Category Archives: sscience education

Elinor Wonders Why—teaching biomimicry to children aged 3 to 6 years old

This new US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) series for children was first announced a year in advance in a May 29, 2019 PBS news release,

Today [May 29, 2019], PBS KIDS announced the animated series ELINOR WONDERS WHY, set to premiere Labor Day [September 7] 2020. ELINOR WONDERS WHY aims to encourage children to follow their curiosity, ask questions when they don’t understand and find answers using science inquiry skills. The main character Elinor, the most observant and curious bunny rabbit in Animal Town, will introduce kids ages 3-5 to science, nature and community through adventures with her friends. This new multiplatform series, created by Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson and produced in partnership with Pipeline Studios, will debut nationwide on PBS stations, the PBS KIDS 24/7 channel and PBS KIDS digital platforms. 

The stories in ELINOR WONDERS WHY center around Elinor and her friends Ari, a funny and imaginative bat, and Olive, a perceptive and warm elephant. As kids explore Animal Town, they will meet all kinds of interesting, funny, and quirky characters, each with something to teach us about respecting others, the importance of diversity, caring for the environment, and working together to solve problems. In each episode, Elinor models the foundational practices of science inquiry and engineering design — including her amazing powers of observation and willingness to ask questions and investigate. When she encounters something she doesn’t understand, like why birds have feathers or how tiny ants build massive anthills, she just can’t let it go until she figures it out. And in discovering the answers, Elinor often learns something about nature’s ingenious inventions and how they can connect to ideas in our designed world, and what it takes to live in a community. ELINOR WONDERS WHY encourages children and parents to ask their own questions and experience the joy of discovery and understanding together.

Starr Rhett Rocque’s Sept. 7, 2020 article for Fast Company offers more detail,

Elinor Wonders Why is a STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics]-based cartoon series created by Daniel Whiteson, a physicist and astronomer, and Jorge Cham, a cartoonist and robotics engineer. They’re both parents of small children, so they understand how to encourage curiosity through science and how to break down complex concepts.

Cham and Whiteson have been partners for years, working together on PhD Comics, which is a webcomic, YouTube, and podcast universe dedicated to PhD student humor. Linda Simensky, head of content for PBS Kids, had been a fan of their work, and when the opportunity to create a preschool science show that focuses on biomimicry came up, she figured they’d be great for the job.

“Biomimicry is basically taking things that you learn in nature and in the outdoors and in the natural world, and using them for inventions and for innovation science,” says Simensky. “The classic example that they use in the pilot is how Velcro was designed. Basically, it was inspired by someone getting burdock stuck to his pants, and that’s what inspired Velcro, so that’s the classic example of finding something in nature that solves a problem that you need to solve in real life.”

Elinor Wonders Why centers around Elinor (named after Cham’s daughter), a curious and observant rabbit living in Animal Town who goes on various adventures. In the upcoming premiere, Elinor plays hide-and-go-seek with her friends and finds out how animals hide in nature. …

Rocque went on to interview Cham, Whiteson, and Simensky,

FC: Describe the overall process of “dumbing down” highly sophisticated content for a younger audience. Was it harder than you thought?

JC: There was definitely a learning curve, but fortunately everyone at PBS, our team of science and education specialists have been great collaborators and guides. We don’t really believe in the phrase “dumbing down.” …

DW: Something important for us was to make each episode about a single question that a real kid would have. We looked for topics that any typical kid would think, “Huh, I do wonder why that is?” The kinds of questions they might ask when they look at their own world, like, “Why do birds have feathers?” or “Why do lizards sit in the sun?” It’s also important for us that the kids in the show play an active part in finding the answers, so we pick questions that kids could answer themselves using basic scientific thinking and simple tools, simple experiments, making observations, and comparing and contrasting. This made the questions and answers accessible, and also hopefully provides a model for them to follow at home.

LS: The part of it that’s the hardest is getting everything to work for the same age group. That’s the first thing. So, when you’re doing that, you’re doing several things at a time. You’re coming up with the idea for the show and you have to make sure that you know exactly who your age group is, and in the case of Elinor, it’s kids between the ages of 3 and 6. That’s a typical preschool group, and that includes kids who are in kindergarten, and even within 3 to 6, that’s obviously a pretty big range of kids. …

PBS does have an Elinor Wonders Why website but some of the materials (videos) are restricted to viewers based in the US. As for broadcast times, check your local PBS station, should you have one.

MIT Media Lab releases new educational site for kids K-12: it’s all about artificial intelligence (AI)

Mark Wilson announces a timely new online programme from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in his April 9, 2020 article for Fast Company (Note: Links have been removed).

Not every child will grow up to attend MIT, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get a jump start on its curriculum. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced millions of students to learn from home, MIT Media Lab associate professor Cynthia Breazeal has released [April 7, 2020] a website for K-12 students to learn about one of the most important topics in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics]: artificial intelligence.

The site provides 60 activities, lesson plans, and links to interactive AI experiments that MIT and companies like Google have developed in the past. Projects include coding robots to doodle, developing an image classifier (a tool that can identify images), writing speculative fiction to tackle the murky ethics of AI, and developing a chatbot (your grade schooler cannot possibly be worse at that task than I was). Everything is free, but schools are supposed to license lesson plans from MIT before adopting them.

Various associated MIT groups are covering a wide range of topics including the already mentioned AI ethics, as well as, cyber security and privacy issues, creativity, and more. Here’s a little something from a programme for the Girl Scouts of America, which focused on data privacy and tech policy,

The Girl Scouts awarded the Brownie (7-9) and Junior (9-11) troops with Cybersecurity badges at the end of the full event. 
Credit: Daniella DiPaola [downloaded from https://www.media.mit.edu/posts/data-privacy-policy-to-practice-with-the-girl-scouts/]

You can find MIT’s AI education website here. While the focus is largely on children, it seems they are inviting adults to participate as well. At least that’s what I infer from what one of the groups associated with this AI education website, the LifeLong Kindergarten group states on their webpage,

The Lifelong Kindergarten group develops new technologies and activities that, in the spirit of the blocks and finger paint of kindergarten, engage people in creative learning experiences. Our ultimate goal is to foster a world full of playfully creative people, who are constantly inventing new possibilities for themselves and their communities.

The website is a little challenging with regard to navigation but perhaps these links to the Research Projects page will help you get started quickly or, for those who like to investigate a little further before jumping in, this News page (which is a blog) might prove helpful.

That’s it for today. I wish everyone a peaceful long weekend while we all observe as joyfully and carefully as possible our various religious and seasonal traditions. From my tradition to yours, Joyeuses Pâques!

Nano 2020: a US education initiative

The US Department of Agriculture has a very interesting funding opportunity, Higher Education Challenge (HEC) Grants Program, as evidenced by the Nano 2020 virtual reality (VR) classroom initiative. Before launching into the specifics of the Nano 2020 project, here’s a description of the funding program,

Projects supported by the Higher Education Challenge Grants Program will: (1) address a state, regional, national, or international educational need; (2) involve a creative or non-traditional approach toward addressing that need that can serve as a model to others; (3) encourage and facilitate better working relationships in the university science and education community, as well as between universities and the private sector, to enhance program quality and supplement available resources; and (4) result in benefits that will likely transcend the project duration and USDA support.

A February 3, 2020 University of Arizona news release by Stacy Pigott (also on EurekAlert but published February 7, 2020) announced a VR classroom where students will be able to interact with nanoscale data gained from agricultural sciences and the life sciences,

Sometimes the smallest of things lead to the biggest ideas. Case in point: Nano 2020, a University of Arizona-led initiative to develop curriculum and technology focused on educating students in the rapidly expanding field of nanotechnology.

The five-year, multi-university project recently met its goal of creating globally relevant and implementable curricula and instructional technologies, to include a virtual reality classroom, that enhance the capacity of educators to teach students about innovative nanotechnology applications in agriculture and the life sciences.

Here’s a video from the University of Arizona’s project proponents which illustrates their classroom,

For those who prefer text or like to have it as a backup, here’s the rest of the news release explaining the project,

Visualizing What is Too Small to be Seen

Nanotechnology involves particles and devices developed and used at the scale of 100 nanometers or less – to put that in perspective, the average diameter of a human hair is 80,000 nanometers. The extremely small scale can make comprehension challenging when it comes to learning about things that cannot be seen with the naked eye.

That’s where the Nano 2020 virtual reality classroom comes in. In a custom-developed VR classroom complete with a laboratory, nanoscale objects come to life for students thanks to the power of science data visualization.

Within the VR environment, students can interact with objects of nanoscale proportions – pick them up, turn them around and examine every nuance of things that would otherwise be too small to see. Students can also interact with their instructor or their peers. The Nano 2020 classroom allows for multi-player functionality, giving educators and students the opportunity to connect in a VR laboratory in real time, no matter where they are in the world.

“The virtual reality technology brings to life this complex content in a way that is oddly simple,” said Matt Mars, associate professor of agricultural leadership and innovation education in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and co-director of the Nano 2020 grant. “Imagine if you can take a student and they see a nanometer from a distance, and then they’re able to approach it and see how small it is by actually being in it. It’s mind-blowing, but in a way that students will be like, ‘Oh wow, that is really cool!'”

The technology was developed by Tech Core, a group of student programmers and developers led by director Ash Black in the Eller College of Management.

“The thing that I was the most fascinated with from the beginning was playing with a sense of scale,” said Black, a lifelong technologist and mentor-in-residence at the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship. “What really intrigued me about virtual reality is that it is a tool where scale is elastic – you can dial it up and dial it down. Obviously, with nanotechnology, you’re dealing with very, very small things that nobody has seen yet, so it seemed like a perfect use of virtual reality.”

Black and Tech Core students including Robert Johnson, Hazza Alkaabi, Matthew Romero, Devon Oberdan, Brandon Erickson and Tim Lukau turned science data into an object, the object into an image, and the image into a 3D rendering that is functional in the VR environment they built.

“I think that being able to interact with objects of nanoscale data in this environment will result in a lot of light bulbs going off in the students’ minds. I think they’ll get it,” Black said. “To be able to experience something that is abstract – like, what does a carbon atom look like – well, if you can actually look at it, that’s suddenly a whole lot of context.”

The VR classroom complements the Nano 2020 curriculum, which globally expands the opportunities for nanotechnology education within the fields of agriculture and the life sciences.

Teaching the Workforce of the Future

“There have been great advances to the use of nanotechnology in the health sciences, but many more opportunities for innovation in this area still exist in the agriculture fields. The idea is to be able to advance these opportunities for innovation by providing some educational tools,” said Randy Burd, who was a nutritional sciences professor at the University of Arizona when he started the Nano 2020 project with funding from a National Institute of Food and Agriculture Higher Education Challenge grant through the United States Department of Agriculture. “It not only will give students the basics of the understanding of the applications, but will give them the innovative thought processes to think of new creations. That’s the real key.”

Unknown Object

The goal of the Nano 2020 team, which includes faculty from the University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University and Johns Hopkins University, was to create an online suite of undergraduate courses that was not university-specific, but could be accessed and added to by educators to reach students around the world.

To that end, the team built modular courses in nanotechnology subjects such as glycobiology, optical microscopy and histology, nanomicroscopy techniques, nutritional genomics, applications of magnetic nanotechnology, and design, innovation, and entrepreneurship, to name a few. An online library will be created to facilitate the ongoing expansion of the open-source curricula, which will be disseminated through novel technologies such as the virtual reality classroom.

“It isn’t practical to think that other universities and colleges are just going to be able to launch new courses, because they still need people to teach those courses,” Mars said. “So we created a robust and flexible set of module-based course packages that include exercises, lectures, videos, power points, tools. Instructors will be able to pull out components and integrate them into what already exists to continue to move toward a more comprehensive offering in nanotechnology education.”

According to Mars, the highly adaptable nature of the curriculum and the ability to deliver it in various ways were key components of the Nano 2020 project.

“We approach the project with a strong entrepreneurial mindset and heavy emphasis on innovation. We wanted it to be broadly defined and flexible in structure, so that other institutions access and model the curricula, see its foundation, and adapt that to what their needs were to begin to disseminate the notion of nanotechnology as an underdeveloped but really important field within the larger landscape of agriculture and life sciences,” Mars said. “We wanted to also provide an overlay to the scientific and technological components that would be about adoption in human application, and we approached that through an innovation and entrepreneurial leadership lens.”

Portions of the Nano 2020 curriculum are currently being offered as electives in a certificate program through the Department of Agriculture Education, Technology and Innovation at the University of Arizona. As it becomes more widely disseminated through the higher education community at large, researchers expect the curriculum and VR classroom technology to transcend the boundaries of discipline, institution and geography.

“An online open platform will exist where people can download components and courses, and all of it is framed by the technology, so that these experiences and research can be shared over this virtual reality component,” Burd said. “It’s technologically distinct from what exists now.”

“The idea is that it’s not just curriculum, but it’s the delivery of that curriculum, and the delivery of that curriculum in various ways,” Mars said. “There’s a relatability that comes with the virtual reality that I think is really cool. It allows students to relate to something as abstract as a nanometer, and that is what is really exciting.”

As best I can determine, this VR Nano 2020 classroom is not yet ready for a wide release and, for now, is being offered exclusively at the University of Arizona.

RFP (request for proposal) from Evidence for Democracy and undergraduate physics summer school/internship opportunities at the Perimeter Institute

Two very different Canadian institutions are offering opportunities to work, in one case, and to study and work, in the other case.

Evidence for Democracy and their RFP

The deadline for making your proposal is November 25, 2019 and the competition was opened on November 11, 2019. Here’s more from Evidence for Democracy’s RFP webpage,

Description
Evidence for Democracy (E4D) is a national science-based non-partisan, non-profit organization promoting science integrity and evidence-based policy development in Canada.

E4D intends to hire a contractor to work with us to produce a case study documenting and examining the grassroots movement that evolved in Canada to support evidence-informed policymaking (EIP) from 2013 to 2019, and to determine which elements could inspire similar work in other countries.

Background
E4D will produce a case study documenting and examining the grassroots movement that evolved in Canada to support evidence-informed policymaking from 2013 to 2019 to see which elements could inspire similar work in other countries.

The goals are to better understand what elements of E4D’s work over this period have been successful and why. This will be achieved through a survey of E4D’s supporters and interviews with various people in the science policy and evidence field in Canada.

The project will start with information gathering from inside and outside the E4D community. One of the goals is to learn more about which E4D activities have been the most and least effective at engaging and mobilizing individuals around evidence-informed policymaking, so we will start with a digital survey of our broad supporter base to learn from them. This will be disseminated by email to our E4D network. To add to the survey data, we will conduct interviews with selected members of E4D’s network to dig deeper into why they chose to engage and what motivated them (aiming for 20 interviews with E4D volunteers and network of expert members). Finally, we will conduct interviews with individuals who are external to E4D but engaged in science policy or EIP to have an external perspective on E4D’s work and grassroots engagement.

The information will be synthesized into a report outlining the grassroots movement to support EIP that emerged in Canada; what actions and activities strengthened this movement and why; and what specific actions, strategies and lessons learned can be drawn out to be applied in other countries.

E4D is looking to contract an individual to develop survey and interview questions, execute the interviews, complete the information synthesis and the first draft of the report. The ideal individual will be a freelance science writer or science journalist who has some experience looking at issues through an international lens to ensure the final report is context-appropriate.

Timeline and Compensation
December: Drafting and finalizing interview questions and recipient list and begin survey and interviews
January: Complete survey/interviews
February: Draft report

Budget
$18,000 CDN

Responses
Responses shall be submitted by email to katie@evidencefordemocracy.ca by November 25th, 2019. Please provide your resume and a short (under 1 page) summary of your qualifications and availability for this project.

About Evidence for Democracy
Evidence for Democracy is the leading fact-driven, non-partisan, not-for-profit organization promoting the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada. Through research, education and issue campaigns, we engage and empower the science community while cultivating public and political demand for evidence-based decision-making.

A case study without science?

It’s fascinating to me that there’s no mention that the contractor might need skills in building a survey, creating an interview instrument, interviewing, and analyzing both qualitative and quantitative data. Where is the social science?

Focusing on a science writer or science journalist as examples of people who might have the required skill set suggests that more attention has been paid to the end result (the draft report) than the process.

I hope I’m wrong but this looks like a project where the importance of questions has been ignored. It can take a couple or more iterations to get your survey questions right and then you have to get your interview questions right. As for a sample of 20 qualitative interviews, that’s a lot of work.both from the perspective of setting up and conducting interviews and analyzing the copious amounts of information you are likely to receive.

Given that E4D is a science- and evidence-based organization, the project seems odd. Either they’ve left a lot out of their project description or they don’t plan to build a proper case study following basic social science protocols. It almost seems as if they’re more interested in self-promotion than in evidence. Time will tell. Once the report is released, it will be possible to examine how the gathered their information.

Perimeter Institute (PI) invites undergraduate physics students to their 2020 summer program

This looks pretty nifty given that PI will pay your expenses and you might end up with a paid internship afterwards. From a November 4, 2019 PI announcement (received via email),

Undergraduate Theoretical Physics Summer Program
Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics is now accepting applications for the Undergraduate Theoretical Physics Summer Program.

The program invites 20 exceptional students to join its research community for a fully-funded two-week summer school. Students will learn research tools and collaboration skills in the multi-disciplinary environment of the world’s largest independent theoretical physics research centre.

This program consists of two parts:
Two-week Summer School (fully-funded): Students are immersed in Perimeter’s dynamic research environment — attending courses on cutting-edge topics in physics, learning new techniques to solve interesting problems, working on group research projects, and potentially even publishing their work. 
Research Internship: Applicants may also be considered for a paid summer research internship. Accepted interns will work on projects alongside Perimeter researchers 

The program is accepting applications for the summer school beginning May 25, 2020.

Ways to share this opportunity with your colleagues and students
Download, print, and hang this high-resolution poster
Direct all to the Undergraduate Theoretical Physics Summer Program website for more information
Paste this key information on your sites and blogs
Application Deadline: January 6, 2020
Apply at perimeterinstitute.ca/undergrad

I’m not sure what the image on the left represents but the one on the right would seem to be some very happy students,

Perimeter Institute Summer Program

The institute is located in Waterloo, Ontario (from the PI Summer Program webpage),

We accept excellent students with a demonstrated interest in the program, who are entering the final year of their undergraduate program in Fall 2020 (special exceptions allowed).

The two-week summer school is fully funded. Successful candidates will be provided with workspace, accommodations, and weekday meals (per diem are provided for weekends). Perimeter Institute will also cover economy travel expenses between the applicant’s home institutions and Toronto Pearson Airport. Ground transportation from Toronto Pearson Airport to Perimeter Institute will be provided.

The two-week summer school is fully funded to ensure that a diverse group of top students, both in background and nationality and without regard for financial means, may attend.

Students staying for the research internship will be paid through a Research Award.

APPLY ONLINE

There is no application fee required.

Important Dates

January 6, 2020 – Application deadline

January 20, 2020 – By this date, all applicants will have received an email on their application status (for summer school acceptance and internship offers)

May 25 to June 5, 2020 – Two-week summer school program in session

Questions should be directed to Santiago Almada

According to the PI website, Waterloo is approximately one hour from Toronto.

Good luck!

Frugal science, foldable microscopes, and curiosity: a talk on June 3, 2019 at Simon Fraser University (Burnaby, Canada) … it’s in Metro Vancouver

This is the second frugal science item* I’m publishing today (May 29, 2019) which means that I’ve gone from complete ignorance on the topic to collecting news items about it. Manu Prakash, the developer behind a usable paper microscope than can be folded and kept in your pocket, is going to be giving a talk locally according to a May 28, 2019 announcement (received via email) from Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Faculty of Science,

On June 3rd [2019], at 7:30 pmManu Prakash from Stanford University will give the Herzberg Public Lecture in conjunction with this year’s Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) conference that the department is hosting. Dr. Prakash’s lecture is entitled “Frugal Science in the Age of Curiosity”. Tickets are free and can be obtained through Eventbrite: https://t.co/WNrPh9fop5 . 

This presentation will be held at the Shrum Science Centre Chemistry C9001 Lecture Theatre, Burnaby campus (instead of the Diamond Family Auditorium).

There’s a synopsis of the talk on the Herzbergy Public Lecture: Frugal Science in the Age of Curiosity webpage,

Science faces an accessibility challenge. Although information/knowledge is fast becoming available to everyone around the world, the experience of science is significantly limited. One approach to solving this challenge is to democratize access to scientific tools. Manu Prakash believes this can be achieved via “Frugal science”; a philosophy that inspires design, development, and deployment of ultra-affordable yet powerful scientific tools for the masses. Using examples from his own work (Foldscope: one-dollar origami microscope, Paperfuge: a twenty-cent high-speed centrifuge), Dr. Prakash will describe the process of identifying challenges, designing solutions, and deploying these tools globally to enable open ended scientific curiosity/inquiries in communities around the world. By connecting the dots between science education, global health and environmental monitoring, he will explore the role of “simple” tools in advancing access to better human and planetary health in a resource limited world.

If you’re curious there is a Foldscope website where you can find out more and/or get a Foldscope for yourself.

In addition to the talk, there is a day-long workshop for teachers (as part of the 2019 CAP Congress) with Dr. Donna Strickland the University of Waterloo researcher who won the 2018 Nobel Prize for physics. If you want to learn how to make a Foldscope, t here is also a one hour session for which you can register separately from the day-long event,. (I featured Strickland and her win in an October 3, 2018 posting.)

Getting back to the main event. Dr. Prakash’s evening talk, you can register here.

*ETA May 29, 2019 at 1120 hours PDT: My first posting on frugal science is Frugal science: ancient toys for state-of-the-art science. It’s about a 3D printable centrifuge based on a toy known (in English) as a whirligig.

Frugal science: ancient toys for state-of-the-art science

A toy that’s been a plaything for 5,000 years and known as a whirligig (in English, anyway) has inspired a scientific tool for use by field biologists and students interested in creating state-of-the-art experiments. Exciting stuff, eh?

A May 23, 2019 Georgia Tech (Georgia Institute of Technology) news release (also on EurekAlert but published on May 22, 2019) announces this development in ‘frugal science’,

A 5,000-year-old toy still enjoyed by kids today has inspired an inexpensive, hand-powered scientific tool that could not only impact how field biologists conduct their research but also allow high-school students and others with limited resources to realize their own state-of-the-art experiments.

The device, a portable centrifuge for preparing scientific samples including DNA, is reported May 21 [2019] in the journal PLOS Biology. The co-first author of the paper is Gaurav Byagathvalli, a senior at Lambert High School in Georgia. His colleagues are M. Saad Bhamla, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology; Soham Sinha, a Georgia Tech undergraduate; Janet Standeven, Byagathvalli’s biology teacher at Lambert; and Aaron F. Pomerantz, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley.

“I am exceptionally proud of this paper and will remember it 10, 20, 30 years from now because of the uniquely diverse team we put together,” said Bhamla, who is an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

From a Rainforest to a High School

Together the team demonstrated the device, dubbed the 3D-Fuge because it is created through 3D printing, in two separate applications. In a rainforest in Peru the 3D-Fuge was an integral part of a “lab in a backpack” used to identify four previously-unknown plants and insects by sequencing their DNA [deoxyribonucleic acid]. Back in the United States, a slightly different design enabled a new approach to creating living bacterial sensors for the potential detection of disease. That work was conducted at Lambert High School for a synthetic biology competition.

Thanks to social media and a preprint of the PLOS Biology paper on BioRxiv, the 3D-Fuge has already generated interest from around the world, including emails from high-school teachers in Zambia and Kenya. “It’s awesome to see research not just remain isolated to one location but see it spread,” said Byagathvalli. “Through this, we’ve realized how much of an impact simple yet effective tools can have, and hope this technology motivates others to continue along the same path and innovate new solutions to global issues.”

To better share the work, the team has posted the 3D-Fuge designs, videos, and photos online available to anyone.

Frugal Science

One focus of Bhamla’s lab at Georgia Tech is the development of tools for frugal science, or real research that just about anyone can afford. The tools behind state-of-the-art science often cost thousands of dollars that make them inaccessible to those without serious resources.

Centrifuges are a good example.  A small benchtop unit costs between $3,000 and $5,000; larger units cost many times that. Yet the devices are necessary to produce concentrated amounts of, say, genomic materials like DNA. By rapidly spinning samples, they separate materials of interest from biological debris.

The Bhamla team found that the 3D-Fuge works as well as its more expensive cousins, but costs less than $1.

An Ancient Toy

The 3D-Fuge is based on earlier work by Bhamla and colleagues at Stanford University on a simple centrifuge made of paper. The “paperfuge,” in turn, was inspired by a toy composed of string and a button that Bhamla played with as a child. He later discovered that these toys, known as whirligigs, have existed for some 5,000 years.

They consist of a disk – like a button – with two holes, through which is threaded a length of flexible cord whose ends are knotted to create a single loop with the disk in the middle. That simple contraption is then swung with two hands until the button is spinning and whirring at very fast speeds.

The earlier paperfuge uses a disk of paper. To that disk Bhamla glued small plastic tubes filled with a sample. He and colleagues reported that the device did indeed create high-quality samples.

In late 2017 Bhamla was separately approached by the Lambert High team and Pomerantz to see if the paperfuge could be adapted for the larger samples they needed (the paperfuge is limited to small samples of ~1 microliter—or one drop of blood).

Together they came up with the 3D-Fuge, which includes cavities for tubes that can hold some 100 times more of a sample than the paperfuge. The team developed two equally effective designs: one for field biology (led by Pomerantz) and the other for the high-school’s synthetic biology project (led by Byagathvalli).

Bhamla notes that the 3D-Fuge has some limitations. For example, it can only process a few samples at a time (some applications require thousands of samples). Further, because it’s 10 times heavier than the paperfuge, it can’t reach the same speeds or produce the same forces of that device. That said, it still weighs only 20 grams, slightly less than a AA battery.

“But it works,” said Bhamla. “All you need is an [appropriate] application and some creativity.”

Here are a couple of images showing the 3D-Fuge in action,

Using the 3D-Fuge Courtesy: Georgia Tech
Sample vial in 3D-Fuge Courtesy: Georgia Tech

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

A 3D-printed hand-powered centrifuge for molecular biology by Gaurav Byagathvalli, Aaron Pomerantz, Soham Sinha, Janet Standeven, M. Saad Bhamla. PLOS Biology DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000251 Published: May 21, 2019

As always with a Public Library of Science (PLOS) publication, this paper is open access.

Teaching molecular and synthetic biology in grades K-12

This* story actually started in 2018 with an August 1, 2018 Harvard University news release (h/t Aug. 1, 2018 news item on phys.org) by Leslie Brownell announcing molecular and synthetic biology educational kits that been tested in the classroom. (In 2019, a new kit was released but more about that later.)

As biologists have probed deeper into the molecular and genetic underpinnings of life, K-12 schools have struggled to provide a curriculum that reflects those advances. Hands-on learning is known to be more engaging and effective for teaching science to students, but even the most basic molecular and synthetic biology experiments require equipment far beyond an average classroom’s budget, and often involve the use of bacteria and other substances that can be difficult to manage outside a controlled lab setting.

Now, a collaboration between the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], and Northwestern University has developed BioBits, new educational biology kits that use freeze-dried cell-free (FD-CF) reactions to enable students to perform a range of simple, hands-on biological experiments. The BioBits kits introduce molecular and synthetic biology concepts without the need for specialized lab equipment, at a fraction of the cost of current standard experimental designs. The kits are described in two papers published in Science Advances [2018].

“The main motivation in developing these kits was to give students fun activities that allow them to actually see, smell, and touch the outcomes of the biological reactions they’re doing at the molecular level,” said Ally Huang, a co-first author on both papers who is an MIT graduate student in the lab of Wyss Founding Core Faculty member Jim Collins, Ph.D. “My hope is that they will inspire more kids to consider a career in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] and, more generally, give all students a basic understanding of how biology works, because they may one day have to make personal or policy decisions based on modern science.”

Synthetic and molecular biology frequently make use of the cellular machinery found in E. coli bacteria to produce a desired protein. But this system requires that the bacteria be kept alive and contained for an extended period of time, and involves several complicated preparation and processing steps. The FD-CF reactions pioneered in Collins’ lab for molecular manufacturing, when combined with innovations from the lab of Michael Jewett, Ph.D. at Northwestern University, offer a solution to this problem by removing bacteria from the equation altogether.

“You can think of it like opening the hood of a car and taking the engine out: we’ve taken the ‘engine’ that drives protein production out of a bacterial cell and given it the fuel it needs, including ribosomes and amino acids, to create proteins from DNA outside of the bacteria itself,” explained Jewett, who is the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and co-director of Northwestern’s Center for Synthetic Biology, and co-corresponding author of both papers. This collection of molecular machinery is then freeze-dried into pellets so that it becomes shelf-stable at room temperature. To initiate the transcription of DNA into RNA and the translation of that RNA into a protein, a student just needs to add the desired DNA and water to the freeze-dried pellets.

The researchers designed a range of molecular experiments that can be performed using this system, and coupled each of them to a signal that the students can easily detect with their sense of sight, smell, or touch. The first, called BioBits Bright, contains six different freeze-dried DNA templates that each encode a protein that fluoresces a different color when illuminated with blue light. To produce the proteins, students simply add these DNA templates and water to the FD-CF machinery and put the reactions in an inexpensive incubator (~$30) for several hours, and then view them with a blue light illuminator (~$15). The students can also design their own experiments to produce a desired collection of colors that they can then arrange into a visual image, a bit like using a Light Brite ©. “Challenging the students to build their own in vitro synthetic programs also allows educators to start to talk about how synthetic biologists might control biology to make important products, such as medicines or chemicals,” explained Jessica Stark, an NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the Jewett lab at Northwestern University who is co-first author on both papers.

An expansion of the BioBits Bright kit, called BioBits Explorer, includes experiments that engage the senses of smell and touch and allow students to probe their environment using designer synthetic biosensors. In the first experiment, the FD-CF reaction pellets contain a gene that drives the conversion of isoamyl alcohol to isoamyl acetate, a compound that produces a strong banana odor. In the second experiment, the FD-CF reactions contain a gene coding for the enzyme sortase, which recognizes and links specific segments of proteins in a liquid solution together to form a squishy, semi-solid hydrogel, which the students can touch and manipulate. The third module uses another Wyss technology, the toehold switch sensor, to identify DNA extracted from a banana or a kiwi. The sensors are hairpin-shaped RNA molecules designed such that when they bind to a “trigger” RNA, they spring open and reveal a genetic sequence that produces a fluorescent protein. When fruit DNA is added to the sensor-containing FD-CF pellets, only the sensors that are designed to open in the presence of each fruit’s RNA will produce the fluorescent protein.

The researchers tested their BioBits kits in the Chicago Public School system, and demonstrated that students and teachers were able to perform the experiments in the kits with the same success as trained synthetic biology researchers. In addition to refining the kits’ design so that they can one day provide them to classrooms around the world, the authors hope to create an open-source online database where teachers and students can share their results and ideas for ways to modify the kits to explore different biological questions.

“Synthetic biology is going to be one of the defining technologies of the century, and yet it has been challenging to teach the fundamental concepts of the field in K-12 classrooms given that such efforts often require expensive, complicated equipment,” said Collins, who is a co-corresponding author of both papers and also the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering & Science at MIT. “We show that it is possible to use freeze-dried, cell-free extracts along with freeze-dried synthetic biology components to conduct innovative educational experiments in classrooms and other low-resource settings. The BioBits kits enable us to expose young kids, older kids, and even adults to the wonders of synthetic biology and, as a result, are poised to transform science education and society.

“All scientists are passionate about what they do, and we are frustrated by the difficulty our educational system has had in inciting a similar level of passion in young people. This BioBits project demonstrates the kind of out-of-the-box thinking and refusal to accept the status quo that we value and cultivate at the Wyss Institute, and we all hope it will stimulate young people to be intrigued by science,” said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “It’s exciting to see this project move forward and become available to biology classrooms worldwide and, hopefully some of these students will pursue a path in science because of their experience.”

Additional authors of the papers include Peter Nguyen, Ph.D., Nina Donghia, and Tom Ferrante from the Wyss Institute; Melissa Takahashi, Ph.D. and Aaron Dy from MIT; Karen Hsu and Rachel Dubner from Northwestern University; Keith Pardee, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto; and a number of teachers and students in the Chicago school system including: Mary Anderson, Ada Kanapskyte, Quinn Mucha, Jessica Packett, Palak Patel, Richa Patel, Deema Qaq, Tyler Zondor, Julie Burke, Tom Martinez, Ashlee Miller-Berry, Aparna Puppala, Kara Reichert, Miriam Schmid, Lance Brand, Lander Hill, Jemima Chellaswamy, Nuhie Faheem, Suzanne Fetherling, Elissa Gong, Eddie Marie Gonzales, Teresa Granito, Jenna Koritsaris, Binh Nguyen, Sujud Ottman, Christina Palffy, Angela Patel, Sheila Skweres, Adriane Slaton, and TaRhonda Woods.

This research was supported by the Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Research Laboratory Center of Excellence Grant, The Defense Threat Reduction Agency Grant, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Program, the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada. [emphases mine]

Well, that list of funding agencies is quite interesting. The US Army and Air Force but not the Navy? As for what the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada is doing on that list, I can only imagine why.

This is what they were doing in 2018,

Now for the latest update, a May 7, 2019 news item on phys.org announces the BioBits Kits have been expanded,

How can high school students learn about a technology as complex and abstract as CRISPR? It’s simple: just add water.

A Northwestern University-led team has developed BioBits, a suite of hands-on educational kits that enable students to perform a range of biological experiments by adding water and simple reagents to freeze-dried cell-free reactions. The kits link complex biological concepts to visual, fluorescent readouts, so students know—after a few hours and with a single glance—the results of their experiments.

A May 7, 2019 Northwestern University news release (also on EurekAlert and received via email) by Amanda Morris, which originated the news item, provides more details,

After launching BioBits last summer, the researchers are now expanding the kit to include modules for CRISPR [clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats] and antibiotic resistance. A small group of Chicago-area teachers and high school students just completed the first pilot study for these new modules, which include interactive experiments and supplementary materials exploring ethics and strategies.

“After we unveiled the first kits, we next wanted to tackle current topics that are important for society,” said Northwestern’s Michael Jewett, principal investigator of the study. “That led us to two areas: antibiotic resistance and gene editing.”

Called BioBits Health, the new kits and pilot study are detailed in a paper published today (May 7 [2019]) in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology.

Jewett is a professor of chemical and biological engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and co-director of Northwestern’s Center for Synthetic Biology. Jessica Stark, a graduate student in Jewett’s laboratory, led the study.

Test in a tube

Instead of using live cells, the BioBits team removed the essential cellular machinery from inside the cells and freeze-dried them for shelf stability. Keeping cells alive and contained for an extended period of time involves several complicated, time-consuming preparation and processing steps as well as expensive equipment. Freeze-dried cell-free reactions bypass those complications and costs.

“These are essentially test-tube biological reactions,” said Stark, a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow. “We break the cells open and use their guts, which still contain all of the necessary biological machinery to carry out a reaction. We no longer need living cells to demonstrate biology.”

This method to harness biological systems without intact, living cells became possible over the last two decades thanks to multiple innovations, including many in cell-free synthetic biology by Jewett’s lab. Not only are these experiments doable in the classroom, they also only cost pennies compared to standard high-tech experimental designs.

“I’m hopeful that students get excited about engineering biology and want to learn more,” Jewett said.

Conquering CRISPR

One of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of the past decade, CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”) stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. The powerful gene-editing technology uses enzymes to cut DNA in precise locations to turn off or edit targeted genes. It could be used to halt genetic diseases, develop new medicines, make food more nutritious and much more.

BioBits Health uses three components required for CRISPR: an enzyme called the Cas9 protein, a target DNA sequence encoding a fluorescent protein and an RNA molecule that targets the fluorescent protein gene. When students add all three components — and water — to the freeze-dried cell-free system, it creates a reaction that edits, or cuts, the DNA for the fluorescent protein. If the DNA is cut, the system does not glow. If the DNA is not cut, the fluorescent protein is made, and the system glows fluorescent.

“We have linked this abstract, really advanced biological concept to the presence or absence of a fluorescent protein,” Stark said. “It’s something students can see, something they can visually understand.”

The curriculum also includes activities that challenge students to consider the ethical questions and dilemmas surrounding the use of gene-editing technologies.

“There is a lot of excitement about being able to edit genomes with these technologies,” Jewett said. “BioBits Health calls attention to a lot of important questions — not only about how CRISPR technology works but about ethics that society should be thinking about. We hope that this promotes a conversation and dialogue about such technologies.”

Reducing resistance

Jewett and Stark are both troubled by a prediction that, by the year 2050, drug-resistant bacterial infections could outpace cancer as a leading cause of death. This motivated them to help educate the future generation of scientists about how antibiotic resistance emerges and inspire them to take actions that could help limit the emergence of resistant bacteria.
In this module, students run two sets of reactions to produce a glowing fluorescent protein — one set with an antibiotic resistance gene and one set without. Students then add antibiotics. If the experiment glows, the fluorescent protein has been made, and the reaction has become resistant to antibiotics. If the experiment does not glow, then the antibiotic has worked.

“Because we’re using cell-free systems rather than organisms, we can demonstrate drug resistance in a way that doesn’t create drug-resistant bacteria,” Stark explained. “We can demonstrate these concepts without the risks.”

A supporting curriculum piece challenges students to brainstorm and research strategies for slowing the rate of emerging antibiotic resistant strains.

Part of something cool

After BioBits was launched in summer 2018, 330 schools from around the globe requested prototype kits for their science labs. The research team, which includes members from Northwestern and MIT, has received encouraging feedback from teachers, students and parents.

“The students felt like scientists and doctors by touching and using the laboratory materials provided during the demo,” one teacher said. “Even the students who didn’t seem engaged were secretly paying attention and wanted to take their turn pipetting. They knew they were part of something really cool, so we were able to connect with them in a way that was new to them.”

“My favorite part was using the equipment,” a student said. “It was a fun activity that immerses you into what top scientists are currently doing.”

###

The study, “BioBits Health: Classroom activities exploring engineering, biology and human health with fluorescent readouts,” was supported by the Army Research Office (award number W911NF-16-1-0372), the National Science Foundation (grant numbers MCB-1413563 and MCB-1716766), the Air Force Research Laboratory Center of Excellence (grant number FA8650-15-2-5518), the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (grant number HDTRA1-15-10052/P00001), the Department of Energy (grant number DE-SC0018249), the Human Frontiers Science Program (grant number RGP0015/2017), the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (grant number DE-EE008343) and the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Program. [emphases mine]

This is an image you’ll find in the abstract for the 2019 paper,

[downloaded from https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acssynbio.8b00381]

Here are links and citations for the 2018 papers and the 2019 paper,

BioBits™ Explorer: A modular synthetic biology education kit by Ally Huang, Peter Q. Nguyen, Jessica C. Stark, Melissa K. Takahashi, Nina Donghia, Tom Ferrante, Aaron J. Dy, Karen J. Hsu, Rachel S. Dubner, Keith Pardee, Michael C. Jewett, and James J. Collins. Science Advances 01 Aug 2018: Vol. 4, no. 8, eaat5105 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat5105

BioBits™ Bright: A fluorescent synthetic biology education kit by Jessica C. Stark, Ally Huang, Peter Q. Nguyen, Rachel S. Dubner, Karen J. Hsu, Thomas C. Ferrante, Mary Anderson, Ada Kanapskyte, Quinn Mucha, Jessica S. Packett, Palak Patel, Richa Patel, Deema Qaq, Tyler Zondor, Julie Burke, Thomas Martinez, Ashlee Miller-Berry, Aparna Puppala, Kara Reichert, Miriam Schmid, Lance Brand, Lander R. Hill, Jemima F. Chellaswamy, Nuhie Faheem, Suzanne Fetherling, Elissa Gong, Eddie Marie Gonzalzles, Teresa Granito, Jenna Koritsaris, Binh Nguyen, Sujud Ottman, Christina Palffy, Angela Patel, Sheila Skweres, Adriane Slaton, TaRhonda Woods, Nina Donghia, Keith Pardee, James J. Collins, and Michael C. Jewett. Science Advances 01 Aug 2018: Vol. 4, no. 8, eaat5107 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat5107

BioBits Health: Classroom Activities Exploring Engineering, Biology, and Human Health with Fluorescent Readouts by Jessica C. Stark, Ally Huang, Karen J. Hsu, Rachel S. Dubner, Jason Forbrook, Suzanne Marshalla, Faith Rodriguez, Mechelle Washington, Grant A. Rybnicky, Peter Q. Nguyen, Brenna Hasselbacher, Ramah Jabri, Rijha Kamran, Veronica Koralewski, Will Wightkin, Thomas Martinez, and Michael C. Jewett. ACS Synth. Biol., Article ASAP
DOI: 10.1021/acssynbio.8b00381 Publication Date (Web): March 29, 2019

Copyright © 2019 American Chemical Society

Both of the 2018 papers appear to be open access while the 2019 paper is behind a paywall.

Should you be interested in acquiring a BioBits kit, you can check out the BioBits website. As for ‘conguering’ CRISPR, do we really need to look at it that way? Maybe a more humble appraoch could work just as well or even better, eh?

*’is’ removed from sentence on May 9, 2019.

Happy International Women’s Day on March 8, 2019—with a shout-out to women in science

I did a very quick search for today’s (March 8, 2019) women in science stories and found three to highlight here. First, a somewhat downbeat Canadian story.

Can Canadians name a woman scientist or engineer?

According to Emily Chung’s March 8, 2019 article on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) online news site, the answer is: no,

You’ve probably heard of Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein and Mark Zuckerberg.

But can you name a woman scientist or engineer? Half of Canadians can’t, suggests a new poll.

The online survey of 1,511 Canadians was commissioned by the non-profit group Girls Who Code and conducted by the market research firm Maru/Blue from March 1-3 and released for International Women’s Day today [March 8, 2019].

It was intended to collect data about how people felt about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers and education in Canada, said Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of the group, which aims to close the gender gap in technology by teaching girls coding skills.


The poll found:

When asked how many women scientists/engineers they could name, 52 per cent of respondents said “none.”

When asked to picture a computer scientist, 82 per cent of respondents immediately imagined a man rather than a woman.

77 per cent of respondents think increased media representation of women in STEM careers or leadership roles would help close the gender gap in STEM.


Sandra Corbeil, who’s involved a Women in STEM initiative at Ingenium, the organization that oversees Canada’s national museums of science and innovation, agrees that women scientists are under-recognized.

… Ingenium organized an event where volunteers from the public collaborated to add more women scientists to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science this past February [2019].

The 21 participants added four articles, including Dr. Anna Marion Hilliard, who developed a simple pap test for early detection of cervical cancer and Marla Sokolowski, who discovered an important gene that affects both metabolism and behaviour in fruit flies. The volunteer editors also updated and translated several other entries.

Similar events have been held around the world to boost the representation of women on Wikipedia, where as of March 4, 2019, only 17.7 per cent of biographies were of women — even 2018’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, Donna Strickland, didn’t have a Wikipedia entry until the prize was announced.

Corbeil acknowledged that in science, the individual contributions of scientists, whether they are men or women, tend to not be well known by the public.[emphasis mine]

“We don’t treat them like superstars … to me, it’s something that we probably should change because their contributions matter.”

Chung points to a criticism of the Girls Who Code poll, they didn’t ask Canadians whether they could name male scientists or engineers. While Reshma Saujani acknowledged the criticism, she also brushed it off (from Chung’s article),

Saujani acknowledges that the poll didn’t ask how many male scientists or engineers they could name, but thinks the answer would “probablybe different. [emphasis mine]

Chung seems to be hinting (with the double quotes around the word probably) but I’m going to be blunt, that isn’t good science but, then, Saujani is not a scientist (from the reshmasujani.com’s About page),

Reshma began her career as an attorney and activist. In 2010, she surged onto the political scene as the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress. During the race, Reshma visited local schools and saw the gender gap in computing classes firsthand, which led her to start Girls Who Code. She has also served as Deputy Public Advocate for New York City and ran a spirited campaign for Public Advocate in 2013.

I’m inclined to believe that Saujani is right but I’d want to test the hypothesis. I have looked at what I believe to be the entire report here. I’m happy to see the questions but I do have a few questions about the methodology (happily, also included in the report),

… online survey was commissioned by Girls Who Code of 1,511 randomly selected Canadian adults who are Maru Voice panelists.

If it’s an online survey, how can the pollsters be sure the respondents are Canadian or sure about any other of the demographic details? What is a Maru Voice panelist? Is there some form of self-selection inherent in being a Maru Voice panelist? (If I remember my social science research guidelines properly, self-selected groups are not the same as the general population.)

All I’m saying, this report is interesting but seems problematic so treat it with a little caution.

Celebrating women in science in UK (United Kingdom)

This story comes from the UK’s N8 Research Partnership (I’m pretty sure that N8 is meant to be pronounced as ‘innate’). On March 7, 2019 they put up a webpage celebrating women in science,

All #N8women deliver our vision of making the N8 Research Partnership an exceptionally effective cluster of research innovation and training excellence; we celebrate all of your contributions and thank you for everything that you do. Read more about the women below or find out about them on our social channels by searching #N8Women.

Professor Dame Sue Black

Professor Dame Sue Black from Lancaster University pioneered research techniques to identify an individual by their hand alone, a technique that has been used successfully in Court to identify perpetrators in relation to child abuse cases. Images have been taken from more than 5000 participants to form an open-source dataset which has allowed a breakthrough in the study of anatomical variation.

Professor Diana Williams

Professor Diana Williams from The University of Liverpool has led research with Farming Online into a digital application that predict when and where disease is likely to occur. This is hoped to help combat the £300m per year UK agriculture loses per year through the liver fluke parasite which affects livestock across the globe.

Professor Louise Heathwaite

Professor Louise Heathwaite from Lancaster University has gained not only international recognition for her research into environmental pollution and water quality, but she also received the royal seal of approval after being awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2018.

Professor Sue Black

Professor Sue Black from Durham University has helped support 100 women retrain into tech roles thanks to the development of online programme, TechUP. Supported by the Institute of Coding, the programme lasts six months and concludes with a job interview, internship or apprenticeship.

Dr Anna Olsson-Brown

Dr Anna Olsson-Brown from the University of Liverpool has been instrumental in research into next-generation drugs that can treat patients with more advanced, malignant cancers and help them deal with the toxicity that can accompany novel therapies.

Professor Katherine Denby

Professor Katherine Denby, Director of N8 Agrifood, based at the University of York has been at the forefront of developing novel ways to enhance and enable breeding of crops resistance to environmental stress and disease.

Most recently, she was involved in the development of a genetic control system that enables plants to strengthen their defence response against deadly pathogens.

Doctor Louise Ellis

Dr Louise Ellis, Director of Sustainability at the University of Leeds has been leading their campaign – Single Out: 2023PlasticFree – crucially commits the University and Union to phase out single-use plastic across the board, not just in catering and office spaces.

Professor Philippa Browning

Professor Philippa Browning from the University of Manchester wanted to be an astronaut when she was a child but found that there was a lack of female role models in her field. She is leading work on the interactions between plasmas and magnetic fields and is a mentor for young solar physicists.

Doctor Anh Phan

Dr Anh Phan is a Lecturer of Chemical Engineering in the School of Engineering at Newcastle University. She has been leading research into cold plasma pyrolysis, a process that could be used to turn plastic waste into green energy. This is a novel process that could revolutionise our problem with plastic and realise the true value of plastic waste.

So, Canadians take note of these women and the ones featured in the next item.

Canada Science and Technology Museum’s (an Ingenium museum) International Women’s Day video

It was posted on YouTube in 2017 but given the somewhat downbeat Canadian story I started with I thought this appropriate,

It’s never too late to learn about women in science and engineering. The women featured in the video are: Ursula Franklin, Maude Abbott, Janice Zinck, and Indira Samarasekera

A day late but better than never: 2019 International Day of Women and Girls in Science

February 11, 2019 was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science but there’s at least one celebratory event that is extended to include February 12. So, I’ll take what I can get and jump on to that bandwagon too. Happy 2019 International Day of Women and Girls in Science—a day late!

To make up fr being late to the party, I have two news items to commemorate the event.

21st Edition of the L’Oréal-UNESCO International Awards for Women in Science

From a February 11, 2019 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) press release received via email,

Paris, 11 February [2019]—On the occasion of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science celebrated on 11 February, the L’Oréal Foundation and UNESCO have announced the laureates of the 21st International Awards For Women in Science, which honours outstanding women scientists, from all over the world. These exceptional women are recognized for the excellence of their research in the fields of material science, mathematics and computer science.

Each laureate receive €100,000 and their achievements will be celebrated alongside those of 15 promising young women scientists from around the world at an awards ceremony on 14 March [2019] at UNESCO’s Headquarters in Paris.

EXTENDING THE AWARD TO MATHEMATICS AND COMPUTER SCIENCE

Mathematics is a prestigious discipline and a source of innovation in many domains, however, it is also one of the scientific fields with the lowest representation of women at the highest level. Since the establishment of the three most prestigious international prizes for the discipline (Fields, Wolf and Abel), only one woman mathematician has been recognized, out of a total of 141 laureates.

The L’Oréal Foundation and UNESCO have therefore decided to reinforce their efforts to empower women in science by extending the International Awards dedicated to material science to two more research areas: mathematics and computer science.

Two mathematicians now figure among the five laureates receiving the 2019 For Women in Science Awards: Claire Voisin, one of five women to have received a gold medal from the the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and the first women mathematician to enter the prestigious Collège de France, and Ingrid Daubechies of Duke University (USA), the first woman researcher to head the International Mathematical Union.

FOR WOMEN IN SCIENCE: MORE THAN 20-YEARS OF COMMITMENT

In the field of scientific research, the glass ceiling is still a reality: Women only account for 28% of researchers, occupy just 11% of senior academic positions,[4] and number a mere 3% of Nobel Science Prizes

Since 1998, the L’Oréal Foundation, in partnership with UNESCO, has worked to improve the representation of women in scientific careers, upholding the conviction that the world needs science, and science needs women.

In its first 20 years, the For Women in Science programme supported and raised the profiles of 102 laureates and more than 3,000 talented young scientists, both doctoral and post-doctoral candidates, providing them with research fellowships, allocated annually in 117 countries.
 
L’ORÉAL-UNESCO INTERNATIONAL AWARDS FOR WOMEN IN SCIENCE
THE FIVE 2019 LAUREATES

AFRICA AND THE ARAB STATES Professor Najat Aoun SALIBA – Analytical and atmospheric chemistry

Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Nature Conservation Center at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon

Professor Saliba is rewarded for her pioneering work in identifying carcinogenic agents and other toxic air pollutants in the in Middle East, and in modern nicotine delivery systems, such as cigarettes and hookahs. Her innovative work in analytical and atmospheric chemistry will make it possible to address some of the most pressing environmental challenges and help advance public health policies and practices.

ASIA PACIFIC

Professeur Maki KAWAI – Chemistry / Catalysis
Director General, Institute of Molecular Sciences, Tokyo University, Japan, member of the Science Council of Japan 

Professor Maki Kawai is recognized for her ground-breaking work in manipulating molecules at the atomic level, in order to transform materials and create innovative materials. Her exceptional research has contributed to establishing the foundations of nanotechnologies at the forefront of discoveries of new chemical and physical phenomena that stand to address critical environmental issues such as energy efficiency.

LATIN AMERICA

Professor Karen HALLBERG – Physics/ Condensed matter physics
Professor at the Balseiro Institute and Research Director at the Bariloche Atomic Centre, CNEA/CONICET, Argentina

Professor Karen Hallberg is rewarded for developing cutting-edge computational approaches that allow scientists to understand the physics of quantum matter. Her innovative and creative techniques represent a major contribution to understanding nanoscopic systems and new materials.

NORTH AMERICA

Professor Ingrid DAUBECHIES – Mathematics / Mathematical physics
Professor of Mathematics and Electrical and Computer Engineering, Duke University, United States 

Professor Daubechies is recognized for her exceptional contribution to the numerical treatment of images and signal processing, providing standard and flexible algorithms for data compression. Her innovative research on wavelet theory has led to the development of treatment and image filtration methods used in technologies from medical imaging equipment to wireless communication.

EUROPE

Professor Claire VOISIN – Mathematics / Algebraic geometry

Professor at the Collège de France and former researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS)

Professor Voisin is rewarded for her outstanding work in algebraic geometry. Her pioneering discoveries have allowed [mathematicians and scientists] to resolve fundamental questions on topology and Hodge structures of complex algebraic varieties.
 
 
L’ORÉAL-UNESCO INTERNATIONAL AWARDS FOR WOMEN IN SCIENCE
THE 15  INTERNATIONAL RISING TALENTS OF 2019
 
Among the 275 national and regional fellowship winners we support each year, the For Women in Science programme selects the 15 most promising researchers, all of whom will also be honoured on 14 March 2019.

AFRICA AND THE ARAB STATES

Dr. Saba AL HEIALY – Health sciences

L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Dubai, Mohammed Bin Rashid University for Medicine and Health Sciences

Dr. Zohra DHOUAFLI – Neuroscience/ Biochemistry

L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Tunisia, Center of Biotechnology of Borj-Cédria

Dr. Menattallah ELSERAFY – Molecular biology/Genetics

L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Egypt, Zewail City of Science and Technology

Dr. Priscilla Kolibea MANTE – Neurosciences

L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology

NORTH AMERICA

Dr. Jacquelyn CRAGG – Health sciences
L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Canada, University of British Columbia
 
LATIN AMERICA

Dr. Maria MOLINA – Chemistry/Molecular biology

L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Argentina, National University of Rio Cuart

Dr. Ana Sofia VARELA – Chemistry/Electrocatalysis

L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Mexico, Institute of Chemistry, National Autonomous University of Mexico
 
ASIA PACIFIC

Dr. Sherry AW – Neuroscience

L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Singapore, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology

Dr. Mika NOMOTO – Molecular biology / Plant pathology

L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Singapore, University of Nagoya

Dr. Mary Jacquiline ROMERO – Quantum physics

L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Australia, University of Queensland
 
EUROPE

Dr. Laura ELO – Bioinformatics

L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Finland, University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University

Dr. Kirsten JENSEN – Material chemistry, structural analysis

L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Denmark, University of Copenhagen

Dr. Biola María JAVIERRE MARTÍNEZ Genomics

L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Spain, Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute 

Dr. Urte NENISKYTE – Neuroscience

L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Lithuania, University of Vilnius

Dr. Nurcan TUNCBAG – Bioinformatics

L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Turkey, Middle East Technical University

Congratulations to all!

“Investment in Women in Science for Inclusive Green Growth” (conference) 11 – 12 February 2019

This conference is taking place at UN (United Nations) headquarters in New York City. There is an agenda which includes the talks for February 12, 2019 and they feature a bit of a surprise,

[February 12, 2019]
10.00 – 12.30:
High-Level Panel on:
   
Investment in Science Education for Shaping Society’s Future

Scientists contribute greatly to the economic health and wealth of a nation.
However, worldwide, the levels of participation in science and technology in
school and in post-school education have fallen short of the expectations of
policy-makers and the needs of business, industry, or government.

The continuing concern to find the reasons why young people decide not to
study science and technology is a critical one if we are to solve the underlying
problem.  Furthermore, while science and technology play key roles in today’s
global economy and leveling the playing field among various demographics,
young people particularly girls are turning away from science subjects. Clearly,
raising interest in science among young people is necessary for increasing the
number of future science professionals, as well as, providing opportunities for
all citizens of all countries to understand and use science in their daily lives.

To achieve sustainable development throughout the world, education policy
makers need to allocate high priority and considerable resources to the
teaching of science and technology in a manner that allows students to learn
science in a way that is practiced and experienced in the real world by real
scientists and engineers. Furthermore, to accomplish this goal, sustained
support is needed to increase and improve teacher training and professional
learning for STEM educators. By meeting these two needs, we can better
accomplish the ultimate aim which is to educate the scientists, technologists,
technicians, and leaders on whom future economic development is perceived to
depend over a sustained period of time.


In line with the 2019 High-Level Political Forum, this session will discuss
SDG [Sustainable development goal] 4 with special focus on Science Education.

Reforming the science curriculum to promote learning science the way it is practiced and experienced in the real world by real scientists and engineers.

Providing quality and prepared teachers for every child to include increasing the number of women and other underrepresented demographic role models for students.

Considering how science education provides us with a scientifically adept society, one ready to understand, critique and mold the future of research, as well as, serving as an integral part of feeding into the pipeline for future scientists.

Identifying factors influencing participation in science, engineering and technology as underrepresented populations including young girls make the transition from school to higher education

Parallel Panel
10.00 – 13.00:
   
Girls in Science for Sustainable Development: Vision to Action

This Panel will be convened by young change-makers and passionate girls in
science advocates from around the world to present their vision on how they can
utilize science to achieve sustainable development goals.  Further, girls in
science will experience interacting and debating with UN Officials, Diplomates,
women in science and corporate executives.   

This Panel will strive to empower, educate and embolden the potential of every
girl.  The aim of this Panel is give girls the opportunity to gain core leadership
skills, training in community-building and advocacy.


In line with the 2019 United Nations High-Level Political Forum, Girls in
Science will focus around:
SDG 4 aims to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. How can we improve science education around the world? What resources or opportunities would be effective in achieving this goal? And How can we use technology to improve science education and opportunities for students around the world?

Nearly ½ of the world population live in poverty. SDG 8 aims to promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all. What is the importance of STEM for girls and women for economic growth and how do we encourage and implement this? What role does science and technology play in reducing poverty around the world?

SDG 10 aims to reduce inequalities around the world. What are some current inequalities that girls are facing and what can be done to ameliorate this?

Following the Paris Agreement a few years back, climate change has become an increasingly discussed topic; SDG 13 focuses on climate action. What is the significance of this Sustainable Development Goal today and what contribution does women and girls in science make on this issue?

What is being done in your communities to solve the SDGs in this respect? Has it been effective? Why or why not? Would it be effective in other countries? What are some issues you or people you know face in your country in relation to these concerns?

Chairs: Sthuthi Satish and Huaxuan Chen

Mentor: Andrew Muetze – International Educator, Switzerland

Remarks:
HRH Princess Dr. Nisreen El-Hashemite

Ms. Chantal Line Carpentier

13.00 – 14.45: Lunch Break

15.00 – 16.30:

High-Level Session on: The Science of Fashion for Sustainable Development

Fashion embodies human pleasure, creativity, social codes and technologies
that have enabled societies to prosper, laid burdens on the environment and
caused competition for arable land.  No single actor, action nor technology is
sufficient to shift us away from the environmental and social challenges
embedded in the fashion industry – nor to meet the demands for sustainable
development of society at large. However, scientific and technological
developments are important for progress towards sustainable fashion.  This
Panel aims to shed light on the role of science, technology, engineering and
mathematics skills for fashion and sustainability.

16.45 – 18.00: Closing Session
Summary of Panels and Sessions by Chairs and Moderators

Introducing the International Framework and Action Plan for Member States to Approve and Adopt

Announcing the Global Fund for Women and Girls in Science

It’s good to see the UN look at fashion and sustainability. The ‘fashion’ session makes the endeavour seem a little less stuffy.