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Category Archives: growing up

30th Annual Connecticut Invention Convention

Yesterday was the 30th Annual Invention Convention at the University of Connecticut (UConn) Storrs campus.

Approximately 690 inventors ages kindergarten through 8th grade.  320 or so adults, all engineers, scientists, educators, and business people, gave up an incredibly beautiful early May morning to judge and inspire the young inventors.  Tens of volunteers.  Overall, thousands of people.

Folks in the United States recognize UConn as a basketball powerhouse.  The women’s basketball team just won the NCAA national tournament, its 8th… which is a staggering number for any college basketball program, men or women.

What’s the relationship?

The basketball teams compete in the Gampel Pavilion on the UConn Storrs campus.  The state wide Invention Convention also takes place in the Gampel.

If you haven’t been there, it is breathtaking to see all of the posters and banners celebrating all of the successes of both teams.  Just walking in you feel the building oozing success and achievement… athletic achievement.

But on Saturday, 690 kids got a different message: ACADEMIC achievement, creativity and innovation, were just as worthy of celebration.

The Connecticut Invention Convention is made possible by the Connecticut Invention Convention non-profit in conjunction with the UConn School of Engineering and is supported by Connecticut firms.

If you’d like to learn more about this incredible program, please see the website (www.ctinventionconvention.org) and/or contact me!

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SCIESF epilogue

Just a quick note to say how amazing it was to judge the SCIESF again (see my previous post on judging at SCIESF).

And what’s not to like? I get to see friends again and I get to immerse myself in science topics I would not otherwise look into deeply.

It was also an opportunity to meet some incredible students.  I’m always fascinated to hear the stories what led them to their research:

  • In one case, it was a students fascination withBioluminescence that led him to pursue optogenetics and find a mentor at Yale University
  • In another, it was a group of students answering a STEM challenge set forth by Sikorsky Aircraft
  • One student wanted to pursue forensics, but didn’t like blood and gore so she thought pursuing document forensics was more her suit
  • Another, it was the pursuit of the basic mechanisms that cause cancer
  • And yet another the research was the end point of three years in understanding the mechanisms of gene expression.

My hats of to these student, their teachers, mentors, and parents.  The pursuit of science, in all of these cases at a college or even post-graduate level, meant that these students had been lead to understand the value of understanding complex systems, communication and cooperation with others, and hard work.

I am wondering which will be a Nobel laureate.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2012 in education, growing up, innovation, learning, thought

 

Southern Connecticut Invitational Engineering and Science Fair Judging

This will be a brief post… but I’m really excited about judging the Southern Connecticut Invitational Engineering and Science Fair tomorrow.  Here’s the research I’ll be judging.  I’d like to remind you that this is the research of Southern Connecticut high school students, even though it is most often at a bachelor’s or sometimes even graduate level.

  • Optogenetic Interrogation of Prefrontal Cortex Dopamine D1 Receptor-Containing Neurons as a Technique to Restore Timing: A Novel Approach to Treat Prefrontal Disorders
    • I don’t know much about it yet, but I’m reading like crazy.  Found a great website that describes optogenetics
  • The Effect of Carbohydrate Inhibitor Tris-HCl on Creating Ketogenic Diet Conditions to Treat Epilepsy
    • Cool, I’ve been on a ketogenic diet, so I know a little bit of what is going on here.  I never knew that ketone bodies replace glucose as an energy source when passed through the brain and that apparently glucose in the brain can trigger epilepsy.
  • Sikorsky STEM Challenge
    • Designing an engine mount for a WWII F4U Corsair carrier based fighter airplane… Tim Allen cool! (cue his famous grunting noise…) Never flown in a Corsair, but I’ve been up-close and personal with one!
  • Individual Characteristic Analysis of Stamps Retrieved From Scanned Documents
    • Something I’ve actually studied while I was at Pitney Bowes. I’m actually a co-inventor of a patent in this area (7,889,885).
  • Creating a Cre/Lox Barcoding System: A Potential Breakthrough in Tracking the Heterogeneity of Glioblastoma Multiform
    • Just learned a lot about Cre/Lox recombination (thank you Wikipedia) and apparently this research is about using it to understand the performance of Glioblastoma Multiform, the most common and malignant form of primary intracranial tumor.
  • Finding the Optimal AlphaScreen Conditions for SMCX, a Histone Demethylas
    • Last thing to study tonight… AlphaScreen is a novel proximity-based assay developed by Connecticut’s PerkinElmer to measure gene expression and methylation. Methylation either promotes or silences gene expression, which of course can lead to either causing or stopping cancer. This research led to understanding the optimal conditions for this important test.

If you’d like to see a listing of all the projects, they can be found right here.

Unfortunately, Trumbull High School doesn’t participate in this event.  I wish it did.

And to my previous blog entry on the cost of today’s education… I’m quite certain that funding “just the basics” would not have allowed the participating school districts to create these opportunities for high school students.  And isn’t it important to our future that these opportunities are afforded students who want the challenge? Isn’t allowing students to pursue challenges where tomorrow leaders come from?  High school challenges come in many forms besides athletics.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in education, growing up, innovation, learning, taxes, thought

 

All they need is farming and military service… really?

I live in Trumbull, Connecticut.  Like virtually all municipalities, the town is forced with making difficult decisions about what parts of the budget to fund. And, again as in most municipalities, the school budget is a very large part of the overall budget.

Last night our first selectman (mayor, to those outside of Connecticut) held a town wide meeting on the budget.

Shocked, I read the following report on the meeting from an article in the town’s weekly newspaper, the Trumbull Times: “Carmen Denicola also urged financial restraint. He said he had lived in town long enough to remember when Trumbull High graduates ‘had only two choices, farming or the service.’

“Denicola said his generation had been raised differently than children of today.

“‘I see a lot of spoiled kids at the high school,’ he said. ‘Young people with children need to tighten their belt a little bit. You don’t need everything, you need the basics. With the basics you can do anything.'”

Honestly, all I can say is that this logic scares me. It scares me that someone would actually think this and it scares me even more that someone would actually say this in a public forum.

Tomorrow I’ll be judging at the Southern Connecticut Invitational Science and Engineering Fair. There I will see high school students who are working with college professors to research Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, and genetic defects, to name a few of their projects.

I’m also on the board of directors of the Connecticut Invention Convention which provides a curriculum and competition around innovation to over 100 K-8 schools in Connecticut. One of last year’s winning inventors, a seventh grader, has created a lollipop that is particularly effective in curing hiccups especially for cancer patients on chemotherapy… and she was recently invited to ring the bell on the NYSE.

While I’m not advocating fiscal waste, I recognize that an education that allows children to reach for the today’s future in an increasing complicated world comes with a price.  That price is more than when children were taught enough to be farmers and soldiers.  And that education is necessary because our children, OUR COUNTRY, is competing on a bigger world stage than back then.

For some, it appears, that the American Dream of wanting better for our children is dead if the children are not their own. It is my sincere hope that this is not held by the majority of my Baby Boomer cohort.  We need today’s children, tomorrow’s adults, to be better, to have more than just the basics, so that we are ALL better.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in demographics, education, growing up, innovation, taxes

 

Up, up, and away…

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in weather balloons.  Truth be told, I’m still a little bit of a weather geek.

In middle school, my friend and I ordered away for a surplus radiosonde.  A radiosonde is an electronic instrument that is either carried into the atmosphere by a balloon or dropped by a weather observing plane.  In either case, the instrument sends weather information (typically pressure, temperature, and humidity) at various heights in the atmosphere to ground based receivers.  The receivers track the travel of the instrument to determine the winds aloft.

The radiosonde we got was one that was to be dropped from an airplane. When we opened it, we saw a cardboard canister on top of the instrument with a metal cap and a pull ring, much like you’d find on a hand grenade, taped down.  In bright red letters appeared a warning: “Danger! Explosive force!”

We knew this came from a military surplus outlet, so we took this warning seriously.  We called the police and asked what we should do… and here’s where the fun begins.  They said that we would need to safely discharge this by placing the unit on one side of a structure, such as a garage, tying a rope to the ring, and throw the rope over the roof of the structure to the opposite side.  Once protected by the building, we could safely pull the rope, thus pulling the pin, and release the explosive force.

It should be obvious, by now, that the police knew exactly what we had and that it wasn’t dangerous… because if it had been, they would have been there immediately.

Well, that wasn’t so obvious to my friend and me. After all, this is what the POLICE had told us we needed to do.  We arranged the instrument and device as recommended. It was on one side of our garage and we were on the other.  Just as we were about to pull the rope, my mother came to the back door to see what we were doing.  We explained what the police said.  With a very concerned look on her face, she said go ahead, because she didn’t have any other ideas on how to safely discharge the thing… and, it is what the POLICE had told us.

We pulled the rope… and we heard a whirling sound like that which would be emitted from a wind-up toy.  And then, “SPRONG!” was the sound of a spring being decompressed.

We raced to the other side of the garage to find the metal cap originally on the top of the canister, lying on the ground.  Now revealed to us was a large spring, like what one might find in a spring mattress, connected to the cap.  It was connected to a piece of silk cloth that was folded into what we discovered was a drogue parachute.  The way the mechanism worked was then obvious:

  • The person on the airplane would pull the pin and toss the radiosonde out the airplane.
  • The timer would assure the instrument got far enough away from the airplane before deploying the parachute.  If the parachute deployed immediately, it might get caught up in the airplane.
  • The cap would pop off, pulling out the drogue parachute which would pull out the main parachute.
  • The instrument would float to earth and send the weather data.

We never launched the radiosonde, but we learned a lot about how they worked.  We took it apart and studied the electronics and mechanics.  It was fascinating.

Looking back, you can understand why the warning was there: if you pulled the pin and this thing went off, you could have been seriously whacked in the face… but that’s about it.  The spring wasn’t that strong: it could be compressed with one hand. In fact, we’d put the thing back together and show others how it worked by pulling the pin and watching the top spring off.

Fast forward to today. With the advent of cheap cameras, GPS, and disposable cell phones, there have been A LOT of folks who have created their own weather balloons experiments.  It is so popular that Citi even featured this in one of their commercials:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVRLGOFBQhY

So I’ve started to think about inexpensive ways to get started with my decades old dream.  Perhaps the old fashion way: Launch a bunch of balloons with prepaid postcards and see what people find and comes back?

That got me wondering about the ecological impact of this idea.  The web to the rescue!  It turns out that latex balloons are really not that bad for the environment: being made of tree sap, they decompose at the same rate as a tree leaf.  (http://www.balloonrelease.com/faqs.htm).

Another thing for the bucket list…

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in bucket list, growing up, learning, weather

 

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