Nel's New Day

March 24, 2015

White House Science Fair: Hope for Next Generation

Filed under: Education — trp2011 @ 1:37 PM
Tags: , , ,

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has announced his run in 2016 for president. He’s the man who tried to negate global warming because New Hampshire has snow and ice. On the same day the fifth White House Science Fair shows that young people are far smarter than Cruz. In his comments, President Obama talked about their accomplishments and their future in science:

“These young scientists and engineers teach us something beyond the specific topics that they’re exploring. They teach us how to question assumptions; to wonder why something is the way it is, and how we can make it better. And they remind us that there’s always something more to learn, and to try, and to discover, and to imagine — and that it’s never too early, or too late to create or discover something new.”

“Sophia Sánchez-Maes … from Las Cruces, New Mexico … is helping to bring the world closer to using algae as a clean, renewable, and even inexhaustible energy source….

”Harry [Tufts] was born with a condition called congenital scoliosis–a curvature of the spine. So, growing up, Harry endured more than a dozen operations. Rather than feel sorry for himself, he thought there’s got to be a better way of doing this. So he designed a new type of spinal implant [that] could reduce the number of surgeries that a child may need for more than a dozen to as few as five, which obviously would cut down medical costs, but more importantly, would save a lot of young people pain and time out from school and recovery time, and the potential complications of an operation.

“Nikhil Behari is … a freshman–right?- in high school, interested in how we can better protect ourselves against hackers and data thieves online…. Nikhil wondered, what if we each type in a distinct ways? So he collected all kinds of data about how a person types — their speed, how often they pause, how much pressure they use; built a special keyboard to test it. And he proved that his hypothesis was correct–that even if somebody knows your password, they don’t necessarily punch it in exactly the way you do. And he asked why — and made discoveries that now could help keep our online accounts more secure.

“I should give special mention to our Girl Scouts from Oklahoma.… They’re standing up, but you can’t really see them because they’re in kindergarten and first grade… They built their device out of Legos.  They realized that some people who might be paralyzed or arthritic might have trouble turning pages on a book so they invented this page turner.  It was awesome.  It was working so well, despite the fact, as they pointed out–this is a quote, they said, “This is just a prototype.” …I said, well, how’d you come up with the idea? They said, well, we had a brainstorming session. And then one of them asked, “Mr. President, have you had brainstorming sessions?” I said, yes, but I didn’t come up with something as cool as this–an automatic page turner.

“Ruchi Pandya … found a way to use a single drop of blood to test a person’s heart function, much like a person with diabetes tests their blood sugar.

“Anvita Gupta … used artificial intelligence and biochemistry to identify potential treatments for cancer, tuberculosis, Ebola … that could potentially significantly speed up the process of finding drugs that might work against these diseases…. Anvita and Ruchi are first-generation Americans. Their parents came here, in part, so their kids could develop their talents and make a difference in the world.

“Four years ago, I set a national goal to provide 98 percent of Americans with high-speed wireless Internet so that any young scientist or entrepreneur could access the world’s information. Today, I can announce that we have achieved that goal, and we did it ahead of schedule….

“To make sure that we keep expanding broadband across the country, I’m creating a new team called the Broadband Opportunity Council, made up of leaders across government, who will work with business and communities to invest in next-generation Internet nationwide. Because this not just going to be a key for your ability to learn and create; it’s also a key for America’s ability to compete and lead in the world.

“No young person in America should miss out on the chance to excel in these fields just because they don’t have the resources. So, five years ago, we launched a campaign called “Educate to Innovate,” to help more of our students explore science, technology, engineering and math. Today, I’m pleased to announce $240 million in new contributions from businesses, from schools, from foundations across the country to help kids learn in these STEM fields….

“Corporations have pledged to help expand high-quality science and technology education to more than 1.5 million students. More than 120 universities have pledged to help train 20,000 new engineers to tackle the toughest challenges of this century. Foundations like the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Gates Foundation, and the Simons Foundation, will support scientists early in their careers with mentoring and funding. And, all told, these new commitments bring our grand total up to $1 billion in commitments to our kids since we first got this initiative started five years ago….

“We don’t want to just increase the number of American students in STEM. We want to make sure everybody is involved. We want to increase the diversity of STEM programs, as well….

“Part of the problem is we don’t tell the stories enough of the incredible scientists and inventors along the way who are women, or people of color, and as a consequence, people don’t see themselves as potential scientists. Except the good news is these young women and African American and Latino and Asian American folks, young people who are here today–you guys certainly see yourselves as scientists. So you’re helping to inspire your classmates and kids who are coming up behind you to pursue these dreams as well.

“Because the United States has always been a place that loves science. We’ve always been obsessed with tinkering and discovering and inventing and pushing the very boundaries of what’s possible. That’s who we are. It’s in our DNA. Technological discovery helped us become the world’s greatest economic power. Scientific and medical breakthroughs helped us become the greatest source of hope around the world. And that’s not just our past, that’s also our future, because of amazing young people like this….

“It’s not enough for us to just lift up young people and say, great job, way to go. You also have to have labs to go to, and you’ve got to be able to support yourself while you’re doing this amazing research. And that involves us as a society making the kind of investments that are going to be necessary for us to continue to innovate for many, many years to come.”

potus_meets_science_fair_supergirlsThe page-turner project that President Obama announced came from six Girl Scouts, all six years old, who had talked with the school librarian about the idea. They sketched the device that turns pages for people with disabilities and then sorted motorized Lego components and gears that could turn pages with rubber Lego tires. A second device makes the pages lie flat after the pages are turned. This is the second year that a Girl Scout troop from Oklahoma made national news; last year’s second-grader Lego Queens created photo-ops by placing a tiara on the president.

Other young people who showcased their projects at the White House Science Fair:

Trisha Prabhu, 14, learned that a the human brain’s decision-making area is not fully developed until the age of 25 and developed a computer program called “Rethink.” It alerts users if an outgoing computer message contains abusive and hurtful language. Adolescents using the program are 93 percent less likely to use this language with “Rethink.”

Kelly Charles, 15, developed a solar-powered radiation system that circulates air and heats the inside of buildings without electricity or running water. She is a sophomore at Navajo Prepatory School in Farmington (NM).

Kenneth Shinozuka, 16, developed a sensor device to detect when someone with Alzheimer’s starts to wander off. The alert is sent to the caregiver’s smartphone via Bluetooth. Kenneth used his device while caring for his grandfather, and his invention detected every time that his grandfather got out of bed at night for six months.

Sahil Doshi, 14, showed how to harness the power of carbon dioxide and waste materials to generate electricity through his battery called PolluCell.

Bluyé DeMessie, 18, developed a method to change agricultural waste into a bio-charcoal that can remove pollutants from water.

Natalie Ng, 19, developed a way to predict metastasis in breast cancer which can devise appropriate treatments for recurrence risk in individual cancer patients.

Three girls–Stephanie Lopez, 17; Chloe Westphal, 17; Amanda Arellano, 18—developed an app concept to help teens manage anxiety and depression by sharing their feelings in a private journal. One of eight national winners in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge, they will get training on coding and app development, helping them publish the app.

Joseph Santana, 12, and Sophia Nobles, 11 found a less expensive way of generating drinking water from ocean water by using the energy of underwater swells.  water. The desalination process incorporates a special “reverse osmosis” membrane made out of graphene to trap salt while allowing water molecules to flow through.

Eric Koehlmoos, 18, discovered a way to use cordgrass and switchgrass for ethanol, 200 times more successful than using corn and noncompetitive with the food supply.

This makes this the second year in a row that women scientists represented the majority of fair participants. Women have always been accomplished in science; now they’re getting credit for it. Cruz should take notice of the fair and the intelligence that it represents among future voters.

More photos and projects here.

November 22, 2014

What Were They Thinking!? Barbie and Palin

Filed under: Feminism — trp2011 @ 9:20 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

What were they thinking?! To sell more dolls and make money from females, Mattel came out with a book showing the sexist toy completely dependent on males to be a computer engineer. In a blog about Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer, Pamela Ribon pointed out that Barbie tells her sister, Skipper, that she’s “designing a game that shows kids how computers work .” That’s before she tells Skipper that she needs “Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game” because she’s “only creating the design ideas.”

Wearing her flash drive on a pink heart-shaped necklace, Barbie’s computer gets a computer virus that infects Skipper’s hmework. When she tells Steven and Brian about the problem, Steven says, “It will go faster if Brian and I help.” Barbie is only too grateful to let them do the work although Barbie’s teacher has already explained how Barbie can fix the problem. The book then culminates in Barbie’s taking credit for the work that the two boys did.

The book came out in 2010 but drew little attention until Pamela Ribon’s blog that includes pages from the book. The embarrassed Mattel published an apology before it pulled the book from

“We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls’ imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”

The apology has jacked up the price of the book for those who have used copies. Prices range between $200 and $290.

After the fact, author Susan Marenco noted problems with the book. She said, “Maybe I should have made one of those programmers a female – I wish I did.” Mattel had requested that Barbie be a designer. Marenco added, “Maybe I should have pushed back, and I usually I do, but I didn’t this time.”

Casey Fiesler pushed back by remixing the book for a new version. The dialog includes this exchange between Barbie and Ken:

Ken: “If girls start making videogames, they’ll take out all the hot chicks, and they’ll all be about puppies and picking out hairstyles.”

Barbie: “Don’t be a moron, Ken. You spend more time on your hair than I do.”

In an article about the book, Fiesler wrote:

“In the end, we don’t need a book (or a doll!) to show a young girl that STEM is just as much for them as for boys. Tell her, or show her! Find out what she’s interested in and tell her how technology relates to it. Point out that computers aren’t just passive by getting her started in a kid-friendly programming environment like Scratch.”

Kathleen Tuite has created a site where people can create different versions of the book. One of the first of over 2,000 submissions switched roles in the book so that Barbie is the game programmer.

Before the Mattel pulled the book, reviews in the United Kingdom averaged one star. Respondents in the U.S. were kinder—or perhaps more clueless—although it brought responses like these.

“The first computer coders were women, not men. A woman, Ada Lovelace, invented the idea for general programming language in 1843, for crying out loud, and had other visionary ideas about what would become computing.”—Caroline Farr

“Only Mattel and Barbie could send the message that a pretty young bimbo has to leave the real work of coding to the guys.”—Judy Stoodley

This is not the first time in Barbie’s 65-year history that people have pointed out Mattel’s gaffes in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). An a 1992 release, Teen Talk Barbie babbled “Math class is tough,” and “I love shopping.”

Barbie is modeled after Bild Lilli, a doll intended for adult men—sort of a sex toy. Sometimes given as bachelor gifts, the dolls’ wardrobe was composed of negligees, tiny top, and tight pants. Men put them on dashboards, and others bought them for the thrill of peeping under her ensembles.

Another terrible gaffe comes from the Smithsonian Magazine list of the 100 most significant Americans of all time, over four centuries of history. The usually revered people are on it: presidents such as Lincoln, FDR, and Washington; activists such as Frederick Douglass; entrepreneurs such as Henry Ford and Steve Jobs; and other icons such as John Muir, Frank Sinatra, Mark Twain, and Babe Ruth.

One name sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb–Sarah Palin. No, this is not a joke—unless the Smithsonian meant it as such. George W. Bush is there, and Barack Obama is not. Steven Skiena, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Computer Science at Stony Brook University, and Charles B. Ward, an engineer at Google, devised “an algorithmic method of ranking historical figures, just as Google ranks web pages,” and “their concept of significance has less to do with achievement than with an individual’s strength as an Internet meme — how vividly he or she remains in our collective memory.” Smithsonian took their list and edited it by assessing how well the individuals’ achievements are remembered and valued in the present day.

As Stephen D. Foster, Jr. wrote:

“Palin, America’s village idiot known for quitting as Governor of Alaska and engaging in drunken brawls and incoherent speeches full of factual errors such as not knowing the actual address of the White House, is on the list, while the first African-American president in American history is not.”

Palin made the “First Women” category with Pocahontas, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, Martha Washington, Hellen (sic) Keller, Sojourner Truth, Jane Addams, Edith Wharton, Bette Davis, Oprah Winfrey. The magazine didn’t even spell Helen Keller’s name correctly.

People have long known that Barbie should not be a role model for young girls, but until now the Smithsonian has been an honored institution. James Smithson left his entire estate worth over $500,000 in 1829 (almost $11 million today) to found an institution “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” The Smithsonian should be embarrassed by its choice and issue an apology just as Mattel has. Including Sarah Palin on this list has destroyed any credibility of the Smithsonian. Girls in the United States need to aim higher than Barbie and Sarah Palin—much higher.


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