Middle School Students in Solar Car Competition

Posted on May 31, 2006  Comments (2)

Students work on solar car

Students vie in solar car competition (unfortunately the link has been broken – *sigh*) by Rob Seman:

That much was true for a squad of sixth grade girls from the Northwest Christian School in Newton, who allowed the school to keep the competition’s top trophy for a second year.

Their racer, a sleek black-and-yellow aluminum number called “Yellow Stinger,” took the overall award for the annual event after placing second in the craftsmanship, innovation and technical merit categories.

Junior Solar Sprints web site

China and USA Basic Science Research

Posted on May 30, 2006  Comments (2)

US$425 million to boost Chinese innovation by Fu Jing:

The National Natural Science Foundation of China will provide 3.4 billion yuan (US$425 million) in funding for basic science, it announced last week (25 May).

“The boost has shown the government’s determination for China to become an innovative country by 2020,” said the foundation’s vice-president Zhu Zuoyan. He added that the foundation’s research funding is set to grow by about 20 per cent a year for the next five years.

According to government plans, China’s total investment in science and technology should reach 2.5 per cent of its gross domestic product by 2020 — a share similar to that spent by industrialised nations.
By that time, China aims to be spending about US$112 billion annually on research and development (see China announces 58-point plan to boost science).

U.S. National Science Foundation Celebrates Opening of Beijing Office

The National Science Foundation is a U.S. government agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of $5.58 billion.

According to the NSF report, Science and Engineering Indicators 2006, China ranked fourth in the world in the year 2000 in research and development, with $48.9 billion in expenditures. Two years later, the country ranked third, behind the United States and Japan, spending an estimated $72.0 billion on R&D.

“It is important for the U.S. scientific community, especially young researchers, to be aware of and consider collaborating with colleagues in China in this environment,” said Beijing office Director William Chang.

The NSF Beijing Office is NSF’s third foreign office. NSF also maintains research offices in Paris and Tokyo.

Google: Artificial Intelligence

Posted on May 30, 2006  Comments (0)

Google A.I. a Twinkle in Larry Page’s Eye

He finished his AI thoughts on a promising note. Explaining that he has learned that technology has a tendency to change faster than expected, and that an AI could be a reality in just a few years. Those are very strong words coming from the mouth of one of the founders of a company with the wealth and vision of Google. Words to mark in the years ahead.

That quote is based on a response by Larry Page in: Google vision – Q and A webcast (30 minutes). Artificial Intelligence seems to keep frustrating those that see a near term future for it.

via: When You’re Worth More Than Ten Billion


Ocean Life

Posted on May 29, 2006  Comments (4)

Iridescent nudibranch

Photo: This iridescent nudibranch looks like a creature from another planet. Larger photo.

The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Commerce?) includes a huge photo and videocast gallery including: invertebrates, vertebrates and seafloor.

Also see an exploding volcano under the sea for the first time ever, from the:Submarine Ring of Fire 2006 Exploration, NOAA Vents Program.

Report on K-12 Science Education in USA

Posted on May 27, 2006  Comments (2)

The National Assessment of Educational Progress from the United States Department of Education is the definitive report on k-12 science education based on testing 4th, 8th and 12th grade students. The report provides a huge amount of data on testing results. At first look, it seems basically things stayed the same over the last 5 years.

Various differences are shown (for example: “Most states showed no improvement at grades 4 and 8. Five of the 37 participating states, however, did improve between 2000 and 2005 – and did so at both grades.”). However, I remain a bit skeptical of reading much into such claims. Even if you changed nothing (just retest the students the next month say) and then look for differences between the two sets of data it is possible to find seemingly interesting differences. It is very easy to be fooled when you have a large pool of data and search for any differences that seem interesting.

We commented on one example of why it is important to be careful in making conclusions based on data recently (in our management improvement blog). Most often people look for the differences to highlight the differences. That creates a bias to find such differences, which leads me to be a bit skeptical of such claims without an explanation of why the data is convincing that such a difference is significant and not just variation in the data.

The data from the test does provide a resource for those interested in exploring these matters, which is good.

The Department of Education provides sample questions online. Try them yourself: they are interesting. Unfortunately, for some questions requiring written responses, they don’t actually provide what the answer should be.

Science scores up in grade four, stalled in grades 8 and 12

News stories:

  • Test Shows Drop in Science Achievement for 12th Graders by Sam Dillon
  • Top of the class: Virginia a model for science education
    Forty percent of fourth-grade students and 35 percent of eighth-graders in Virginia’s public schools have a solid grasp of physical and life science, the NAEP reported.

    Nationally, the proficiency percentage for fourth-grade students is 29 percent, and 30 percent for those in eighth grade.

  • State pupils improving in science tests – but 4th- and 8th-graders still not doing as well as their peers across the nation
    In fourth-grade testing, only Mississippi scored below California, while California’s eighth-grade scores ranked 42nd out of 44 states. Of California’s fourth-graders, 17 percent were proficient or better in science, and half scored below the basic level. Among California eighth-graders, 18 percent were proficient or better, while 56 percent were below basic.

    Wide achievement gaps persist for California’s economically disadvantaged students, with 73 percent scoring below the basic level, and among its ethnic minorities, with 74 percent of black eighth-graders and 73 percent of Hispanic eighth-graders scoring below basic.

Improving Undergraduate Science Education

Posted on May 26, 2006  Comments (0)

The Meyerhoff Scholarship Program program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County uses innovative strategies to improve the performance of undergraduate science students.

At the start of their freshman year, all Meyerhoff Scholars attend an accelerated six-week residential program, called Summer Bridge, which includes course work, cultural explorations and meetings with leaders in science and technology. Summer Bridge sets up patterns for work and study that will shape student’s experiences for their years at UMBC and beyond.

Rather than fostering a climate of competition, the program stresses cooperation and collaboration. Scholars rely on mutual support and continually challenge each other to do more, creating a positive learning environment.

Why American College Students Hate Science by Brent Staples:

The students are encouraged to study in groups and taught to solve complex problems collectively, as teams of scientists do. Most important, they are quickly exposed to cutting-edge science in laboratory settings, which demystifies the profession and gives them early access to work that often leads to early publication in scientific journals.

While the need to improve science and engineering education is real we should remember that many good efforts exist. Expanding on the good efforts that exist and continuing to improve education system will benefit not just those students that participate but all of us that benefit from the work they will do.

”It’s Cool to Be Smart” by Kate Swan:

The strategy is working. When UMBC researchers compared the performance of early Meyerhoff graduates with that of students who had qualified for the program but gone elsewhere, Meyerhoff Scholars were twice as likely to graduate with an engineering, math, or science degree, and more than five times as likely to attend graduate school in those fields.

Olin Engineering Education Experiment

Posted on May 25, 2006  Comments (9)

Excellent article: The Olin Experiment by Erico Guizzo:

Founded with more than US $460 million from the F.W. Olin Foundation, the school, which will graduate its first class at the end of this month, was conceived as perhaps the most ambitious experiment in engineering education in the past several decades. Olin’s aim is to flip over the traditional “theory first, practice later” model and make students plunge into hands-on engineering projects starting on day one. Instead of theory-heavy lectures, segregated disciplines, and individual efforts, Olin champions design exercises, interdisciplinary studies, and teamwork.

And if the curriculum is innovative, the school itself is hardly a traditional place: it doesn’t have separate academic departments, professors don’t get tenured, and students don’t pay tuition – every one of them gets a $130 000 scholarship for the four years of study.

Find out more about the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.

Building a Better Engineer by David Wessel:

To a visitor, the school resembles any other small college. What’s different about it is its almost messianic mission: to change the way engineers are educated in the U.S. so that they can help the U.S. compete in a global economy with lots of smart, ambitious engineers in China, India and elsewhere. “If they become another good engineering school, they will have failed,” says Woodie Flowers, an MIT professor advising Olin. “The issue is to do it differently enough and to do it in way that will be exportable” to other colleges.

We share more thoughts on Olin’s efforts to improve engineering education on our other blog.

Harvard Elevates Engineering Profile

Posted on May 25, 2006  Comments (1)

Harvard is planing to move engineering education to the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (via Engineering is Becoming a Liberal Art).

The Technology Mosaic by David Epstein:

as Paul S. Peercy, dean of engineering at the University of Wisconsin and chair of the Engineering Dean’s Council at the American Society for Engineering Education put it: “I used to say, ‘look around, everything except the plants are engineered.’ Now I say, ‘look around, everything and some of the plants are engineered.’”

From Harvard’s announcement:

President Lawrence H. Summers. “It marks our recognition of the profound importance of technology and applied sciences for every aspect of our society. It makes visible our commitment to major new resources and faculty positions in this vital area, and our dedication to educating a new generation of technologically-literate students.

In order to provide adequate coverage of modern engineering and applied science for students and to be in the vanguard of emerging research areas, the school plans to increase the university’s engineering and applied sciences faculty by about 50 percent in the coming years.

Seeing Machine from MIT

Posted on May 24, 2006  Comments (0)

View from photo: an image (of a staircase) created to approximate the view through a seeing machine

MIT poet develops ‘seeing machine’ by Elizabeth A. Thomson

The work is led by Elizabeth Goldring, a senior fellow at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies. She developed the machine over the last 10 years, in collaboration with more than 30 MIT students and some of her personal eye doctors. The new device costs about $4,000, low compared to the $100,000 price tag of its inspiration, a machine Goldring discovered through her eye doctor.

The pilot clinical trial of the seeing machine involved visually impaired people recruited from the Beetham Eye Institute. All participants had a visual acuity of 20/70 or less in the better-seeing eye. A person with 20/70 vision can see nothing smaller than the third line from the top of most eye charts. Most participants, however, had vision that was considered legally blind, meaning they could see nothing smaller than the “big E” on a standard eye chart.

Goldring and colleagues are now working toward a large-scale clinical trial of a color seeing machine (the device tested in the pilot trial was black and white).

House Testimony on Engineering Education

Posted on May 24, 2006  Comments (3)

Testimony of Vivek Wadhwa to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce,
May 16, 2006.

Vivek Wadhwa has continued the work published in the Duke study: Framing the Engineering Outsourcing Debate. In the testimony he provides an update on the data provided in the report.

Contrary to the popular view that India and China have an abundance of engineers, recent studies show that both countries may actually face severe shortages of dynamic engineers. The vast majority of graduates from these counties have the qualities of transactional engineers.

Differentiating between dynamic and transactional engineers is a start, but we also need to look at specific fields of engineering where the U.S can maintain a distinct advantage. Professor Myers lists specializations such as systems biology and personalized medicine, genomics, proteomics, metabolomics that he believes will give the U.S a long term advantage.

Our education system gives our students broad exposure to many different fields of study. Our engineers learn biology and art, they gain significant practical experience and learn to innovate and become entrepreneurs. Few Indian and Chinese universities provide such advantages to their students.

The dynamic and transactional differences were mentioned in his business week article: Filling the Engineering Gap.

The conclusion he presents seems wise to me.

The numbers that are at the center of the debate on US engineering competitiveness are not accurate. The US may need to graduate more of certain types of engineers, but we have not determined what we need. By simply reacting to the numbers, we may actually reduce our competitiveness. Let’s better understand the problem before we debate the remedy.

Microsoft Wants More Engineering Students

Posted on May 24, 2006  Comments (1)

Microsoft Marching For More Engineering Students:

“We believe it is in the best interests of our industry, to have a continuing stream of high-quality, well-educated students in the sciences and technology. Software is a people-intensive business. Microsoft is committed to technical innovation, research is a primary arm of that, and we, therefore, want to continue to hire technically innovative people,” Roy Levin said.

Webcasts from the event with National Science Foundation, National Academy of Engineering and Microsoft representatives.