The Science Rap Academy Wants You To Read Those Cleaning Labels

The Science Rap Academy of the Nueva School, guided by West Coast science rap impresario Tom McFadden, released its latest single on Wednesday (as it has done each Wednesday in June).  Improving on a Justin Bieber ditty (“What Do You Mean?”), “What Do You Clean?” wants listeners to take a closer look at those labels.

The latest session of the Science Rap Academy ends next Wednesday, but any and all releases are available on the YouTube.


National Maker Faire Returns To Washington

Tomorrow and Sunday, June 17 and 18, is when the second National Maker Faire takes place at the University of the District of Columbia.  It is the biggest event of the National Week of Making, which started today.  Tickets are required, but they are free.

The Maker Faire will have demonstrations and presentations from makers and people supporting and studying making.  The schedule is packed, even moreso than last year.  There are also workshop opportunities, which may require a small additional fee.  Attendees can also see some  of the cutting edge research facilities at the University.

The Week of Making provides the Obama Administration the opportunity to announce several government and private sector commitments that has some connection to providing maker spaces or otherwise supporting technology education.  The White House has a full list of these commitments available online (and a more detailed fact sheet), but here are a few that drew my interest:

  • Over 1400 K-12 schools have committed to having a maker space available for their students.
  • A trend of having libraries serve as maker spaces, encouraged by programs like the Education Department’s Future Ready initiative, and the efforts of many public and private organizations to utilize recreation centers, libraries and similar spaces to support making.
  • Agencies making an effort to help makers navigate their funding (NSF, NIST) or regulatory (FDA) procedures.
  • The continued efforts of longstanding making organizations like Maker Media, to spread the word.  The tour headed by Adam Savage could be very interesting, especially if it manages to reach beyond the making audience that already follows the former MythBusters host and his projects.

Most can’t make it to Washington for the weekend Maker Faire.  There are also a number of events taking place across the country (and not limited to the official Week of Making).  Feel free to check the calendar for something happening near you.


New Sponsor For Major Science Fair Announced

On Thursday the Society for Science and the Public (SSP) announced a replacement for the sponsor for its Science Talent Search, which has been sponsored by Intel since 1998.  Regeneron Pharmaceuticals reached an agreement for a 10-year, $100 million sponsorship commitment that will start with the competition cycle that begins in 2017. This is a large annual increase from Intel’s support, which was $6 million per year.  Besides increasing the prize money, the sponsorship support will include outreach to young researchers that have been underrepresented in science fairs.

Regeneron is the third company to sponsor the 75 year old competition, after Westinghouse and Intel.  The company is led by two alumni of the Science Talent Search, the Founder/Chief Executive Officer and the Chief Scientific Officer, and has supported many local science fairs in the past.

The progression of sponsorship from a company that focused on mechanical and electrical products (Westinghouse) to a computer company (Intel) to a biotechnology company (Regeneron) may reflect the changing focus of top science fair projects, but I disagree with Neil deGrasse Tyson that it’s such a surprise that Intel is looking elsewhere.  (It’s worth noting that Intel remains a sponsor of SSP’s international science fair competition – at least through 2019).  Intel has focused more on maker fairs and competitions that are more closely linked to the kinds of products the company produces.  It’s tough to argue that the company is no longer interested in supporting new scientists and engineers when it sponsored a million-dollar competition and associated television show.

I think the bigger challenge relates to the welcome news that part of Regeneron’s support will be outreach to those young people that aren’t participating in science fairs.  Science writer Carl Zimmer described this problem well in recounting his experience with his daughter’s science fair project and how it really could only get done because of his contacts with scientists.  In other words, if you don’t have access to professional scientists, you are at a serious disadvantage.  Which significantly reduces the impact programs like science fairs can have in finding the next generations of scientists and engineers.  Meaning that the increased annual investment in Science Talent Search probably doesn’t go as far as it could.

Attention Kids: White House Wants Your Science And Technology Input

At last month’s White House Science Fair, Jacob Leggette, one of the young people who presented their work to President Obama, suggested that the President have a kid science adviser.  President Obama was taken by the suggestion enough to mention in his remarks at the Fair.

Now there’s been some follow up.  While it’s probably not exactly what Jacob had in mind, the White House is seeking input from kid about science, technology, engineering and math.  Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren posted today that the White House wants to hear two things from kids:

What is your favorite thing about science, technology, engineering or math?

What one idea would you pitch the President about to make our country work better using science or technology?

The White House is taking comments until June 17.  No word in the post about how these ideas might be synthesized by the Administration and/or communicated back to the public.

While the post is written for an audience of kid scientists and innovators, I think any kid could (and should) submit his or her ideas.

National Academy Of Science Getting Popular With Its Public Welfare Medal

On Sunday, during its 153rd Annual meeting, the National Academy of Sciences will present several awards.  Among them is the Public Welfare Medal, which honors ‘extraordinary use of science for the public good.’

This year the Academy is awarding the medal to Alan Alda.  The actor has a long history of working with science and scientists, dating back to at least his stint hosting Scientific American Frontiers from 1993-2005.  Besides hosting that program, which ran on PBS, he has hosted other science programs, and performed and wrote scientifically themed plays.  He is the face of The Flame Challenge, which tests the ability of scientists to communicate concepts to young kids.  In what spare time he has Alda is Visiting Professor at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at the Stony Brook University.

This marks the second year in a row the Public Welfare Medal has recognized the work of someone engaged in public science.  Last year Neil deGrasse Tyson was recognized for his work in science education and science entertainment.  That the award came the year after Tyson hosted the 2014 edition of COSMOS is not likely a coincidence.  Especially since Carl Sagan, who hosted the 1980 edition, also received the Public Welfare Medal (but not until 1994).

Two data points do not make a trend, and with only three recipients in 102 years having this kind of connection to popular culture, I don’t expect to see the MythBusters recognized with the Public Welfare Medal any time soon.  (Besides, such recognition would make more sense coming from the National Academy of Engineering, which doesn’t have a comparable medal.)

Congratulations to Alan Alda, who could make a lovely acceptance speech on Sunday.  Until *that* video becomes available, you can watch Tyson’s acceptance speech from 2015.

Bioethics Commission Looking Retrospectively In Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Commission) will be in Washington, D.C. on May 3.  There is one more Commission meeting scheduled after the May meeting, and that may be the last Commission meeting before it finishes its work (and President Obama leaves office).

I base that in part on this Federal Register notice the Commission released last month (which states the Commission has two more meetings) and on the agenda for the May 5th meeting.  That agenda is focused on the past, present and future influence of national bioethics advisory bodies.  The Commission will discuss the topic with several academics and the head of the Commission’s Mexican counterpart, CONBIOÉTICA.

The Commission is also interested in input from you.  The Federal Register notice the Commission released last month was a request for comments on:

  • The advantages and disadvantages of different models for national bioethics advisory bodies, e.g., standing or temporary, narrowly or broadly focused (examining one topic or issue or a variety of issues);
  • The lessons we can learn from national bodies in other countries to inform how U.S. bodies might work;
  • The influence of national bioethics bodies on bioethics as a field; other academic fields, such as science, medicine, and technology; and public policy;
  • The future of national bioethics advisory groups in the United States.

Comments must be received by July 1.

Presumably the Commission is consulting with the International Network for Governmental Science Advice (INGSA), I certainly think that INGSA would be interested in the comments and any reports or other documents to come from them and the meeting on May 5th.

Last White House Science Fair Takes Place Next Month

Today the White House announced that April 13th will be the date of the last White House Science Fair for the Obama Administration.  These events bring some of the hundreds of students in primary and secondary grades doing interesting work in science and technology to the White House.  While no official listing is out for this year, past Science Fairs have had online coverage featuring segments with notable scientists, engineers and science communicators.

President Obama was the first President to host a White House Science Fair, and of all the science and technology education promotion this Administration has done, this is probably the most fun.  I wish there were more science and technology activities hosted by the government that had a sense of fun.  For better or for worse, I think all credit for this sense of fun goes to the President, and even if there is another White House Science Fair, it won’t be the same.

The administration’s sixth Science Fair will take place at the White House on April 13th, and the White House wants to hear from young scientists and engineers about their science fair projects.  If you’d like to share, visit this website and fill out the form by 5 p.m. Eastern time on April 5th.