Posted tagged ‘STEM’

Build-your-own robot can tackle biology and chemistry experiments

March 29, 2017

Building off-the-shelf Lego robots can teach kids important skills like mechanical engineering, computer programming and teamwork. Now, Stanford bioengineers are adding life sciences and chemistry to the list.

Stanford researchers have developed a liquid-handling Lego robot capable of a range of experiments — integrating robotics, biology, chemistry, programming and hands-on learning into a single, open-source educational tool. Built from a cheap plastic syringe and a Lego Mindstorm EV3 Education kit, the robots are designed to pipette fluids into and out of plastic containers commonly used in laboratories.

The team also designed and tested several fundamental experiments for elementary and middle school students using their DIY robots and common household items like food coloring, salt or sugar, which are described in a recent paper published in PLOS Biology.

One of the favorites is an experiment that teaches kids about density and buoyancy by sequentially layering colored liquids with different salt concentrations into a single test tube — demonstrating that the liquids float on top of each other instead of mixing, and explaining why objects float or sink.

“We would love it if more students, do-it-yourself learners, STEM teachers and researchers would embrace this type of work, get excited and then develop additional open-source instructions and lesson plans for others to use,” said Ingmar Riedel-Krus. PhD, assistant professor of bioengineering, in a recent news release.

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

Too few woman scientists are invited to review academic journal manuscripts

January 31, 2017

As a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, I reviewed manuscripts for several academic science journals and acted as an editor for an engineering journal.

This makes me an exception, according to a commentary recently published in Nature that reveals a gender bias in the review of scholarly publications. Journals invite too few women to referee, write commentary authors Jory Lerback, a graduate student at the University of Utah, and Brooks Hanson, PhD, director of publications at the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

The peer review process plays a critical role in the validation of research by allowing experts to scrutinize the work of their peers before research results are published. Participating in this review process is also critical to a scientist’s career. The commentary explains:

“Participation as a reviewer for papers and grants has many benefits, particularly for early-career scientists. It is a chance to develop a relationship and make a positive impression with an editor, review-panel member or programme manager, who are typically senior scientists and are in turn likely to be involved in evaluating the reviewer’s future papers and grants.”

Unfortunately, Lerback and Hanson found that women of all ages have fewer opportunities to act as a reviewer for AGU journals.

Using membership and editorial databases, they identified the age and gender of authors, reviewers and editors for AGU manuscripts from 2012 to 2015 — creating a dataset that included more than 24,000 authors, nearly 15,000 reviewers, nearly 100,00 reviewer suggestions by authors and 119,000 reviewer requests by editors.

Analysis of this dataset showed that only 20 percent of reviewers were women, proportionally less than expected as 28 percent of AGU members were female and 27 percent of first authors were female. This difference was observed across all ages, so it was not due to editors seeking more senior reviewers who are predominantly male.

The problem, they found, was due to a gender bias in reviewer selection. At AGU, authors suggest reviewers at submission and editors prepare a final list. However, both authors and editors nominated fewer women to review. Female first authors suggested female reviewers 21 percent of the time, whereas male first authors suggested women just 15 percent of the time. Similarly, female editors recommended female reviewers 22 percent of the time compared to 17 percent for male editors.

Is this just a problem for AGU journals? The authors don’t think so. As the largest Earth and space science society and publisher, they argue that AGU is a good proxy for STEM demographics in the United States. In addition, they suggest that similar problems exist for funding agencies.

The researchers recommend that publishers hire more female editors and train their staff to combat this gender bias.

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

Stanford medical student co-authors guidebook for aspiring science students

May 13, 2016
Photograph courtesy of James Pan

Photograph courtesy of James Pan

Academic hurdles in college stymie many budding doctors, engineers and researchers: More than half of all college students who enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields change their majors or drop out.

As an undergraduate, Yoo Jung Kim — now a first-year Stanford medical student — and three colleagues at the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science observed this attrition first hand and decided to do something about it. Together, they wrote a practical guide for aspiring science students, providing insider advice on topics ranging from how to pick a major to how to start a research project. Kim told me about her new book, What Every Science Student Should Know, in recent emails:

What inspired you to write this guide for science students?

“In November 2011, the New York Times published an article titled, Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard). At that time, all of us had seen friends struggle with their science classes; some of our peers had even been discouraged enough to change their majors. This article confirmed to us that the problems with STEM education were a nationwide phenomenon and we felt like we already had some of the solutions.

We started interviewing highly successful science students at Dartmouth and other colleges throughout the country to see what they were doing differently. From there we distilled those observations into sample chapters that we pitched to literary agencies and publishers. Too many college students planning to study science and medicine change their minds later in their academic careers. Many of these students slip through the cracks in massive lecture‐based classes where they don’t necessarily get much advice or attention. We feel that our book could provide the guidance that most students need.”

Who is your target audience?

“We wrote this book primarily as a resource for early college students and ambitious junior and senior high school students interested in the sciences. However, its content can benefit anyone from a high school freshman to a recent college graduate. Our book covers ways in which students can improve their study skills, master their courses, find mentors who can guide them, conduct scientific research and prepare for their future careers.

Our hope is that readers will find the book to be a pretty comprehensive guide to their life as a science student, as well as their transition from college to the outside world. The book draws on interviews with a full spectrum of different science majors, winners of national scholarships like the Rhodes, founders of startups, researchers, and more — to give a broad overview of where science can take you.”

How did you find time to write a book during college?

“By the time we had secured a publishing contract, most of us had graduated from college already. We were literally dispersed throughout the world — Beijing, Michigan, and New Hampshire — so we held Skype meetings every two weeks. We kept to a tight schedule based on an outline we had come up with early on in development. As for myself, Dartmouth College let me work on the book for academic credit as part of an independent writing project during my senior year. We all spent many nights and weekends writing the manuscript over the course of a few years time.”

Are you planning to write any more books?

“Yes! There are a couple of subjects that I’ve been wanting to pursue, but the biggest problem is finding the time, especially since medical school is already a full‐time endeavor. In the future, I want to write a book that showcases scientific research as a human endeavor filled with setbacks and triumphs.”

What advice do you want to pass on to new college students?

“Don’t get overly discouraged by a bad grade in a science class. Throughout the country, science classes tend to give students lower grades than classes in other subjects. A bad grade is not necessarily a reflection of your work ethic or aptitude for science.

By the end of my sophomore year, I had racked up several Bs and B minuses in college science courses. I wondered whether I’d be able to get into any medical school, let alone Stanford. Fortunately, I found mentors at Dartmouth who helped me regain my confidence: physician mentors who helped me prioritize my time and upperclassman who shared their study tips and cheered me on. Starting in junior year, I aced all of my courses. I asked the upperclassmen that helped me to succeed — Justin Bauer, Andrew Zureick and Daniel Lee — to join me in writing our book, so that everyone could have the mentorship experience that I had been lucky enough to receive.”

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

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