, current threat in climate change. Perhaps, this is one reason the Cosmos series was revived.

In my opinion, the threats of climate change are much more dangerous. The outcome would be the same, total destruction, but the impacts are so subtle most don’t catch the trends. Even when all factual evidence points toward environmental collapse in the mid-range future, many do not see it as imminent or requiring even short-term mitigation.

Earth. We were given a beautiful home. Let’s not blow it.

Mother Nature’s Chuckle: The Language of the Universe is not English

Miraculous opportunity for self-reflection.

 

There it is. Our home. To us it seems like such a huge place where we will never meet all our neighbors. A place where we live our daily lives consumed with news and opinions from all directions. We work. We play. We do silly stuff like fight wars or think we are the best at this sport or that.

Now look at the picture. Could you spot ‘us’ without the circle? As the dominant species on our planet, we think we are on top. We can explore our Moon. We can travel to our neighbor planet with robots. It is said the human brain is the most complex piece of matter in the known universe.

All Mother Nature can do is chuckle.

As the above image easily shows, it is all about perspective. Our grandeur is self-inflated. Despite the best efforts and actions of us on Earth, Mother Nature will always have the upper hand. She gives us room to explore. She allows us to make strides, great and small. But inevitably, she always reminds us we can not walk confidently on our journey. Stellar threats are all around; invisible until the time of their death in our black or blue sky. Prehistoric mass extinctions to modern day injuries and destruction in Russia last year.

Mother Nature does not speak any of our earthly language. She only speaks the language of the universe. The language we wish to learn through our research and study. The language we long to understand for it will tell us our true history…from the beginning.

On this International Women’s Day, remember, we are all very important to ourselves. However, our great Mother still laughs at us.

 

 

 

Purple and Nine: Helping Encourage Teen Girls Into STEM Fields

I will let the creators tell you their story. If you would like to contribute, please click here.

What am I doing here?

Welcome to Indiegogo, if this is your first time. We are raising money to get a series of 12 Purple and Nine, a web series designed to be FUN and to get girls excited about technology. You can see the pilot here, on our Gallery page. Just click the Gallery tab if you haven’t seen the pilot.
We’re asking you to help us do a whole series of 12 because, honestly, we can’t afford to do that on our own. We aren’t a big-budget studio. We are just two ladies who are sick of what’s on TV. Like you, apparently. I mean, you are visiting here because you think Purple and Nine is better for your kids than what they’ve been watching on TV, right?
We wanted to maintain great content. We felt the best way was to ask the public to vote for Purple and Nine by chucking in the price of a movie ticket. Is that too much to ask?

About Purple and Nine

Purple and Nine is a web series cartoon about two girls who solve their problems through technology. We are planning 12 webisodes of 5-minutes each, and in each episode the girls have hilarious adventures with technology.

We want girls to dream big, and the way to do that is to show them examples they relate to. Purple and Nine are girls who enjoy tech, but also like fuzzy animals, music, and cool jewelry. Well, at least Purple does. Nine doesn’t care so much about what she wears or what people think of her. She just wants to save the world, and she’s glad Purple is her best friend, because Purple is good at inventing things.

Purple and Nine

  • Shows technology as a means to solve problems, from a personal scale (fix a broken toy) all the way up to a global scale (clean energy).
  • Features multi-faceted characters who are great role models for our children.
  • Doesn’t have evil villains. We have enough problems in the world to write fantastic plots without evil villains who must be conquered through violence.
  • Is fun and funny and entertaining (not edutainment!).
  • Illustrates that there are many forms of self-expression for girls and women.

In every episode the girls try to solve problems, like helping a classmate who keeps falling asleep in class, helping kids in distant villages get electricity using solar power, etc. They deal with both local and global issues, using a variety of technologies. The episodes are fun, and involve a whole lot of trial and error — to prepare our kids for the reality that most of what we try isn’t successful the first time. All the featured inventions either exist or are in development, and all of the plot twists are funny and unexpected. In fact, quite a lot of the inventions are funny and unexpected in and of themselves. I mean, it is pretty funny to zap your friend awake in class whenever his breathing rate slows. Isn’t it? The friend didn’t think so, and Purple and Nine had to find a better solution.

 

The inspiration came because the founders, Rebecca and Miriam, wanted to encourage more women to become high-tech entrepreneurs, like themselves. But to do that, we had to inspire girls at a young age. The role models on TV fall short.

Making animation is expensive!

Why do all the movies and shows have the same plot? Because it’s expensive and the big studios only want to bet on a “sure thing”. To make something creative like Purple and Nine is “risky” for them, but easy for us. I mean, if you help us by donating, it will be easy. That’s because we’ll be beholden to you, our sponsors, not to advertisers who want to sell beauty products or pink accessories.

  • Each episode costs about $12K in out-of pocket expenses.
  • At $250K we’ll be able to make an app that will allow kids to submit their own content and play with the characters.
  • With enough backers, we will show the big studios there is an audience!
  • We have great prizes including original artwork from the series, and even a 3D printed model of the Ferret from the series!
  • We love Nine, so all of our prizes are multiples of 9. You can contribute any amount you like, though, starting at a dollar.

 

 

 

The Impact

By contributing, you will be ensuring our children have access to great content that expands their career choices and piques their curiosity.

  • More girls in STEM means more people working on problems like cures for diseases, awesome apps, clean energy, food technologies, and preservation of our earth.
  • Your support sends a message to the media: We want healthy images of girls and women in the media. Even if you don’t contribute money, watching the the video and sharing it with friends sends a message to the media that we want quality.
  • We are building a community for girls and women in tech and entrepreneurship. Join us..

 

 

Seriously, you’re asking me to give you money for your business?

Yeah, I know it sounds lame. We couldn’t come up with anything better than “ask people to pay for great videos”, at least at the beginning. We aren’t using the money for our salaries. We’re using the money for the production costs. We hope it will be a business, but we aren’t expecting that to happen for at least a year. Until then, we are hoping for your help.

Other Ways You Can Help

Spread the word!

  • Watch the pilot episode of Purple and Nine!
  • Send it to anyone with girls (and boys) who would enjoy the video!
  • Share it on your social networks! Remember, we have Spanish and Chinese dubbed versions, so spread the word worldwide.
  • Write about it on your blog!
  • Use the Indiegogo share tools!

 

 

It Doesn’t Add Up!

How are we going to make 12 episodes on $50,000? We aren’t. If a million girls view Purple and Nine, we believe that we’ll be able to find corporate sponsorship or other organizations to get involved. If we raise only $50,000, we can promise only 5 episodes. That’s why our stretch goal is $100,000 for the whole season. Beyond that, some of us can make Gangly Sister our full-time jobs.

Thank you!