Lunacy – FIRST Robotics Challenge 2009

Posted on February 2, 2009 3 Comments

The For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotic Challenge is a great way to get high school students involved in engineering. Lunacy is the 2009 competition which mimics the low friction environment on the moon (using a slick surface and slick wheels on the robots). For more information see the competition manual and related documents.

Related: FIRST Robotics in MinnesotaKids Fuse Legos and Robotics at CompetitionLa Vida RobotNorthwest FIRST Robotics Competition2006 FIRST Robotics Competition Regional Events

Promoting Bio-Literacy

Posted on January 30, 2009 No Comments

Wisconsin State Herbarium tries to ‘counteract bio-illiteracy’

“In a past century people could go outside and name the flowers or trees,” said Ken Cameron, the herbarium’s director. “Now you take a kid outside and the most they can say is, ‘It’s a tree.’ If we can get students in and get them excited, then I think we’ve helped to counteract bio-illiteracy.”

Herbaria are becoming more of a rarity. And the UW-Madison has the third largest collection of any public university in the country, behind the universities of California and Michigan. At many universities, botany has been absorbed into large biology departments, and collections put into storage. That has not happened at UW-Madison.

“The combination of having a botany department and a big herbarium is getting pretty rare,” said David Baum, botany department chairman. “And more and more herbaria are closing or making the decision to move off campus into storage, which has a real negative effect on research.”

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Herbarium, founded in 1849 (the year the University was founded), is a museum collection of dried, labeled plants of state, national and international importance, which is used extensively for taxonomic and ecological research, as well as for teaching and public service. It contains the world’s largest collection of Wisconsin plants, about one-third of its 1,000,000 specimens having been collected within the state. Most of the world’s floras are well represented, and the holdings from certain areas, such as the Upper Midwest, eastern North America and western Mexico, are widely recognized as resources of global significance.

Related: Plants can Signal Microbial Friends for Helpposts on plantsRainforestsThe Avocado

Data Analysts Captivated by R’s Power

Posted on January 13, 2009 1 Comment

Data Analysts Captivated by R’s Power

data mining has entered a golden age, whether being used to set ad prices, find new drugs more quickly or fine-tune financial models. Companies as diverse as Google, Pfizer, Merck, Bank of America, the InterContinental Hotels Group and Shell use it.

Close to 1,600 different packages reside on just one of the many Web sites devoted to R, and the number of packages has grown exponentially. One package, called BiodiversityR, offers a graphical interface aimed at making calculations of environmental trends easier.

Another package, called Emu, analyzes speech patterns, while GenABEL is used to study the human genome. The financial services community has demonstrated a particular affinity for R; dozens of packages exist for derivatives analysis alone. “The great beauty of R is that you can modify it to do all sorts of things,” said Hal Varian, chief economist at Google. “And you have a lot of prepackaged stuff that’s already available, so you’re standing on the shoulders of giants.”

R first appeared in 1996, when the statistics professors Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman of the University of Auckland in New Zealand released the code as a free software package. According to them, the notion of devising something like R sprang up during a hallway conversation. They both wanted technology better suited for their statistics students, who needed to analyze data and produce graphical models of the information. Most comparable software had been designed by computer scientists and proved hard to use.

R is another example of great, free, open source software. See R packages for Statistics for Experimenters.

via: R in the news

Related: Mistakes in Experimental Design and InterpretationData Based Decision Making at GoogleFreeware Math ProgramsHow Large Quantities of Information Change Everything

Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corps

Posted on January 13, 2009 No Comments

Externs.com, another curiouscat.com site, provides links to hundreds of internship opportunities. We highlight some science and engineering internships and plenty of other options too. Visit the internship directory site to find options like the Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corps. The YCC was established to accomplish needed conservation work on public lands and to develop an understanding and appreciation of participating youth in our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage.

The Yellowstone YCC is a program that emphasizes work ethics, environmental awareness and recreational activities. Approximately 30 students are selected each summer from across the country and are expected to complete forty hours of work each week.

In the past, YCC enrollees have been instrumental in building backcountry bridges; trail construction and maintenance; log cabin restoration; painting; and working on a wide variety of resource management, maintenance, and research projects. Many of the projects take place in remote locations within Yellowstone and work crews may be camped out for up to ten days.

Along with the work projects, enrollees spend significant time participating in YCC environmental education and recreation programs. Many of these activities are scheduled in the evenings and on weekends. They include hiking, rafting, fishing, backpacking, ranger led programs, guest speakers, enrollee and staff presentations, and trips throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

To be selected you must be at least 15 and not turn 19 before the term ends in mid August.

via: Send Your Kid to Yellowstone National Park This Summer

Related: Swarm of Yellowstone Quakes Baffles Scientistsposts on internshipsLight-harvesting Bacterium Discovered in YellowstoneWho Should Profit from Yellowstone’s Microbes

$100 Million to Tackle Energy Issues

Posted on January 13, 2009 No Comments

Stanford launches $100 million initiative to tackle energy issues

The $100 million in new funds will enable the hiring of additional faculty and support new graduate students, in addition to the more than $30 million in yearly funding now spent on energy research.

Precourt holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in petroleum engineering from Stanford and an MBA from Harvard University. He has spent his career in the energy industry, holding president and/or CEO positions at Hamilton Oil Co.; Tejas Gas Corporation, subsequently a Shell Oil Co. subsidiary; and ScissorTail Energy and Hermes Consolidated, gatherers, transporters and processors of natural gas, crude oil and refined products.

He is convinced that Stanford research can influence national energy policy for the better. “The wonderful resources that are available at Stanford, and the multidisciplinary approach they have to developing working solutions, are really attractive in terms of making things happen,” he said.

On a personal level, Precourt said, “Stanford made a huge impact on my life, as I look back on it. It was a superb education and I made some wonderful friends that I’ve taken with me for my lifetime.” Precourt donated $50 million to the energy institute that bears his name.

A $40 million gift from Steyer and Taylor will create a new research center as part of the institute, the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy.

Related: MIT’s Energy ‘Manhattan Project’Engineers Save EnergyGoogle Investing Huge Sums in Renewable Energy and is Hiringmore posts on Stanford

NSF Funding for Engineering Education, Curriculum, and Infrastructure

Posted on January 8, 2009 1 Comment

The Innovations in Engineering Education, Curriculum, and Infrastructure (IEECI) program supports research which addresses four aspects of engineering education: (1) how students best learn the ideas, principles, and practices to become creative and innovative engineers, and how this learning is measured (2) how application of cyberlearning resources of networked computing and communication, interactive visualization capabilities, and well designed user interfaces can be used to develop easily transportable tools and systems with low barriers to adoption which significantly improve learning, (3) integration of sustainability into engineering education, and (4) future directions of U.S. engineering doctoral programs.

Two types of awards will be supported: Expansion Projects (approximately 10 grants are anticipated) will only be available for area (1), Innovations in Teaching and Learning. Exploratory Projects (25-30 grants are anticipated) will be available in areas (2-4).

Anticipated Funding Amount: The total anticipated funding in fiscal year 2009 is $8,500,000. Expansion Projects will be funded at a level of up to $400,000. Exploratory Projects will be funded at a level up to $150,000, but exploratory projects involving multiple universities may apply for grants up to $200,000.

Full proposals are due by 11 March 2009.

Related: $92 Million for Engineering Research CentersWorldwide Science and Engineering Doctoral Degree DataNSF Graduate Research Fellows 2008House Testimony on Engineering EducationWebcast: Engineering Education in the 21st Century

Correlation is Not Causation: “Fat is Catching” Theory Exposed

Posted on January 5, 2009 1 Comment

“Fat is catching” theory exposed

Their study was reported to have shown that you can “catch” obesity from having fat friends and that obesity is so contagious, it can be spread long-distance by email and instant messaging. Even healthcare professionals, who didn’t understand the etiology of true obesity or how statistics can be misused, failed to detect the implausibility of “second-hand obesity.” In fact, some doctors became so enamored with the new “science of networking” they believed it should be a new medical specialty: network medicine.

Jason M. Fletcher, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut, along with Boston economist, Ethan Cohen-Cole, Ph.D., designed an ingenious study. They selected conditions that no one would seriously believe were spread by social networking and online friendships: height, headaches and acne. They then applied the same standard statistical methods used in Christakis and Fowler’s social networking research to “find” that acne, height and headaches have the same “social network effect.”

As they explained, patterns of association among people can lead to correlations in health conditions between friends that are not caused by direct social network effects at all.

There is a need for caution when attributing causality to correlations in health outcomes between friends using non-experimental data. Confounding is only one of many empirical challenges to estimating social network effects.

Excellent reminder of the risks of analyzing data for correlations. We continue to, far to often, fail to interpret data properly. Both authors of the study, received PhD’s from the University of Wisconsin-Madison which strengthens my belief that it is teaching students well (just kidding).

Also another example of the scientific inquiry process where scientists challenge the conclusions drawn by other scientists. It is a wonderful system, even if confusing and not the clean idea so many have of how science works.

Related: Correlation is Not CausationSeeing Patterns Where None ExistsStatistics for Experimenters500 Year FloodsPlaying Dice and Children’s NumeracyThe Illusion of UnderstandingAll Models Are Wrong But Some Are UsefulData Doesn’t Lie But People Can Draw Faulty Conclusions from Data

Educating the Biologist of the 21st Century

Posted on December 28, 2008 No Comments

An Introductory Science Curriculum for 21st Century Biologists by David Botstein (webcast)

At Princeton’s new Lewis-Sigler Institute, Botstein is spearheading an innovative effort at interdisciplinary undergraduate education. Students will take advantage of state of the art laboratories and computers capable of crunching vast amounts of data generated by actual research. Professors will “provide essential fundamental concepts as required, using the just-in-time-principle” – no more of the “learn this now, it will be good for you later” approach, which Botstein likens to hazing. Botstein says there is “lots of overhead in teaching historical and traditional origins” so his students will learn instead “with ideas and technologies of today.” He wants to create a new basic language that will enable his biology students to make sense of the fundamental issues of other disciplines.

Very good look at future of biology education.

Related: MIT Faculty Study Recommends Significant Undergraduate Education ChangesThe Importance of Science EducationWebcast: Engineering Education in the 21st CenturyEducating the Engineer of 2020: NAE Report

Educating Future Scientists and Engineers

Posted on December 21, 2008 1 Comment

Texas in danger of losing global race

American demand for scientists and engineers is expected to grow four times faster than all other professions over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet today, only 5 percent of U.S. college undergraduates earn degrees in science and engineering, whereas in China, 42 percent of students do.

Not only are highly qualified Texas science and math teachers in short supply today, but we’re losing literally thousands each year. In 2007 alone, approximately 4,000 math and science teachers left Texas classrooms, costing our state an estimated $27 million to replace them.

Fortunately, there are programs already proven successful in preventing the loss of highly qualified math and science teachers, such as UTeach, a teacher training and support program launched at The University of Texas at Austin in 1997.

The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas — made up of Texas’ Nobel Laureates and National Academies members — has proposed four practical, actionable recommendations for state leaders to adopt, putting Texas on the path to world-class math and science education for our children, and a prosperous future for our state.

Related: $12.5 Million NSF For Educating High School Engineering TeachersThe Importance of Science EducationFIRST Robotics in MinnesotaUSA Teens 29th in Science

Fund Teacher’s Science Projects

Posted on December 18, 2008 3 Comments

With donorschoose.org teachers submit project proposals for materials or experiences their students need to learn. These ideas become classroom reality when concerned individuals, whom we call Citizen Philanthropists, choose projects to fund.

Such as: Budding Scientists Need Basics!!! – “My students need 9 hands-on science equipment such as graduated cylinders, magnifying glasses, and vivid photographic books about weather and life cycles so they can experience science first-hand. The cost of this proposal is $386”

Hands On Science! – “My students need a human body model, a skeleton model, a skull model, 2 microscopes, beakers and graduated cylinders. The cost of this proposal is $1,060”

Eyes On Observation! – “My students need 4 Brock Magiscopes. The cost of this proposal is $688”

Let’s Rock the Rocks – “My students needs 2 complete sets of classroom Rock, Fossil & Mineral Collections and a Rock & Soil Activity Tub for science. The cost of this proposal is $351”

You can target high poverty schools, if you wish. If you want to help make a difference in the science literacy of the USA go ahead and find a project you want to help fund and make a donation. Or if you are a teacher, add a project for others to fund.

Related: Hands-on High School Engineering Education in MinnesotaThe Economic Consequences of Investing in Science EducationBuilding minds by building robotsEducation Resources for Science and Engineering

High School Inventor Teams @ MIT

Posted on December 11, 2008 7 Comments

Sadly MIT deleted the video after having it live for several years.

Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams is a national grants initiative of the Lemelson-MIT Program to foster inventiveness among high school students. The webcast above shows a high school team presenting a project they completed to create a solution to provide clean water. This stuff is great. I love appropriate technology. I love seeing kids think and create effective solutions to real problems. This is how you get kids to learn – not boring classes (at least kids like me).

The students are passing on the project to students at their school to continue to work on. (MIT TechTV used to have many more presentation by other InvenTeams – not anymore 🙁 ) InvenTeams and MIT deserve a great deal of credit for creating such great learning opportunities and great solutions for the world.

InvenTeams composed of high school students, teachers and mentors are asked to collaboratively identify a problem that they want to solve, research the problem, and then develop a prototype invention as an in-class or extracurricular project. Grants of up to $10,000 support each team’s efforts. InvenTeams are encouraged to work with community partners, specifically the potential beneficiaries of their invention.

Related: Water and Electricity for AllWater Pump Merry-go-RoundEngineering a Better World: Bike Corn-ShellerInspiring a New Generation of InventorsKids in the Lab: Getting High-Schoolers Hooked on Science