discovery, science

This Just In: Images from space knock me out and wake me up

Pillars of Creation by Hubble Space Telescope
Pillars of Creation by Hubble Space Telescope

Tonight, go out into the streets or into the yard and look up at the sky knowing this: our worries are so small in the grand scheme of life. Here are the two biggest announcements in space news this week that got my mind off my worries and piqued my curiosity:

The Pillars of Creation
Oh, Hubble. You never disappoint. 20 years ago, Hubble Space Telescope snapped the first photos of the “Pillars of Creation”, three columns of gas and stars of the Eagle Nebula. Thanks to advances in technology, Hubble snapped a photo this week with much higher definition and the results are even more stunning that the ones that have fascinated us for two decades. Majestic and haunting, they are 7,000 light years from Earth. Through them, we are witnessing the creation of new stars. The finger-like protrusions at the top of the pillars are each larger than our solar system.

1,000 Earths
I’m working on a science fiction short story about a young girl, Marin, who travels the Universe with her father. They land on Earth after the apocalypse so that her father can teach her the cautionary tale of human consumption habits. As I was doing some research for the story, I came across a story in Scientific American. This week, NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft discovered two more Earth-like worlds. That brings the total of planets similar to ours to over 1,000.

When life gets a little overwhelming, I’m grateful for space. It reminds me that there is so much more to the universe than us. It lets me escape, for a little while, into the deepest depths of my imagination, so I can face whatever it is that needs facing with fresh eyes and less ego. I hope it helps you, too.

animals, books, career, science, work, writing

Inspired: Letters to a Young Scientist – Dr. E.O. Wilson’s view on our life’s work

Dr. E.O. Wilson examining plant gall, Walden Pond, Massachusettes
Dr. E.O. Wilson examining plant gall, Walden Pond, Massachusetts

Whether you’re a scientist or not, young or not-so-young, Dr. E.O. Wilson’s book, Letters to a Young Scientist, is a primer in how to building a meaningful life from a purpose-driven career. I first encountered Dr. Wilson’s work as one of the most esteemed biologists in the world while I was a fundraiser at Conservation International. Dr. Wilson is a member of the board of directors and in many ways was (and probably still is) a supreme guiding light of the organization’s strong science basis. I picked up his slim volume to read how he addresses a young audience in search of meaning. What I found was much more than I expected.

On opportunity
“Opportunity is [now] broader, but more demanding.” This was a light bulb line for me. We have more opportunity now than past generations thanks to technology, the democratization of knowledge and learning thanks to the growth of the Internet, and the rapid and extensive sharing of inspirational stories. Dr. Wilson explains why we now struggle more to seize opportunity—with great privilege comes great competition and an even greater need for commitment and determination.

“When you select a domain of knowledge…go where the least action is happening…observe the fray from a distance…consider making your own fray.” This is my favorite bit in the book. We’re so quick to rush to a field that is gaining traction and popularity but if we really want to have an impact, it’s best to go where no one else is going.

“Imagine looking back on your life. What do you want to be known for?” Imagine yourself at the very end of your life. When you’re rocking in a chair and watching the sun set for the very last time, what do you want to remember and what do you want to be remembered for? Work your way back to the present day from there and follow the breadcrumbs that you’ve left to guide the way.

On determination and passion
“The more difficult the problem, the greater the likely importance of its solution.” When the going gets tough, we think of giving up. Dr. Wilson encourages the opposite. When the going gets tough, go further.

“Decision and hard work based on enduring passion will never fail you…put passion ahead of training.” Education is only valuable if we are educated in something that lights us up. Figure out what you care about and then obtain the training to make it into a career.

“Waste and frustration often attend the earliest stages.” It’s always easiest to give up early on. That’s the stage where we need the most determination—when something isn’t going well. Doubt is a powerful deterrent and formidable opponent. That second step, the one that we have to take when all of our early hard work feels wasted, is the one that hurts the most. Take it anyway.

Passion and curiosity are skills we all need in abundance, especially given the current state of our world. There’s plenty of engaging work for all of us if we know where to look.

books, creativity, imagination, science, vision

Inspired: Our Vision is Imagined and Our Creativity is Ever-Present

The Future of the Mind by Dr. Michio Kaku
The Future of the Mind by Dr. Michio Kaku

I’m in the midst of reading Dr. Michio Kaku‘s new book, The Future of the Mind. He explains that our actual vision is largely imagined. Our optic nerve should always create a large dark spot in our field of vision. It doesn’t because our mind actually compensates for it and fills in the details. Our mind guesses what’s there in that space that the eyes can’t actually see. We are imagining every moment of our waking lives. We are using our creativity without even realizing it. That’s how deeply embedded our sense of creativity is in our minds, in our very being. We invent the world around us.

books, creativity, fear, science

Beautiful: Don’t Let the Fear of Criticism Stop You the Way It Almost Stopped Darwin

From Pinterest

“In the long history of humankind those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” ~ Charles Darwin.

This Christmas I got a subscription to Smithsonian Magazine, the perfect publication for nerds like me with a motley collection of interests. In the first issue I read about giant pandas, the Monument Men, and the last Christmas card sent by President and Mrs. Kennedy. One of the most interesting articles discussed Darwin. Though he published his seminal work, On the Origins of Species, in 1859 at the age of 50, he started developing his theory in the 1830s. He never planned to let it see the light of day while he was alive. It was only at the urging of his friend, Alfred Russel Wallace, that he published the work at all. Why did he hesitate for almost 30 years? He feared criticism. He feared that he was wrong despite so much evidence to the contrary.

Darwin changed the face of modern science in a radical way far beyond anything he ever imagined. Yes, his work was controversial and in some circles today it remains so. The lesson of Darwin is this: everyone who creates anything carries some amount of fear in their hearts. In Darwin’s case, it was extreme. Maybe that’s true for you, too. Don’t be Darwin. Please don’t let fear of criticism, fear of being wrong, stop you from putting your work out into the world. Do your best, release it, and let history be the judge and jury. Being wrong is painful, though not nearly as painful as never letting your ideas have a chance at a life outside of your own mind.

change, science, Second Step

Beautiful: We Have to Make Inertia Work For Us

From Pinterest
From Pinterest

Though I left engineering school after a year, I’m still a hopeless nerd for physics. One of my favorite principles is inertia – a body in motion stays in motion and a body at rest stays at rest until acted upon by an outside force. It’s true for physical matter, and true for the trajectory of our lives as well. We do what we’re doing until there’s a change.

For our lives, that change can be internal or external. We can choose it. We can slow down when we’re going too fast, and we can get ourselves in gear if we feel stuck. It takes a great deal of effort to cause that shift, but it’s possible.

Eventually something in life is going to throw us a roadblock and we’ll have to pivot and change. That is the game. That is the dance. Change within or accept the change forced from the outside. I’d always rather be the master of my own pivot so I keep changing, growing, evolving, transforming. It’s all I know how to do so I keep going. Which is its own kind of inertia. Ah inertia – the force of life that keeps on giving and follows us everywhere.

education, media, science

Beautiful: My Review of the 2013 White House Science Fair

Wilfried Hounyo (left) and Golden Rockefeller pictured with Charles Bolden, Administrator of NASA, a retired US Marine Corps General, and former NASA astronaut

From a water filtration system powered by a stationary bike to a writing system that aids those afflicted by neurological hand tremors, the White House was brimming with the creations of young innovators at the third annual White House Science Fair. One hundred students from 40 different states attended the event, proudly accompanied by their teachers, parents, and mentors. It’s hard to overestimate the excitement of being invited to the White House by President Obama. I’m not sure who was more thrilled – the students or the adults – to be in those hallowed halls, sharing our passion for STEM education and careers.

Why would the White House host a science fair? President Obama plainly and earnestly made the case for this event, which he refers to as one of his favorite events of the year.

“If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you’re a young person and you produce the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too.”

Three of the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge winners attended the event. Gustavo Zacarias, a middle school student from San Antonio, Texas, built The Dark Labyrinth on Kodu and was invited to exhibit his video game at the fair. The Dark Labyrinth is a 3-D maze that players navigate by solving math challenges. Gustavo began playing video games at age 4, and plans to build a career as a video game designer.

“I never thought I would be exhibiting my game at the White House,” said Gustavo. “I worked very hard during the making of the game and was very happy about winning a national competition, so I’m very excited and thankful for the opportunity to be part of this great event.”

Gustavo was joined by two students from the D.C.-area, Golden Rockefeller and Wilfried Hounyo, who won the Open Platform high school category of the National STEM Video Game Challenge. Golden is now a 16-year old freshman at University of Delaware studying mechanical engineering. Wilfried, a junior in high school, is currently looking at Berkeley, Stanford, and Penn State, where he plans to study computer science as a path to eventually work for NASA. Their game, Electrobob, teaches players about the nature of electrons by combining subject matter from physics, chemistry, and robotics.

Halfway through the fair, all attendees were escorted into the East Room to hear President Obama speak about the importance of STEM education and his continued financial and program support for it. Wilfried and Golden joined President Obama on stage as he repeatedly stated how amazed and inspired he was by all of the students at the fair.

“Young people like this have to make you hopeful about the future,” he said.

The President made several significant announcements during his speech:

  • A new AmeriCorps program focused on STEM education.
  •  The launch of US2020—a campaign by ten leading education nonprofits and U.S. technology companies to encourage companies to commit 20 percent of their STEM employees to 20 hours per year of mentoring or teaching by the year 2020.
  • The Summer of Making and Connecting program will encompass more than 1,000 summer learning events hosted by leading education-based organizations; the Joan Ganz Cooney Center of Sesame Workshop is one of the organizations involved.

The President concluded the event with a simple, powerful statement that resonated with teachers, parents, and mentors all around the country.

“We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that we are giving these young people opportunity to pursue their studies and discover new ways of doing things. And we’ve got to make sure that we’re also leaving behind a world that is safer and cleaner and healthier than the one we found. That’s our obligation…students, we could not be prouder of all of you.”

Check out my collection of my photos from the 2013 White House Science Fair

creativity, education, science

Today I am at the White House Science Fair

20130421-230213.jpgToday it is my extreme pleasure and honor to attend the White House Science Fair. I currently consult at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at the Sesame Workshop. At the Cooney Center, I manage a program called the National STEM Video Game Challenge. Students in grades 5-12 submit video games that utilize STEM skills. Several of our winners from last year’s Challenge have been invited to exhibit and attend. I am thrilled beyond words by their accomplishments!

There are a few ways to follow the event from anywhere in the world:

Watch the live feed:

Follow us on Twitter: and the hashtag #WHSciencefair

Follow us on Facebook:

I hope you’ll join in the fun and celebrate the ingenuity and creativity of these students. They are our greatest hope for a brighter future!

children, education, game, gaming, school, science, teaching, technology, video games

Beautiful: The Launch of the National STEM Video Game Challenge

5367881478-1I’m excited to announce that the National STEM Video Game Challenge, the project that I work on at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, is now open and accepting submissions. The deadline to enter is April 24th and we will hold a culminating awards event in June. It is free to enter and students can work on their own or in teams.

The STEM Challenge is a youth video game making competition that encourages kids in grades 5 -12 to submit playable video games. Last year, the Challenge attracted almost 4,000 submissions. All the of details about the Challenge, a listing of free game making workshops happening across the country, and a host of resources to help kids, as well as their teachers, parents, and mentors, create games are available at the STEM Challenge website: If you are interested in being a judge, are a game making professional, or are interested in doing outreach for the Challenge, I would love to hear from you!

Please let me know if you have any questions. I’ll be glad to answer them. I can’t wait to see what you create. Let the games begin!

books, children, education, job, science, technology

Beautiful: 2 Books from No Starch Press that Make Coding Fun for Kids (and Adults Too!)

STEM learning. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It’s one of the hottest topics in education today and for good reason. “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 1.2 million job openings for computer science graduates by 2018, but current U.S. graduation rates will provide qualified workers for only one-third of those positions,” says Edie Fraser of the Huffington Post. No Starch Press is doing its part to turn that trend around with the release of 2 new books aimed at teaching kids to code.

Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming (Ages 10+) and Super Scratch Programming Adventure! (Ages 8+) are kid-friendly, carefully crafted, and eminently entertaining. They take the complex art and science of coding and turn its mastery into a game. These books break down coding into bite-sized, step-by-step lessons in a language that is easily understood by those who are not familiar with coding.

Known for its ease of use for beginning coders, Python is a powerful programming language. It’s remarkably easy to read and write when compared to other programming languages. It is free to install on all basic operating systems. Python for Kids will help your little one builds graphics and games, giving them the satisfaction of seeing their work come to life.

Scratch is a programming language created by MIT Media Lab to build video games. It is also free to install on all basic operating systems. Each chapter of Super Scratch Programming Adevnture! helps kids to design and build increasingly complex video games while teaching them the basic principles of coding.

Best of all, these books are not only valuable for kids, but also for adults who are interested in learning how to code. In my own pursuit to understand programming on a deeper level, I have started to work through them myself. Whether you just want to know a little bit more about coding or have an interest in developing a deep knowledge in the subject, these books are the perfect place to begin your journey into the wide and wonderful world of code.

Increasingly, writing code is becoming a necessary job skill and we would all do well to at least deepen our appreciation of what it takes to build the websites and applications that we access on a daily basis. Who knows? Learning to code may just make you the most valuable person around the office or it may prompt you to take your career in a completely new direction. One thing’s for sure – coders are in high demand and will only become more so as our appetite for ever-more sophisticated tech products and services continues to grow. You might as well join them and these books give you the perfect jumping off point to get yourself in the game.

beauty, creativity, curiosity, science, television

Beautiful: The Pi of Life

Have you been watching the TV show Person of Interest? Filled with quirky characters, nerdy testaments to the power of technology and programming, and a healthy dose of espionage and government secrecy, it consumes my complete attention during every episode.

Last week’s show, 2πr, began with a lyrical discussion of Pi. Yes, that Pi: 3.14159265359… or said another way, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Pi randomly repeats with no end. Finch, the main character of the show, explains that Pi contains every number combination possible. It contains all of creation – past, present, and future. Somewhere, it contains our phone numbers, birthdays, social security numbers. If those numbers were translated into letters, it would contain every word, every sentence ever written by anyone. Mind-blowing.

This is why I find math and science so intriguing, inspiring, and endlessly fascinating. We don’t need to ask, nor wait, for answers to any of our questions, curiosities, and confusions. They are all around us. All of them. What we need is an open heart, a discerning eye, and a clear, keen mind to see them, recognize them, and then put them to good use.