STEM Beats - May 2015

Science and the Stanley Cup

June 1, 2015

The unofficial start of summer is behind us, but hockey fans who can never get enough ice time can look forward to the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup finals into June.

STEM-thusiasts can double the pleasure, impress friends and impart wisdom by learning a bit about the science of hockey. Check out this Exploratorium website, which covers seven scientific aspects of hockey and questions with scientific explanations: 

  1. Ice—Why is ice slippery? What’s the difference between fast and slow ice?
  2. Skating—What are the mechanics involved in skating?
  3. Gear—What high-tech materials are the players using?
  4. Saves—How fast is a goalie’s reaction time to stop the puck?
  5. Shooting—How does a player slap a puck 100 miles an hour?
  6. Checking—How much energy is generated by a mid-ice collision?
  7. Fitness—How do hockey players get in shape and stay healthy?

NBC Learn and NBC Sports, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, show how great hockey players are also great mathematicians in the Science of NHL Hockey. A few teasers from the 10 videos and lesson plans for teachers:

  • Physics apply to every action and reaction on the ice, which follow Newton’s three fundamental laws of motion. The first law of inertia applies to a puck or player at a standstill: An object that is at rest stays at rest, while an object that is in motion stays in motion at a constant speed and in the same direction, unless acted upon by a force—like a slap of the puck or a check on a player. The second law of force states that when an object has an acceleration—a change in velocity—then the net force necessary to cause this acceleration is equal to the mass of the object times the object’s acceleration: force equals mass times acceleration. Newton’s third law states that for every action, like a collision between players, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That law explains the resulting momentum as the product of an object’s mass and velocity.
  • Kinematics is the branch of classical mechanics that defines a moving object—in this case, a lightning-fast hockey player—by his position, velocity and acceleration.
  • Geometry, especially plane geometry, is all over the hockey rink, in the form of circles, rectangles, points, lines and angles between rays. The puck is a solid geometric object, a cylinder.
  • Velocity vectors are the invisible physics behind the art of passing. A moving puck has both speed and direction. Long vector passes move faster than short vector passes. Hockey players intuitively calculate the direction of their passes with multiple, constantly changing vectors at play—players, sticks and the puck.
  • Hockey players study statistics and averages to plan their game strategies. One of the most important stats: the goalie’s save percentage, the number of saves divided by the total shots on goal.
  • With the mass, volume and density of ice and water as their guide, ice technicians apply science to create and maintain the smooth, hard surfaces of ice rinks.
  • From windup to follow-through, a slapshot illustrates important physics concepts of work, energy and power, all of which can be measured. A player uses kinetic energy—the movement in his body and stick—and potential energy—stored energy that is converted to kinetic energy when the stick hits the ice—as the power that propels the puck into action. When the player strikes the puck, that’s known in physics as work—force acting upon an object, resulting in the displacement of the object. Work can be calculated by multiplying the amount of force the stick applies to the puck by the distance that force is applied. The power of the slapshot is the measure of the amount of work done over time—how long the blade of the stick is in contact with the puck.

The video series also explains force, impulse, and collisions of players and pucks, players’ reflexes, and reaction time, and how projectile motion figures into the accuracy of hockey shots. 

For another scientific angle on hockey, find out how engineers are, well, reengineering hockey gear to make players faster and more efficient in Popular Science.

Tags: science

Guest Blog: Susie Armstrong of QUALCOMM

May 28, 2015

What first sparked your interest in STEM?
My parents.  My dad was the health inspector (he had a degree in Dairy Science), and my mom, while not a classic engineer, could fix anything – she is a great problem solver.  While my dad’s college education was interrupted by getting drafted, married and having kids, he eventually got his degree, and (probably because of this) was never any question in our house that my sister, brother and I  would do well in school, go to college, and have careers.  When I showed an interest in science and math, they encouraged it.  I’m incredibly proud of my parents and thankful for their support and push.

What aspect of STEM is most appealing to you?
Making things.  I almost shifted to Aeronatical Engineering from Computer Science in college, but I really loved the problem-solving aspects of programing and debugging, and I find that programming is “making” as well.  It is so gratifying to point to a mobile phone and say “my code makes your bits go from here to there”  (At QUALCOMM I worked on the early wireless Internet implementation).  I also do many crafts – torch worked glass, sewing, letterpress printing.

Who is your “STEM hero”?
If there is one historical person I would have loved to know, it would be Benjamin Franklin.  Obviously for all his inventions, but also because he seemed to be such a tinkerer, or a maker as we would say now.  And of course, he was a great politician and a printer!

How did you decide to pursue a STEM career?
I was planning to be a veterinarian, but was unsure I could deal with the pain and suffering of a medical field.  Then in college I took my first programing class, and was hooked.  Then later I realized I could make a living from programming.  I had 8 job offers when I graduated in 1982!

How do you use STEM every day?
Our entire world is built on STEM, from the 9 -story engineered building I work in, to the mobile I carry, to the research that went into my running shoes, to the 1914 cast iron letterpress printer I make drink coasters with.  And science has driven safe water in the drinks, which are produced and monitored with technology.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue STEM – for fun or for their career?
Realize that STEM opens up an enormous field of opportunity (e.g. veterinary medicine, computer science, aeronautical engineering!), for creativity, for a career, for making the world a better place, and for producing rather than simply consuming.   You don’t have to choose immediately, as long as you build the academic background and get involved in STEM.

Susan M. Armstrong started her work at QUALCOMM working on the early mobile Internet software. Recently, Armstrong has joined QUALCOMM’s Government Affairs group, where she brings an engineering and product background the Government Affairs work in worldwide public policy, including intellectual property protection, trade and immigration reform, STEM and STEM diversity. Armstrong holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Tags: guest blog, engineering, Start with STEM

Happy Birthday, Sally!

May 26, 2015

Today’s Google Doodle holds a special place in our heart -- it’s in remembrance of Sally Ride and her incredible achievements. Today, she would have been 64 years old. She was especially important to CTEq, as a founding CTEq board member in 2010. Sally’s dedication to STEM was indescribable -- breaking barriers and trailblazing a path her entire life, whether it was her work as the first female American to travel into space, or her role as an educator and reaching millions of children through her company, Sally Ride Science.

Like so many others, we were saddened by Sally’s passing, but cherish her legacy and the incredible example she set for millions of young people. Sally was an astronaut, author, educator, and friend -- simply put, she was a phenomenal woman. She was constantly searching for ways to better our environment and positively impact people’s lives. Tam O’Shaughnessy, Sally’s life partner and co-founder & CEO of Sally Ride Science, talked more about Sally’s life and the Google Doodle in her blog post here. Tam notes, in the post, “I know she would be honored by today’s Google Doodle. With whimsy, it expresses Sally’s sense of fun and adventure, and her ability to inspire young people. And who knows -- maybe her Doodle will motivate some girl or boy somewhere in the world to become a scientist and adventurer just like Sally.”  

Sally was a champion for STEM education -- especially for Change the Equation -- and she continues to inspire young people to defy obstacles and reach for the stars. 

See also our past tribute to Sally Ride.

Tags: women & girls, This Day in STEM

STEMtistics on Display: Latinos Lag in Computing

May 22, 2015

We live in a digital world, yet computer science isn’t considered a core subject in most U.S. K-12 schools. So, it’s not surprising that employers are having difficulty filling computer science positions. We especially have to focus on students of color and those from low-income groups.

Be sure to check out all of the STEMtistics focused on computer science and minorities. Together we can help advocate for STEM and seed the change we want for the next generation. 

Source: Change the Equation analysis of U.S. Department of Education data for 2012 college graduates. 

Tags: STEMtistics, computer science, minorities

Grit in a Philadelphia Classroom

May 20, 2015

The concept of “grit” in the classroom isn’t novel, but this Washington Post article really made me reflect on my past teaching experience. The author argues that grit isn’t necessarily a good thing in an inner city classroom because socioeconomic factors are often omitted from the discussion. But, in my experience as an Algebra teacher in South Philadelphia, I can attest that many moments of students’ success would have escaped had I not helped them tap into their grit.

What exactly does that mean? “Grit,” coined by Angela Duckworth, is the persistence, determination, and resilience it takes for a child to be successful. “It's that je ne sais quoi that drives one kid to practice trumpet or study Spanish for hours -- or years -- on end, while another quits after the first setback,” says Tovia Smith, NPR News. When I needed a way to help motivate my Algebra students, many of whom faced challenging circumstances at home and in their communities, fostering grit was the answer. All too often I had to be their counselor, therapist, and friend -- as well as their teacher. But, I always knew that one of the most important roles I needed to play was motivator.

One seventh-grader in particular, Cherie, was bright but lacked confidence in her math abilities. For months, I watched her struggle with the fundamental concept of “solving for x -- that is, applying inverse operations to isolate the variable. Every time Cherie wanted to give up, I gave her additional problems, tutored her after school (despite her discontent), and reminded her of her potential -- I became her biggest cheerleader. I’ll never forget her breakthrough moment -- every teacher’s dream. And she didn’t forget it either. Cherie is now wrapping up her sophomore year at the University of Virginia and headed to Vanguard for a summer internship. She recently shared this with me via Facebook, “I'm so glad we've been able to keep in touch. Part of why I like math so much is that I had great teachers in elementary school like you. Math in high school was different but having a foundation and having established a love of studying math made me pursue and always find ways to make it fun.”

Cherie, like many other young people in inner cities across the country, was like a pearl in an oyster -- we have to polish it to see its full beauty. Helping students tap into their grit and acknowledging the socioeconomic factors that impact their lives daily are not mutually exclusive. Both factors can and should be discussed, with the caution that socioeconomic factors should never be an excuse for expecting less. Nor should they interfere with the valuable life lessons educators teach in the classroom. Every child, regardless of economic background, should be taught the value of determination, hard work, and resilience -- grit -- as it pertains to academics. We’re doing our young people a disservice if our teachers aren’t willing or able to ignite their grit.  

--Nadel Pierre-Toussaint
Program Specialist, Change the Equation

Tags: teachers, math