Tag Archives: STEM careers

STEAM-powered Innovation: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics

Ainissa Ramirez

Ainissa Ramirez

“Science evangelist” and former Yale professor Ainissa Ramirez argues that STEM disciplines – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – increase curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking by asking basic questions:

  • How can we succinctly describe this phenomenon?
  • Why does this phenomenon occur?
  • How can we apply insights about this phenomenon to make practical improvements in daily life?
Henri Poincare

Henri Poincare

She advocated combing Arts disciplines with STEM to STEAM-power fresh insights, as mathematician Henri Poincare noted: ‘To create consists of making new combinations. … The most fertile will often be those formed of elements drawn from domains which are far apart.

Ramirez credits her scientific training with allowing her “to stare at an unknown and not run away, because I learned that this melding of uncertainty and curiosity is where innovation and creativity occur…”  

She added the important reminder that in these fields, “…failure is a fact of life.
The whole process of discovery is trial and error.
When you innovate, you fail your way to your answer.
You make a series of choices that don’t work until you find the one that does.
Discoveries are made one failure at a time…We just brand it differently. We call it data.”

Artists understand this trial-and-error process and the challenge of tolerating ambiguity and enduring lack of “success” until persistence enables insightful experimentation that leads to satisfying resolution.

Vi Hart

Vi Hart

STEAM practitioners include Vi Hart, “recreational mathemusician” at Khan Academy, who doodles explanations of fractal fractions aka abacabadabacaba, Fibonacci sequences in plants, Pythagorean Theorem via origami, and binary trees illustrated by Turducken, Mobius strips via the story of Wind, Mr. Ug and the big earthquake

Robert Lang

Robert Lang

Robert Lang, former CalTech physicist, merges mathematics, engineering, computing, and aesthetics to fold complex origami forms by “discovering underlying law” – just as Ainissa Ramirez suggested.

Robert Lang - Origami FishHe is a prolific artist, with paper and metal forms in public and private collections around the world, while advancing origami mathematics, computational origami,and applied origami technology in engineering, industrial design, and technology in general.

Lang advises that “the secret to productivity in so many fields — and in origami — is letting dead people do your work for you.” by building on discoveries in other fields to develop solutions to current problems.

Ron Eglash

Ron Eglash

“Ethnomathematician” Ron Eglash of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, showed that  African design in architecture, art, hair braiding, are based on perfect fractal patterns in which parts looks like the whole via recursive self-similar cycles.

Ron Eglash Fractal African Hair BraidingHe teaches mathematical concepts by drawing on students’ cultural backgrounds to translate mathematical ideas already present in the cultural practices, such as transformational geometry in cornrow hair braiding, spiral arcs in graffiti, least common multiples in percussion rhythms, and analytic geometry in Native American beadwork.

Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler

American detective writer (and former oil executive), Raymond Chandler, summarized the reciprocal contributions of science and art:

There are two kinds of truth: the truth that lights the way and the truth that warms the heart.
The first of these is science, and the second is art.
Neither is independent of the other or more important than the other.
Without art science would be as useless as a pair of high forceps in the hands of a plumber. Without science art would become a crude mess of folklore and emotional quackery.
The truth of art keeps science from becoming inhuman, and the truth of science keeps art from becoming ridiculous.

 -*How do you combine insights from other fields to shed fresh perspective on challenging dilemmas?

-*How do you persist until new variations on trial solutions succeed in resolving issues?

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Toys, Books, and Kits Attract Girls to Engineering

The small number of women role models in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers is widely recognized.

Debbie Sterling

Debbie Sterling

Debbie Sterling, a Stanford-educated engineer, is among a group of educators and entrepreneurs developing toys, books, games, and kits to attract girls to technical careers.

She introduced books and construction toys for girls centered on a fictional role model, Goldie, in response to her experience of collaborating mostly with men during her studies of product design in Stanford’s mechanical engineering department.

The first book, intended for girls, ages 5 to 9, is called GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine. Goldie lives in “her engineering house with gears and moving parts everywhere,” five character figurines (including Nacho the dog and Benjamin Cranklin the cranky cat), and a construction toy, featuring a pegboard, wheels, axles, blocks, a crank, a ribbon, and washers.

Goldie creates a “spinning machine” for her dog, who enjoys chasing his tail and yelling out random words in Spanish, by deconstructing a ballerina music box and reverse engineering it. Girls can create their own spinning toys with as they read through the story.

Her next products include books with a pulley system elevator, a parade float, circuits and gears, and an eBook where Goldie learns to code.

Another product intended to increase girls’ skill and confidence in working with technology is Hummingbird, an educational robotics kit.
Developed at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute’s Arts and Bots program, spin-off startup BirdBrain Technologies, showcases robotics with craft materials and text to communicate thoughts, feelings, or ideas.

The kit includes a control board, lights, sensors, and motors.
Students (usually ages 11 and up) program their creations on a computer by dragging and dropping icons, so they don’t have to learn computer languages.

Students have experimented with making a robot from cardboard wrapped in tin foil that can twirl, flash lights, and even impersonate the Star Wars robot, R2D2.
Another project was a dragon made of paper and popsicle sticks that flaps its wings and hisses.
Others crafted a robotic arm with muscles made of cast-off pantyhose.

Pennsylvania students analyzed poetry, then created animated scenes for poems using the kit.
Elsewhere high school students created kinetic sculptures with sensors that detect environmental changes and respond with movement.
Others built a “coin monster” for the school’s ancient coin exhibit.

Emily Hamner

Emily Hamner

Research Associate Emily Hamner and Tom Lauwers, the founder of BirdBrain Technologies conducted workshops to learn girls’ goals and interests in making robots.
They learned that girls are most interested in creating robots that can tell stories, dance, communicate, and interact with people.

Hamner and Lauwers’ goal is to enable young people “to create whatever they can imagine,” to inspire students’ interest in STEM careers, and to increase their “understanding and confidence in using the technology.”

-*What toys and games have you seen increase young people’s interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics activities?

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Silicon Valley Tech Women Encourage STEM Careers

Mala Devlin

Mala Devlin

Mala Devlin, Engineering Manager at Cisco Systems and Trina Alexson‘s book, Bit by Bit encourages young women in high school and university to pursue high tech careers.

Trina Alexson

Trina Alexson

Devlin and Alexson interviewed more than 40 women across leading Silicon Valley companies to highlight the top 10 reasons why young women should consider careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers, despite women’s under-representation in these fields.

The authors provide descriptions of job roles and career paths, and list skills required to succeed in technology careers.

Insights from this book are equally applicable to young men, and the authors encourage members of all under-represented groups to consider STEM careers.

Devlin and Alexson donated all profits from the book to the Anita Borg Society for Women in Technology

-*What practices have you seen increase interest in STEM careers among young women and other under-represented groups?

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