STEM Reflections: 2019, The Year No One Predicted Accurately.

Aug 10, 2019

Moving Forward , Utilization of Science and Empowering Others

It has happened: the end of summer semester! While the condensed timeline brought both stress and excitement I am thankful for the experience overall. One of the many takewaways for me is the great investment of time and effort into learning new material. Even at the Gen I level there was a lot of content to cover.

That is the reason why moving forward, my goal is to utilize the material I’ve learned. Systematically, education is ironic because we learn all this groundbreaking information and then forget it a quarter later. Of course some things aren’t applicable directly but the integration of science minded thinking is my goal.

As in my last post, what excites me and drives me forward is utilization of the sciences in a modern and educational function. Don’t we all hope that the knowledge we possess can be applied to the greater good and momentum of progress?

Here are some fantastic examples of how we can teach and learn from each other as “citizen scientists.” These projects are global (and funded by the big guys) but are nonetheless amazing and impactful and use science to empower others.

Eterna Empowering citizen scientists to invent medicine

Folding at Home Folding proteins for disease research

Aug 5, 2019

Molecular Geometry and Bonding in 2d and 3d space, AR for Education

The last few chapters of material we covered on Lewis Dot Structures, VSEPR theory (molecular shapes), and Valence Bond Theory (hybridization of orbitals) have been tangible. I am making connections to larger concepts either previously discussed or relating the new information to real world applications.  I have for the most part enjoyed drawing the molecule structures and figuring out bond angles and shapes. To reinforce my findings in the last post, I definitely appreciate the visualizations of the VSEPR structures in 3d space.

I often think about how I can use the material I am learning this semester and create an immersive experience around it. As a creative technologist, I strive to make the mundane more immersive, visually appealing, efficient, appealing, and effective through the use of advanced technologies like augmented and virtual realities. I have come up with so many ideas for innovative experiences in the education landscape since returning as a student. The potential is endless and I have seen the gaps where there is so much space for new and more engaging ways to learn. For this particular application, I like to think in terms of a resposibility to the future, to attempt to bridge the gap between our growing technology addiction and the nationwide underperformance of children in schools. 

A good example of this concept is to take the molecular geometry lecture and make it come to life. When we were introduced to the molecular shapes in VSEPR Theory, we were given a set of plastic balls and sticks and were able to build small models of the molecules with their different number of electron groups and formations around the central atom.  We tried to visualize these shapes in 3d space with a variety of bond angles and multiple geometric configurations. But imagine learning this material in AR.

What exactly is AR?  Augmented Reality is the the illusion that virtual content is part of the real world. Generally, AR experience uses a device’s camera giving the user a new way to see and interact with the world around them.

The electrons spinning on their axis, moving around, in colors, showing the overlapping bonds, displaying the 2d Lewis Dot structure then morphing into 3d VSEPR structures. These visuals would without a doubt make the content more engaging and easier triggers to absorb and recall for students. 

In the same way, I think about the graphing calculator application we use in Trigonometry, too (desmos an amazing tool for graphing functions in trig and calculus).  I was recently graphing circles, limacons, roses, and lemniscates. I’m sure you could guess where my mind was going as I worked through these 2d graph shapes. I imagined these coordinates in the 3d space, virtually shifting and manipulating right in front of me. I envision the integration of technlogy into educational institutions in a range of intensity, from having AR markers in a textbook or on a chalkboard to VR pods where students can take in a lesson in virtual reality. 

July 20, 2019

Considering Data Viz, 3d Models, and Quantum Mechanics

The material we have covered under the quantum mechanics umbrella has been my favorite topic by far. There are a handful of reasons why I am excited about this chapter but the three standouts I want to discuss are: the Schrodinger’s model, the 3d models of orbitals, and the atomic spectra lab.

  1. The Schrodinger’s Model: I am going to age myself on this one but when I took chem in high school a million years ago, my basic understanding of the atomic model was absolutely from Bohr (the electrons orbit the nucleus like the planets orbit around the sun).  So I was entertained and ashamed to learn I had (for all these years) survived without the correct knowledge of the electron placement within the atom. The Schrodinegr’s model is the modern atomic model. The electrons live in a three dimensional space called orbitals. Orbitals change shape based on the second quantum number,  and there are four diffrent orbital shapes. Awesome!
  2. Unsure who shares my enthusiasm here, why do I enjoy 3d models of orbitals so much? It is a very relatable concept for me as a designer. There are rotations, manipulations of size, variations of intersecting points, and all the things that make me happy as a visual human.  Data visualization is a heavy hitter in many industries. As designers and scientists, we are finding innovative ways to approach big data and make it seem more digestible. Data viz is an effective way to share statistics and analyze results. But even more exciting than that is when data is modeled in the 3d environment. Imagine these models in virtual reality…next quarter I’ll be working on a VR data viz project and these models just might make an appearance.
  3. Back in the real world: the lab has become my favorite part of gen chem I. I appreciate the combination of working with my hands and applying the concepts that seem arbitrary in lecture.  The atomic spectra lab was my favorite so far. It reinforced the quantum mechanics concepts and associated equations all while I got to observe and test color, light, and fire. “Good times” as Sorensen would say. I was intrigued by the first part of the lab where I observed the various gases in tubes through the spectroscope and recorded each element’s “atomic fingerprint” as a colorful spectrum. The second part of the lab was right up my alley! I took wood splints soaked in metal solution (with chloride) and held them over a flame to observe and record the flame color. Orange, blue, red, fuschia, neon flames. These tests were both good applications of measuring the change of energy when an electron moves up and down levels.
June 6, 2019

Back to School: Math and Sciencing


It has been four weeks since I decided to walk back into the doors of an academic institution. By way of an endless stream of fortunate (yes, “fortunate”) events, I landed myself behind the desks and lab chairs of some pretty difficult STEM classes for Summer Session 2019. Or what I term on social media as #summerbummer2019 as a reminder to all my friends that whilst they are exploring some cosmopolitan city or laying out at some exotic beach, I am in the tutoring center for my math and science classes.

It is June 2019 and I am pursuing my undergraduate computer science degree. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, I am a 33-year-old undergrad student. As in my Bachelor of Science. The Bachelor of Art (Design) I received in 2009 in NYC needs a nerdy sister. What better time of my life to enroll in a double degree program and come out winning with both a Bachelors of Science and a Masters of Science in computer science?!

I am tired, over-caffeinated, and under a pile of scrap paper and pencil erasures from trigonometry and pre-calculus homework. I am tasked to reflect and critique my current understanding and experience in general chemistry I and general chemistry I lab (with Professor Sorenson-Unruh).

Maybe I just wasn’t expecting it to be this way.

Math. Math and Science. Math that solves scientific problems. I must’ve forgotten all the math that was involved with chemistry, like the conversions and calculations.  Pretty much everything in general chemistry, from the atomic-molecular structure to chemical compounds, bonds, reactions, formulas, mole ratios, and stoichiometry have a math-based procedure to solve. I am getting back in the math game slowly. I am in tutoring for everything. Bless Melissa the physics god who holds my hand as I struggle through material week after week. Chapter one was pretty much theory-based, conceptual, easy. Chapter two brought us into the periodic table, where I found myself spending a lot of time reacquainting myself with the elements.  And of course, it got more complex: compounds, metals, ions, mass, and moles. Conversion factors and really big numbers for really tiny atoms (we’re talking Avagadros here), percent compositions, and the copper lab where I experienced the casualty of spilling the powder product :)… I finally make it to chapter three and it brings me to a crawl and after lines and lines of conversions, balancing, and solving reactions I am thinking I need more practice for this exam that is right around the corner!