STEM Beats - 2015

Happy Holidays From Change the Equation

December 24, 2015

Change the Equation
wishes you happy holidays and
a bright New Year!

We look forward to scaling new heights in STEM with you in 2016!

We're taking a little blog holiday until 2016, but we will be back in January with the same great STEM news you know and love!

Happy New Year!

Innovation in Space(X)

December 23, 2015

Jaws dropped (including ours) earlier this week when Elon Musk's SpaceX successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The company had tried several times, unsuccessfully to land the rockets previously, and this week's achievement means we've taken "a big first step toward reusable rockets." The way it works right now, "all rockets that travel into orbit are either destroyed or lost after taking off. It's something that drives up the cost of spaceflight; an entirely new rocket must be built for each launch. But if SpaceX can routinely reuse its rockets, the company saves the cost of manufacturing new vehicles for follow-up missions. That could make spaceflight a lot more affordable." And that means we could all be scaling new heights sooner than later . . .

Jeff Bezos' company Blue Origin had a similar success in November, but SpaceX's flight "has made history — no one else has ever landed a rocket that has gone as deep into space as the Falcon 9." This led to some friendly ribbing between the two moguls, with Bezos tweeting, "Welcome to the club."

We're impressed, too. And we can't wait to see what kind of innovation comes next in the world of "reusable space." Check out video from the landing below -- the excitement is contagious!

Tags: science

Telling the Story of STEM

December 22, 2015

If you're looking for some STEMspiration and some great stories to boot, you've got to check out how four CTEq member companies are using STEM learning opportunities to make an impact.

Lockheed Martin is supporting STEM learning through its partnership with STEMworks program Project Lead the Way, focusing on urban centers with high populations of underserved and minority students. The STEMworks “seal of approval” was a key component in Lockheed Martin’s decision to expand their relationship with Project Lead the Way and move toward district-wide implementations.

Dow Chemical is using FIRST to reach young people with robotics and their Red Stick Rumble competition and festival. As Dow CEO Andrew N. Liveris put it, "There is no better way to inspire children to pursue careers in STEM than through the hands-on project based learning experiences that FIRST provides.”

Freeport-McMoRan is doing good where they work, by making teacher professional development a priority. Through their support of ASSET STEM Education, a STEMworks program, Freeport is working to improve math instruction and increase student achievement in K-8 schools in rural communities where Freeport operates.

Cognizant has harnessed the power of making to reach thousands of students through its Making the Future efforts, and helping kids envision a future where STEM plays a key role. “I believe that children have the talent and passion to spearhead the next wave of global innovation and entrepreneurialism,” said Frank D’Souza, CEO Cognizant Technology Solutions.

We're excited to be able to tell these stories and share the successes of our members and those the are reaching through STEM. As one PLTW participant put it, "I love life science and I like engineering, why not just take the two and put it together so you could make something for life?” We couldn't agree more!

Be sure to add these stories to your reading list and share with your friends!

Tags: science, engineering, technology, math

60 years of Tracking Santa

December 21, 2015

It's just about that time -- the hooves on the roofs all across the world will be announcing the arrival of that jolly old elf, St. Nick. And thanks to technology, the military, and a little magic, anxious youngsters no longer need to wait anxiously, wondering when Santa will arrive. In fact, NORAD's Santa Tracker is in its 60th year this year, and with tracking apps available, you need wonder no more.

But just how does it work? NORAD (which stands for North American Aerospace Defense Command) uses radar and the heat from Rudolph's nose to track Santa as he circles the globe. On a regular day, the professionals at NORAD use radar to track and monitor possible threats to the U.S., but on Christmas Eve, the technology is used to track Santa. But how does radar work? "The word 'radar' stands for radio detection and ranging—and that gives a pretty big clue as to what it does and how it works. Imagine an airplane flying at night through thick fog. The pilots can't see where they're going, so they use the radar to help them," we learned from Explain That Stuff. What's more, radio waves from the radar travel outward until they "hit" something, at which point "some of them bounce back toward the antenna in a beam of reflected radio waves also traveling at the speed of light."

The "communication" between the radio waves and the antenna are how the tracking happens. "The antenna doubles up as a radar receiver as well as a transmitter. In fact, it alternates between the two jobs. Typically it transmits radio waves for a few thousandths of a second, then it listens for the reflections for anything up to several seconds before transmitting again. Any reflected radio waves picked up by the antenna are directed into a piece of electronic equipment that processes and displays them in a meaningful form on a television-like screen, watched all the time by a human operator. The receiving equipment filters out useless reflections from the ground, buildings, and so on, displaying only significant reflections on the screen itself. Using radar, an operator can see any nearby ships or planes, where they are, how quickly they're traveling, and where they're heading."

But what about Santa? How fast is he traveling and how does he make it around the world in just one night? According to U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Bill Lewis, "Santa has this way of transcending time. We've estimated that he travels at the speed of starlight." And considering that Santa is lugging 60,000 tons of gifts at takeoff (per the NORAD Santa Tracker Library), that speed is pretty remarkable. See, we told you it was magic!

And if you'd like to know a little more about how the Santa Tracker came to be, check out this great piece in The Atlantic that will warm your heart!

Tags: science, technology

Talent Hidden in Plain Sight: Addressing the Gaps in Computer Science

December 10, 2015

The fact that African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians are far too scarce in the computing professions is well known. Still, it boggles the mind to consider the enormous price our nation pays in lost innovation and economic growth by leaving so much potential talent on the table.

The fact is that even students of color who perform well in high school aren't entering computer science pathways. For example, tens of thousands excel in math, an important prerequisite for computer science, but less than 5,000 took the computer science Advanced Placement test in 2014:

High Flyers Left Behind

One big part of the challenge may well be that students of color have far too little access to computer science classes in high school. A recent study by Google and Gallup offers a sobering picture of unequal opportunities. While 62% of white students reported attending schools with computer science classess--hardly impressive in its own right--black and Latino students fared worse:

Unequal Opportunities in Computing

As a nation, we reap what we sow. Black, Latino, and American Indian Americans make up 35 percent of the college-age population, and yet they receive only 22% of computing degrees and certificates.

Underrepresented minority computing degrees chart

Imagine for a moment that we kept people of color on the computing pathway. If people of color were fully represented in the computing workforce, we would have more than half a million additional computer professionals in this country:

Untapped Minority Talent

Let that soak in for a moment. That is a staggering amount of innovative talent to leave behind.