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Items for students and others, interested in learning about science and engineering and the application of science in our lives. Most posts are included here.
Recommended posts: Tech Talks at Google (webcasts) - Electron Clouds - Quantum Mechanics Made Relatively Simple Podcasts - How do antibiotics kill bacteria?

Items for students and others, interested in learning about science and engineering and the application of science in our lives. We post many of the general interest items here.

Using The Building of Robots to Engage Students in Learning

Fundi bots has a mission to use robotics training in African schools to create and inspire a new generation of problem solvers, innovators and change-makers. I believe strongly in this type of effort. We waste so much human potential by killing students design to learn. Instead we need to create systems that not only don’t kill that desire but allow it to flourish.

Fundi Bots focuses on the technological process of building robots as a way for students to look at the world around them from a practical, solution oriented perspective. By guiding students through problem identification, brainstorming, collaboration, construction, programming, final deployment and system feedback, we show them how the problems around them can be solved through a technological approach and persistent reductive analysis.

Fundi Made is an effort to create professional grade electronics right in our Fundi Spaces, and deploy the products in five core market segments; home-automation, agriculture, energy, security and health.

Related: Promoting Innovation in Sierra LeoneLetting Children Learn using Hole in the Wall ComputersGiven Tablets but No Teachers, Kids Teach Themselves (Having Never Seen Advanced Technology Before)Teaching Through TinkeringEncouraging Curiosity in Kids20th Annual US First Robotics Competition (2012)

STEM Graduates in the USA: 465,000 Women and 451,000 Men

STEM baccalaureate degrees in the USA in 2010 (reported by NSF in 2014):

Field Women
Science (including math) 442,000 343,000
Engineering 23,000 108,000
Health 193,000 36,000
Total 658,000 486,000

If you exclude health, women still lead 465,000 to 451,000.

The same data for master’s degrees:

Field Women
Science (including math) 86,000 72,000
Engineering 14,000 49,000
Health 97,000 22,000
Total 197,000 147,000

Excluding health the totals are: women 100,000, men 125,000.

In 2005, 235,197 women received undergraduate science and engineering degrees, compared to 230,806 for men. In 2005, 53,051 women received masters science and engineering degrees, compared to 66,974 men. All increased a large amount from 2005 to 2010 and degrees awarded to women increased much faster than the increase seen for men.

As I predicted in 2008 (Women Choosing Other Fields Over Engineering and Math) the trends continued and resulted in large imbalances in favor of women at the undergraduate level for science related degrees.

At the masters level women continue to increase degrees (nearly doubling from 2005 to 2010 excluding health). The relative gains (compared to men) at the masters level are small in that 5 year period, but it seems to me the news is mainly good. I expect women will show relative gains at the masters and PhD levels going forward, though those gains may well be slower than they were at the undergraduate level.

STEM fields continue to show large gender imbalances (with women and men dominating certain fields and being relatively rare in others). Continuing to provide opportunities for talented and interested students to explore their field of choice is important for the students well being and for the well being of society. We want to take advantage of the great minds we have and not have people excluded from pursuing their dreams.

Related: Alternative Career Paths Attract Many Women in Science FieldsThe USA is Losing Scientists and Engineers Educated in the USA

The Feynman Lectures on Physics Available Online

The Feynman Lectures on Physics are now available to read online. They are a great collection of lectures covering physics and touching on many areas including: the Mechanisms of Seeing, Semiconductors and Algebra. This is a fantastic resource for learning about physics.

You can also get a boxed set of The Feynman Lectures on Physics for those that like paper. It is fantastic but not cheap.

Bill Gates bought the rights to the rights to The Character of Physical Law, 7 lectures Feynman gave at Cornell University (these are separate from the lectures listed above) and made them available online, which is great. Unfortunately the website is based on Microsoft tools and therefore quite a bother for many (or maybe even impossible with Linux computers – I am not sure). I guess since he made all his money via Microsoft it isn’t that surprising but it would have been nice if he provide the content in a more easily accessible way (even if they didn’t do the fancy additions they did on the Microsoft site. These are great enough videos to probably be worth the bother of installing proprietary Microsoft software in order to view them.

Related: Video of Young Richard Feynman Talking About Scientific ThinkingFeynman “is a second Dirac, only this time human” (Oppenheimer) – Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character

Starting a Career in Science to Fight Cancer

Keven Stonewall Preventing Colon Cancer from VNM USA on Vimeo.

Keven Stonewall is a student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison working to prevent colon cancer.

Related: I Always Wanted to be Some Sort of ScientistHigh School Student Creates Test That is Much More Accurate and 26,000 Times Cheaper Than Existing Pancreatic Cancer TestsWebcast of a T-cell Killing a Cancerous Cell

Pedal Powered Washing Machine

It is very easy to forget billions of people alive today do not have access to electricity, clean water and things like washing machines at home. As I have said before I love appropriate technology. Even more than that I love to see successful deployments of appropriate technology that make people’s lives better.

It is also great to see kids with the perseverance to make these products to meet needs they see around them. We need to do what we can to encourage these types of kids. They are the future engineers and entrepreneurs that will make lives better for the rest of society.

Remya Jose, a 14 year school girl from Kerala, India created this wonderful machine. Another version of it, has the normal bike pedals (closer together, instead of spread out, on opposite sides of the machine, like in the video).

As far as I can tell the original video was from 2008 (and Remya created the machine in 2005). I haven’t been able to find the current status of the product, this is the best I could find (from 2008). Turning these innovations into products that succeed commercially is very hard.

If I had control of a national development program (or if I just become super rich and have millions to devote to making the world better, I think an effort like this would be something I would try) I would put working with these kids to make the products work very high on my list of priorities. The learning process and creation of engineers and entrepreneurs would be extremely valuable on top of any success the products had.

Related: Appropriate Technology: Washing Clothes by Machine Instead by HandWashing Machine Uses 90% Less WaterEngineering a Better World: Bike Corn-Shelleranother bicycle washing machineAutomatic Dog Washing Machine

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Learn About Biology Online

Very cool site for learning about biology. I have tried the courses offered by Coursera but they are too structured for my taste. I want to be able to learn at my pace and dip into the areas I find interesting. Coursera is more like a real course, that has weekly assignments and the like.

Survivebio is a resources that matches my desires exactly. You can go and learn about whatever topics you desire, when you desire. The site offers webcasts, games, flashcards, chapter outlines, practice tests and a forum to discuss the ideas.

In this webcast, Paul Andersen discusses the specifics of phylogenetics. The evolutionary relationships of organisms are discovered through both morphological and molecular data.

The aim of the SurviveBio web site is to aid AP (and college) biology students. But it is also a great resource to learn about biology if you are interested in that topic. Hopefully they will add more webcasts. The site uses webcasts from Bozeman Science which has a huge number of very good videos on biology and also, chemistry, physics, earth science, statistics, anatomy and physiology.

Related: Great Webcast Explaining the Digestive SystemsCell Aging and Limits Due to TelomeresHuman Gene Origins: 37% Bacterial, 35% Animal, 28% Eukaryotic

Pew Science and Technology Knowledge Quiz

The Pew Science and Technology Knowledge Quiz is a simple 13 question quiz to get a very simple look at scientific understanding in society. Obviously these types of quizes are just extremely simple views, still it is interesting to see how you can do and what questions people struggle with.

graphic showing 13 of 13 answers correct

graph showing distribution of correct answers by those taking the quiz

I am surprised the fewer than 50% of the people got 2 true or false questions correct, including “Electrons are smaller than atoms. Is this statement…” Looking back at my previous post, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, in the 2009 Pew Science Knowledge Quiz it is also the case that under 50% got the are electrons smaller than atoms question right.

They also provided a breakdown by demographic factors. Men had better percentages of correct answers, for the 2 true or false questions men were correct 55% of the time while women got 40% correct. The two other true of false questions had much higher correct answer rates 77% (83% for men 72% for women) and 66% (70 for men, 63 for women).

There was also a substantial tendency for the youngest ages to do better and the performance to decline for each age group. I am not surprised by the question answered incorrectly most often (only 20% got it right), see if you can guess which it is.

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Scientists Don’t Look Like They Do in Movies

The Myth of the Scientist: Crystal Dilworth at [email protected]

Scientists don’t fit the stereotypical mold some people think they do. It doesn’t take much to replace those views. The main point, in my opinion, is to let kids know they can be a scientists even if they are not like the stereotypical examples – though it will take a lot of work.

Related: Movie Aims to Inspire College Students With Tales of Successful Minority ScientistsWomen Working in ScienceCitizen ScientistsScientists Singing About Science

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Many Great, Free, Online Courses in Science, Engineering and More

The video, above, provides an overview of an online course, Calculus: Single Variable, via coursera from the University of Pennsylvania. This course provides a brisk, entertaining treatment of differential and integral calculus, with an emphasis on conceptual understanding and applications to the engineering, physical, and social sciences.

Robert Ghrist is the Andrea Mitchell University Professor of Mathematics and Electrical & Systems Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Coursera offers many courses in all sorts of disciplines including: Introduction to Genetics and Evolution (Duke), Scientific Computing (University of Washington), Principles of Economics for Scientists (California Institute of Technology), Game Theory (Stanford University and The University of British Columbia), A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior (Dan Ariely, Duke University), The Modern World: Global History since 1760 (University of Virginia), Microeconomics for Managers (University of California, Irvine), Data Analysis (Johns Hopkins University), Fundamentals of Human Nutrition (University of Florida), Algorithms, Part I (Princeton University), The Ancient Greeks (Wesleyan University), Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life (University of Edinburgh) and Epigenetic Control of Gene Expression, (University of Melbourne).

All the classes are free. These courses, and many more, are extremely appealing. I signed up for 2. I would be interested in signing up for much more but I worry about having the time to commit to keeping up with the coursework. I hope the first two go well and I can sign up for more in the future.

Related: Top Online Graduate Engineering Programs in the USAOpen Source Education CurriculaScience and Engineering Education ResourcesExploring Eukaryotic Cells

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Quick Webcast With a Few Interesting Science Facts

Interesting facts: I didn’t know that we require 13 minerals or that alcoholic beverages contain amounts of all the minerals we need. An amazing fact: the average person walks the equivalent of 3 times around the earth in a lifetime.

The minerals we need (and the recommended daily amount)

Calcium – 1,200 mg
Magnesium – 320 mg
Phosphorus – 700 mg
Potassium – 4.7 g
Sodium – ?

trace amounts needed
Cobalt (as Vitamin B12) – 2.4 mcg
Copper – 1,156 mcg
Iodine – 150 mcg
Iron – 8 mg
Manganese – 1.8 mg
Niacin – 14 mg
Riboflavin – 1.1 mg
Selenium – 55 mcg
Thiamin – 1.1 mg
Zinc – 8 mg
Chromium?, Molybdenum? Fluoride?

Frankly, in my quick looks around the internet I am not sure what they base the claim we need only 13 minerals on. It seems we need trace amounts of more minerals – did they just ignore those not in alcohol?

I couldn’t find good sources confirming just what minerals are needed. Many list some minerals but don’t list others. I am not really sure what the answer is. I am glad I seem to somehow get whatever I need just by eating somewhat healthfully. It is pretty cool we get these things that way. Of course if we didn’t our ancestors wouldn’t have survived to create descendants that finally became us – as they had a much harder time than me (who can just go the restaurant and grocery store and get all sorts of wonderful food).

Related: the atoms that make up the human body, were created in the crucible of starsScience Explained: Cool Video of ATP Synthase, Which Provides Usable Energy to UsVideo of Young Richard Feynman Talking About Scientific ThinkingScientific Illiteracy Leads to Failure to Vaccinate Which Leads to Death

Circumhorizontal Arcs – Fire Rainbows – Cloud Rainbows

photo of rainbow in a cloud

Fire Rainbow, Johor Bahru by John Hunter

Yesterday afternoon I spotted this odd, colorful, spectrum seemingly in a cloud in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. The colors are similar to a rainbow but the prism effect takes on a bit different form than a rainbow as I learned with a bit of searching online. I added a short post to this blog, about the phenomenon a few years ago.

photo of a large cloud over Johor Bahru

Johor Bahru under a large cloud which is topped with a fire rainbow.

A circumhorizontal arc is an optical phenomenon – an ice-halo formed by plate-shaped ice crystals in high level cirrus clouds. They are also known as “fire rainbows,” if the cloud is at the right angle to the sun, the crystals will refract the sunlight just as when rainbow is created.

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