Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It’s Still Rocket Science to Me

“Let’s have applause for CLARE OF SCIENCE!”

A girl of about 10, keeping her hat out of her eyes, has just successfully completed a challenging study of centripetal force.  Using the test apparatus provided, she has demonstrated the fundamental principle that keeps satellites in orbit, and would function as a primary mechanism of providing artificial gravity to astronauts during long duration spaceflight missions.  And more impressively, she demonstrated these principles flawlessly on her first attempt, confirming the hypothesis that inducing sufficient angular momentum and torque can create forces to compensate for friction, gravity, inertia, and drag.

She used a jumprope, a cutting board, and a glass of water.

Welcome to the educational (and a bit irreverent) explorations of Doktor Kaboom!’s “It’s JUST Rocket Science” show.    I was pleased that INSGC could provide sponsorship for the show, which promised to be a fun and accessible introduction to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education for K-12 audiences.  But the messages were even more powerful than that.  It’s a bit of comedy, it’s definitely science, and we even saw a rocket (made of 2 liter soda bottles) launch into the balcony of Loeb Hall, using nothing more than vinegar and baking soda (the latter conveniently wrapped in tissue paper to serve as a timer).  

Doktor Kaboom aims for the... balcony.

In the persona of a German scientist, Doktor Kaboom discussed Newton’s Laws, and the essential processes of science (it’s not about calculations and operations, but curiosity and observation), and the importance of safe laboratory techniques (practiced with an intelligent adult)… as well as a lesson or two in self esteem and confidence in the face of subjects that most of us are taught to be scared and ineffective.

Doktor Kaboom prepares CRAIG OF SCIENCE for rocket propulsion.

“When I ask you if you are a smart young man/woman, say YAH!”  Why is it that we teach our children to devalue their own skills in mathematics and science?  Why do we relegate fundamental skills to those strange and magical people who are “good at math,” and claim that the rest of us can’t do it, and can’t do anything about it?  Science isn’t hard.  It just takes effort.  You may not get it right the first time.  That’s okay.  Most of us do science all the time.  Some of the best audience participation of the show came from a “math trick” that Doktor Kaboom showed: how to multiply any two-digit number by 11, faster than using a calculator.   It’s not cheating, it’s not magic.  It’s a tool.  In general, he explained, math is not just about numbers, any more than literature is just about letters.  Math is about patterns.  Numbers are just an alphabet we use.  (I will admit that it was at exactly that point that I became a confirmed fan of Doktor Kaboom.  I’ve tried to say the same thing.  But he’s funnier.)

Steal this video!  Yes, the good Doktor put in a plug for his DVD, “Don’t Try this at Home!” Yes, you can get it in the lobby.  Yes, it’s available on the website.  But enough people buy it to make him happy (and keep him in safety goggles).   “If you make unauthorized copies of it… I don’t care!”  In other words, the message of getting kids (and their parents) turned on to, and more comfortable with, and more capable in, science is his real mission.  It’s not very often that you hear any scientist’s or engineer’s passion come through so clearly, so void of self-interest, so focused on what is needed in our society to make society (and not just that individual scientist or engineer) better off.
I cannot thank enough the Ann Broughton and the students of Purdue Space Day for helping out with stomp rockets and balloon rocket cars and planispheres and just lots of kid-focus STEM fun.  Even Doktor Kaboom remarked on how special this was, leaving us with a memorable day, and a very successful hands-on pre-show activity.  It was memorable in several ways: one budding rocket scientist managed to lodge a rocket in one of the Loeb lobby clocks.  Great fun, and the rocket remained there for the rest of the afternoon. 

Don’t underestimate how much a bit of inspiration can do.  I can still credit my visits to the Franklin Institute, and the impact of my elementary and middle school teachers, in helping me to believe that maybe I could become a real rocket scientist.   And I did.  One of those kids in the Doktor Kaboom / Purdue Space Day audience may grow up, go to college, and become the Purdue Space Day Director.  

Purdue Space Day Exec Board members help bring rocket science to kids before the Doktor Kaboom show.

Clare and Craig of Science may become real researchers someday.   The first thing we need to do is give them the opportunity and encouragement to try.  The second is to stop telling them that it’s not for them.  Science is everywhere.  Everyone uses it, and everyone needs it.  If we forget this, as Doktor Kaboom said, we’ll be lost and at the mercy of those in other countries who do understand and value science and math, creativity and investigation.  But wait.  That’s not funny.  That’s not a message for a kids’ show.  Or is it?  Those kids in the audience—they had parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, friends’ parents, and those people have an impact.  No eight year old can say, based only on their own experience, that girls can’t grow up to be astronauts, or that it’s too hard for boys to sit still and behave long enough to learn their math facts.  Someone taught them that, and someone can teach them that it’s wrong.  We don’t even need to wait as long as the New York Times did to retract its editorial denouncing Robert Goddard’s beliefs that rockets don’t push against the atmosphere, but eject gas under pressure (another important lesson Kaboom highlighted… using a paint can, a bit of water, and a heater)

See, it’s just rocket science.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Informed and Engaged, Part 2: Dr. Rendezvous

This has certainly been the time to be involved with INSGC on the Purdue campus.  As we were getting ready for the Tyson lecture, I received another quiet request.  Could INSGC help bring *another* distinguished guest to campus for a public lecture?  I was reminded of discussions with Angie and Dawn to learn to say no, and to remember that we don't have lots of money available, but I decided to ask anyway.  I was told who, and quickly responded: INSGC would be honored to help sponsor the visit of Dr. Buzz Aldrin to speak on his vision for space exploration, including Mission(s) to Mars.  

I cannot express my thrill at being able to attend this lecture, and be part of a welcoming dinner beforehand.  This is, of course, Dr. Rendezvous, the first astronaut with a doctorate, and the second human to set foot on the moon.  But the person whom I met, shared a few words, and listened to his conversations was engaging on another level.  He could speak on a variety of topics, sometimes tiny tidbits, sometimes grand surveys of the tides of history.  Notable and noteworthy.  But even since my prior experience of Dr. Aldrin (two years ago at an MIT event), I saw something that I hadn't expected to see.  Graciousness and passion.  A sense of humor, as well as a need to share and communicate across the generations.  Even a joke about him sounding amazingly like Neil Armstrong.

A simple picture doesn't do justice to the feeling of inspiration that I got from the talk.  Fortunately, I was able to take some fairly good ones, as I found myself sitting right behind Dr. Aldrin after his entrance, and while Dean Leah Jamieson introduced him.

Listening to him talk about both the science and the social systems of space travel, I recognized an unavoidable element:  this is what incessant curiosity and indefatigable passion can do, and be.  I could go on about the Cyclers, but he was extremely elegant and supportive to say that a Purdue AAE grad student had extended, and even improved upon, his longstanding work.  (High praise indeed.)  He bowed to and acknowledged Jim Longuski, with whom he's collaborated for 25 years (and who helps others learn to Think Like a Rocket Scientist).   He talked about STEM Education, and the role of STEM as being valuable for everyone on Earth.  It's not just that I grew up wanting to be like Buzz Aldrin.  It's that I felt that Dr. Aldrin was now speaking to a shared passion, and a recognition of what is needed for the future.  

Afterwards, he stayed to sign the Mission to Mars books.  He signed them all.  This is not to be ignored.  Over 800 books were sold at Purdue, and others attending the lecture brought their copies as well.   Past 11:00, he was still signing books, with kind words and gestures and jokes with the attendees.  ("He told me he liked my sweater!")  I stayed around for a while just to watch the happy faces and renewed enthusiasm from the folks as they emerged from the signing area in the Purdue Memorial Union.  That was feeding enough for me.  (It also helped that I had already been gifted with a signed copy of the book. Thanks, Mike.  You've done pretty well already as an INSGC alumnus, talking about the future of spaceflight and space operations.)  

Thank you, Dr. Aldrin, for reaffirming why this INSGC leadership, and STEM Engagement, is such a significant part of what I must be doing right now.

Informed and Engaged (from Director's Notes, INSGC Observer)

This morning, I made some people happy.  Because INSGC was one of the sponsors of the Neil DeGrasse Tyson lecture on September 19 (see other stories, this issue), I was (unexpectedly) provided with some additional tickets for the lecture.  Two members of the staff in my IE department had asked if I might be able to find them a seat, and I brought them the tickets this morning.  What pleased and enthused me the most is the level of excitement and pleasure they demonstrated when receiving the tickets. 

This is a great example of the positive experience that we at INSGC can bring to others when we support opportunities for STEM engagement.  As I have previously mentioned in my Director’s Blog (http://insgc-bc.blogspot.com/2013/08/locally-grown.html), the challenge may in fact be to identify what do our customers / prospective partners / students want to learn, do, or share.  Sometimes it is about going out to them; other times, it’s bringing them in to help us understand what excites them.  One INSGC-led project is attempting to take this approach within the context of a “research experiences for teachers” project.  Research (to me) is a grand exploration and scouting process.  There is a process of providing information about facts and formulae and functions, but real research is not just about piling those facts up.  It’s about having tools to go out and solve problems, and make sense of a context that you didn’t previously understand… perhaps a context no one has previously understood.   The process of education is not a passive one, as most inspired (and inspiring) teachers will tell you.  In my research group’s blog (http://grouperlab.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/eaten-up-with-curiosity/) , I recently wrote about being “eaten up with curiosity,” as Rudyard Kipling described Rikki-Tikki the mongoose. 

So, what does that sort of experience look like—the well-informed, effectively-engaged, continuously curious citizen as researcher?  Well, we have a historical grand exploration and scouting process, which set out from Indiana (Clarksville) in October 1803: The Corps of Discovery, led by Lewis and Clark.  Now, you would never send out people into the vast unexplored wilderness unprovisioned.  For the Corps, it was medicine and gunpowder and cartography equipment and notebooks: things to go exploring, and make notes, and bring back descriptions of what you found.  For an informed, engaged person, the provisions of research are equally important: analysis skills, mathematical techniques, understanding of physical properties and laws.  But no one would confuse the provisions for the expedition.  They are simply tools to allow you to do a better job exploring.  What’s out there?  What do we want to know?  How do we bring that experience back to others?  That’s a bit harder, especially when the territory is vast and your experience is greatly limited.  (There’s an ocean out there, or some magical destination that may or may not really exist.  Even after the Corps returned, it was hard for most people to believe things like the Badlands, or the Rockies, or the herds of bison, really existed—the explorers had experienced things far outside of the previous experience of those in the United States in 1806.)  And this is always a challenge of the researcher.  How do you share what you’ve seen and learned with others?

That is one way that I appreciate and enjoy Dr. Tyson: he engages people to do the exploration that they can, and he provides them with provisions to do more exploration if they choose.  The stories are accessible, and interesting, and entertainingly presented.  And it helps that stars are visible to lots of us, and we want to tell stories about them.  But Dr. Tyson doesn’t just entertain.  His informative examples are also powerful tools and provisions, useful for a journey of discovery.  I have come to see how vitally important it is to find out which exploration journey a person wants to take, and provision them for that journey, as well as other potential journeys and side trips not yet envisioned.  (One challenge that a high school teacher has, that I don’t have in my university lectures, is that I can make a better guess as to the range of journeys that an Industrial Engineering undergrad will be ready to take after I have tried to provision them with project design or statistics.  It’s still a pretty large range of journeys, so I better make sure my provisions will last, and they don’t leak away or rot over the years to come.) 

I love the process of exploration.  Through my career I have noted that more information, about more subjects, means more provisions that help me discover and document and describe more about those territories I encounter along the way.  Sometimes the information is challenging and new, but that’s okay.  Skis and snowshoes don’t seem to be that useful along the Ohio River in September and October, but I can be glad to acquire them along the way to North Dakota, or learn how to make them when I need them.  If it is our job to teach the excitement of exploration, and not just the excitement a specific person has for a specific subject, there is an added responsibility to learn about a variety of journeys, and get people ready and well-provisioned for those.  I’m pleased that INSGC is able to help with West Lafayette events this fall that excite and engage both kids (Dr. Kaboom, Purdue Space Day) and adults (Dr. Tyson and other general public visits by astronauts).  A broad set of offerings provides our audiences with a range of information and a span of topics that increase the value for more people, regardless of their area of interest.  In other words, a rich stock of provisions for a explorers set off on a variety of journeys of discovery and experience. 


Friday, August 16, 2013

Locally Grown

“We don’t sell yesterday’s corn! ... Our green wagons show up at familiar locations, picked that morning…”

Last weekend was beautiful in northern Indiana.  In fact, Friday and Saturday were the sorts of days that local festival organizers dream, and hope, and pray for all year.  Sunny weather, light breezes, glorious blue skies and 75 degrees.  (We might get lucky again this weekend!)  Lovely days, of course, to consider STEM engagement in small Indiana towns—not the Purdue Day experience at the Indiana State Fair last Friday, but a much more local experience.    For instance, elephant ears are a popular dough pastry, but there seems to be something more… essential… for those who lined up at Old Settler Days in Delphi, gathered around the courthouse square.  It’s not just the subject, but the context and application, that matters for those few days.

Part of this lesson came from an unexpected discussion I had with Vic Lechtenberg over lunch.  (Vic had to leave lunch early, as it turns out, specifically to go down to Indianapolis for the Purdue Day BBQ at the State Fair.)  After many years at Purdue as a professor studying crops, and as Dean of Agriculture, Vice Provost for Engagement,  Acting Provost… Vic connects to people well about the applications of his work.  We were talking about sweet corn (another staple at these local festivals), and why Indiana folks rave about how their corn is better and sweeter than anyone else’s.  Funny, I mentioned, folks in Wisconsin used to say the same thing at their sweet corn festivals.  Vic then explained the science behind this feeling, and the appeal of the green wagons.  The enzymatic reaction in corn that turns sugar to starch means that tasty, succulent eating corn doesn’t travel well.  Locally grown, freshly picked, tastes the best.

It was in that moment that I realized why I think the A in Agriculture is different from the other letters in STEM.  Agriculture is a beautiful way of connecting science and technology, engineering and math, in ways that people care locally.  Normally, I don’t think much about enzymes or sucrose decomposition reactions, the stuff of organic chemistry.  But how can I think about sweet corn anymore, or the signs I see by the roadside, without thinking about Vic and his focused explanation in ways that mattered?

And in that thought was a seed (pardon the pun).  What’s the difference between trying to get someone to be excited about your interest, and trying to get them excited about how your interest links to their interest?  An abstracted discussion about advances in manufacturing seems remote and dry.  However, I got to spend a few minutes at the cruise-in a few blocks from the Taste of Cass festival in Logansport. 

The Taste of Cass Festival, Downtown Logansport

One very proud owner showed off their 1925 Indiana Motor Truck, made in Marion—even providing a brief history of the company.  Across the way sat a 1955 Studebaker. 
Restored 1925 Indiana Motor Truck, Logansport Cruise

Indiana Truck Owner's partial history of the company

1955 Studebaker... Looks like it just came from the South Bend factory.

Although they weren’t at the cruise, Auburns, Stutzes, Subarus, Toyota have all been made in Indiana, all representing milestones in manufacturing.  What cars will be at the cruise-in during Logansport’s 200th or 225th anniversary (and I wish them the very best in achieving those milestones), and what stories will people tell?  Will anyone have the sense to listen?

Round barns were a technological and engineering marvel in the 19th Century.  Space for storage, and showing, and efficient use of materials.  There are two notable round barns in Rochester.  One is the Round Barn golf course, at what used to be a fish hatchery.  (“We didn’t have to create the water hazards, they were already here!”) 

Round Barn Golf Club, Rochester, IN

I didn’t know this when I first stopped in to ask about greens fees, but the conversation brought me back to a challenge at a STEM Action Coalition meeting to show whether NASA had anything to do with fish hatcheries.  I could immediately make the connection to tilapia and enclosed life support systems; geographic information and water quality; and ecological models of system dynamics, including mathematical descriptions of stability and resilience.  I’d just finished writing a paper on resilience that the folks in the golf course might not care about… but they would get a discussion about keeping a lake stocked with healthy fish.

For many aerospace geeks, there are a few names on the pantheon of people whose names are not just aerospace history icons, but whose names represent iconic companies.  Curtiss.  Douglas. Hughes.  Wright.  School children know that Wilbur was born in Indiana.  But do we even remember that another of that pantheon was born in Indiana as well?  Lawrence Bell has a small museum in his hometown of Mentone, the Egg Basket of the Midwest.  Who is Bell?  Ask anyone in helicopters about the Bell UH series (“Hueys”).  Or anyone from the Right Stuff era.  Chuck Yeager’s Glamorous Glennis, in bright orange, breaking the speed of sound over the California desert… the Bell X-1. 

Bell Aircraft Museum... It wasn't Sunday.

Sadly, I’ve not been in the museum.  It’s only open for a few hours per week, on Sunday afternoons.  It’s a small group of devoted volunteers, trying to keep an important memory alive in a warehouse across from the silos and animal feed office, just off Indiana 25.  Mentone’s egg festival is in late May, not August, but any weekend will do. 
Mentone Indiana, Egg Basket of the Midwest.  And home of Lawrence Bell.

Maybe there will be some other glorious Indiana day, when I will get to spend some time connecting to their interest, and savoring another of the locally grown products. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Summer, Yes. Lazy, Not So Much.

It's a beautiful day in West Lafayette today.  Brilliant blue skies, temperatures in the upper 70s to low 80s.  Sounds like a perfect day for a low-stress staff meeting called at 11:00, with the Director to suggest taking the rest of the day off?  Unfortunately, that is not INSGC this week.  (I did play golf yesterday, in between statistics class lecture notes and NASA site logins and reviews of project reports.)

The activities that we discussed today are being repeated 52 times across the country, and they're summarized with another NFLA (NASA Four Letter Acronym) known as OEPM (Office of Education Performance Measurement, if you must know).  How do we enter these program measures and costs?  Which way do we enter the student data?  What can we provide in a secure way, given the time available and workload required?  Imagine my readiness for full-scale panic this morning when it seemed that data had gone missing... but no, it was a challenge in accessing the data using the right combination of key clicks.  Scary, and a reminder of the various ways that the process could go wrong and place us in noncompliance.

Even in my most humorous moods, I can't laugh away this last point.  Noncompliance with a federal grant requirement, or violations of contractual fiscal obligations, is a really big, nasty deal.  This was not something that I spent lots of time worrying about in grad school, or while getting tenure.  (For clarity, I am not talking about research ethics or fraud or stowing away leftover grant funds for a fishing trip to Antigua.  All of those are clearly wrong, and we did talk about why those things were really bad for the individual, and the institution and profession as a whole.)  Over the 10 years that I've been INSGC Director, my biggest summer worry most years has been about making the budgets (including that mysterious "cost share") balance against costs, and exceed the promised commitment to NASA.  (Yes, it's that important.  A grant proposal with a promised cost share amount is considered a legal commitment by the institution to spend that amount of money that won't be charged to the grant.  It's not just a good idea.  It's the law.)

So, today's meeting included a lot of "What's still outstanding?"  "What do we do with those numbers?"  "When do we finalize the report to send off to Headquarters?"  (Officially, the due date is July 19--next Friday.  We're aiming for Wednesday, July 17.  Overachievers?  No, just paranoid and worried that something might go wrong and... put us in noncompliance.)  This is not fun, but it is enough to justify the hours being spent by both Ellie and Julie, our summer interns, checking and entering and staying in close communication with Angie and Dr. Dawn.  Hey, BC!  Here's why we're going to talk you out of doing what you just said you wanted us to do! (A task that is easy when set up one way becomes profoundly difficult when done another way.  Ironically, that's part of what I look at as a human factors engineer, but that's an issue for another day and another blog.)

Once we're done with OEPM, the work's not done.  I will be in Indianapolis multiple times talking about and working with others on a "STEM Engagement Umbrella": we've got a lot of wonderful outreach activities underway at our museums, science centers, and college campuses.  However, it's a real challenge just to find out what's going on in STEM here at Purdue this week, let alone around the state.

(How many of you knew that this year is the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway, the first national route system designed and built explicitly for auto traffic?  This highway, now described in large part by the US 20, US 30, US 33, and 933 route designations through towns from Ft. Wayne to Merrillville, is part of how Indiana developed as part of the automobile nexus of the US before 1930.  Indiana was also part of the National Road system, implemented a century earlier, through Richmond, Indianapolis, Terre Haute, and other towns in the central part of the state.  In other words, the history of transportation technology and civil engineering created the layout and population centers of the state known as the Crossroads of America.  If that isn't STEM affecting your life, I don't know what is.)

Those in education policy need to focus on criteria for evaluating how well programs meet state education standards.  I just want to highlight how much STEM affects all of us in Indiana every day, and help engage that understanding on a more consistent and effective basis.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Welcome Home, Commander Hadfield

It was time for the next blog entry, and I was thinking about all sorts of things to say about STEM Engagement, and ways to remind people of the challenge and value and wonder of space travel and exploration of all kinds.  But, this evening, a friend of mine insisted I watch Chris Hadfield's Space Oddity video on YouTube:

Nothing more to say.

Thank you, Commander Hadfield, and a melancholy welcome back to Earth.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Up, Down, Top, Bottom, and a bit of Strange

Up, Down, Top, Bottom, and a bit of Strange

Affiliates Meetings are important.  I already knew that, and no matter how much we try to guess what may or may not be on the agenda, something critical always comes up for discussion among our Academic and Outreach Affiliates each April.  Let me say that this year’s meeting on April 12 (yes, Yuri’s Night) at Ball State was a challenge for me, just from a physical standpoint.  I’d only slept one night in my own house this month, after weeks of substantial travel beginning with the National Space Grant Directors’ Meeting in Washington.  Where did my body think it was … Shanghai?  Seattle?  No matter what, it’s time to get up and start the day’s activity in Muncie. 

The podium says Ball State, so I must be in Indiana today.

At one point during the day, we discussed an unfortunate element of life in bureaucratic organizations: “conservation of meetings”.  No matter what, it seems that meetings expand to fill the time allotted, even if nothing important is being discussed.  I don’t like those meetings, and because I appreciate the commitment and dedication of our Affiliates and Board Members, I try to make sure we don’t have them.  With Indiana Space Grant Consortium (INSGC) business, that’s not hard.   As you can see, the Affiliates even want to work through lunch, discussing INSGC stuff, and connecting with each other.

INSGC Affiliates discussing during lunch break

Of course, the first criterion important to avoid those meetings is to ensure we all understand why are we meeting?  There are frequently operational details that we can cover at a meeting, and update elements, such as our award announcements.  However, as Angie Verissimo, our Operations Coordinator, frequently reminds me, there are lots of operational details included in sending out scholarship offers or initial program awards.  Spending time in the bottom-level details is not always the best use of time in our meetings, but it is important for people to know that these details are being addressed.  So, we did make some “First Award” selections of some of our 2013-14 INSGC portfolio.  (Details of those awards will be presented here soon, after the students and investigators have been informed.) 

The top-down view of awards, however, was also an issue of considerable concern among our affiliates.  The national news isn’t good.  Problems in federal funding.  Congressional concerns and surveillance on program activity.  Cascading effects of The Sequester (perhaps a monster from some late night horror movie?) restricting agency expenses.  Fortunately, these problems aren’t affecting INSGC right now (sequestration decisions are directed at employees, not our INSGC award), but as we discussed, we must not ignore these broader concerns as we work to create the best INSGC possible in the future as well. 

How do we do this?  Among our discussions during the day was an examination of what we expect affiliates to be and do, including expectations for what it means for an affiliate to remain in good standing.  Years ago, we put together processes and expectations for how to become an affiliate (voting up)…  but the concerns in 2006 were not about confirming criteria for whether someone could remain an affiliate (voting down).  A working group including Academic Affiliate, Advisory Board, and Outreach Affiliate participants will be working on this important task over the coming months. 

We also discussed how we create and maintain INSGC in the context of the recent headline news stories about a GAO report highlighting duplication of programs and waste, including how multiple STEM education programs might be consolidated across agencies.   In this context, it’s interesting to talk about INSGC as a prototype for a multi-agency, multi-domain affiliate network.  The emphasis here is to highlight our capabilities in an expanded context—across STEM disciplines.  There is an importance that our partners see us as part of a broader engagement of STEM education and applications. One participant mentioned that we can expand this scope, and not even change our acronym—we can be the Indiana STEM Grant Consortium! 

But wait, some might ask (and some did, at the Affiliates Meeting).  Doesn’t “Space Grant” limit what we focus on in terms of STEM?  You know, the aviation technology, the astronauts, the astronomy, the satellite dynamics?  That’s what gets funded by INSGC!  Well, I suppose that some of that is a reminder of the old story about the blind men and the elephant.  If you’re a particle physicist, for example, you think a lot about particle physics, and you notice particle physics applications, and you even pick up particle physics references in the general world.  (Come on, admit it.  You all saw the title of this entry and thought about quarks.  It’s okay.  I wanted you to.)   But in our annual performance data report, INSGC reported on projects for enzyme reduction for biology applications, and nanotechnology camps for K-12 students and their teachers, and a course on groundwater analysis and modeling. 

One of the concerns that became clear is that there is a lot of worry that, in some future INSGC funded by the Smithsonian or NSF to address some expansive view of STEM engagement, everyone would be asked to juggle all of those balls, recognize all of those features, and do all of those tasks.  In other words, “I can’t wrap my head around all of that stuff.”  Well, I don’t think that everyone needs to do that.  When I went in for shoulder surgery, I was glad my surgeon spent most of his time focusing on tendons and supraspinatus muscles and those details.  When the aircraft is descending through storms, I’m glad my pilot is devoting attention to Doppler radar and flight management systems and airspeed indicators.  You want people to work the details of their specialty.  But it’s also valuable to have a broad view, looking forward. What if we helped with undergraduate student retention?  What if we helped support a new framework for K-12 preservice teacher apprenticeships in science museums?  What if we did motorsports?  Actually, we’re involved in all of these—something that we discussed as Engagement for Execution.  Perhaps it requires someone a bit strange to want to connect all of that.  But as this picture indicates, maybe I’m the right kind of strange… or at least different.

BSC “Rocks Out” when discussing INSGC connections

Coming soon, a brief description of the range of student project and program awards (and student majors) we fund at INSGC.  This description is not just for those other people.  It’s to help us remember how broad we already are, and how many people we can touch around the state.