Guest Repost: “A Chemical Imbalance- Gender and Chemistry in Academia” by Biochem Belle
Aug13

Guest Repost: “A Chemical Imbalance- Gender and Chemistry in Academia” by Biochem Belle

I'm pleased to bring you another guest re-post from Biochem Belle. She's previously shared her writings about letting up on the pressures we place on ourselves in science professions. This time, her post is about A Chemical Imbalance, a new 15-minute documentary that looks at gender parity in academe through the lens of one university. This post originally appeared at Biochem Belle's blog, Ever On & On. As an undergrad preparing for med school, I fell in love with chemistry, thanks in large part to a quirky gen chem professor. He convinced me that a biochem major would be great for pre-med. That department became my home for 3 years. It was fantastic, and I found my true interest in science. And I never felt that there was anything unusual about being a woman pursuing chemistry. In grad school, that changed. I've often wondered what flipped the switch. Perhaps the first clue was the fellowship offer that had the goal of increasing representation of women and minorities in the field. That initiated higher awareness of the disparities in my field, which expanded as I talked to peers and just took a look around. There were several women in my grad school class (going through the group in my head, 10 years later, I think we were pushing 40%). But at the time, there was one woman on tenure-track in the department. Another joined the department after my first year. Scanning through the faculty listings today, my undergrad department (undergrad focus with M.S. and small Ph.D. programs) is more than 25% women; my grad program looks to be around 10-15%. My Ph.D. department is fairly representative of the faculty breakdown in physical sciences, according to the most recent NSF data. Life sciences perform better, with about 30% female faculty. Across disciplines, it's not just that there are far fewer female faculty, but they earn less than their male colleagues. This phenomenon is not restricted to the US. A Chemical Imbalance is a short documentary and e-book looking at the history of female chemists at the University of Edinburgh. In the UK, less than 10% of STEM faculty are women. The Department of Chemistry at Edinburgh boasts 25%. The film, less than 15 minutes long, looks at the milestones of the department's female faculty. It also takes a brief look at the two big questions: Why do numbers of women in the faculty ranks remain low (and drop off further at upper levels), and what should be done to change the landscape? The creators provide four action points for a start. Here's why I think they matter. Monitor our numbers. Paying...

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Guest Post: “Google Glass and Twitter for Chemistry Education” by Arash Soheili
Aug06

Guest Post: “Google Glass and Twitter for Chemistry Education” by Arash Soheili

Today’s guest post is from Arash Soheili, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center. As curator of the Twitter account @Total_Synthesis, which is turning 2 this month, no new total synthesis in the journals escapes his watchful eye. He’s passionate about teaching chemistry. And we’re jealous of him because he got to visit Google’s NYC offices to pick up his very own Google Glass. Check out his tech musings at Android Cowboy. I love organic chemistry and have been practicing it in academia and industry for over a decade. I’m also a huge fan of technology and strongly believe that there is a place for it in chemistry education. In fact, I would even say that in the next decade it will become a necessity to incorporate technology as part of the formal teaching toolkit. That process is already happening informally with so many educational videos on YouTube from enthusiasts and educators. But so many technology tools are constantly changing and it will take a strong effort on educators to find the methods that work best. Just like running an experiment in the lab, it will take planning, as well as some trial and error, to get the best results. My personal experience with chemistry and education started about two years ago. I wanted to find a way to reach more people and introduce new and interesting topics in chemistry using existing social networks. My passion for natural product synthesis led me to start a total synthesis Twitter feed. I check all the major organic chemistry journals daily and tweet any completed total synthesis of a natural product that I find. If you are interested in natural product synthesis then you can easily follow the Twitter feed and be up to date. You can also join the conversation by using the hashtag #totalsynthesis. The idea was very simple, but it had yet to be executed. Now in two years there are close to 1000 followers and it serves as an archive of over 400 natural product syntheses in all the major journals. This information would be hard to collect and very laborious using the typical search methods like Google, ACS, SciFinder, etc. It is an idea that can be duplicated for any other topic of interest in science and can be even tried in a formal class setting. Similar ideas include the online Twitter #chemclub by Andrew Bissette. Social media tools are far from the only game in town. Hardware tools have huge potential for application in chemistry education. One example is Google Glass which is basically a head mounted computer with the ability to...

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CSI: Dognapping at Sandia
Jan13

CSI: Dognapping at Sandia

I spent Monday, January 10, at Sandia’s Advanced Materials Laboratory, in Albuquerque, to witness a unique outreach program that has been an annual weeklong event for the past several years. The lab invites several groups of 4th graders for a chemical magic show that supposedly culminates in a dog doing chemical magic tricks. But just before the dog takes the stage, its handlers discover that it has gone missing. And so a two-hour program of 4th graders just watching staged gee-whiz chemistry becomes a multipronged science-driven activity aimed at figuring out who stole the dog. Here's how the program began: With kids properly garbed for a chemical magic show, AML researcher Bernadette Hernandez-Sanchez welcomes them and introduces the warm-up act of four demonstrators competing for the best magic trick: Sarah Hoppe mixes rainbow water, Diane Dickie performs clock reaction, Alia Saad creates fake snow, and Kari Monroe makes elephant toothpaste. Then must come the main event, but Lucy, the chemical magic dog is missing. AML scientist Tim Boyle suspects that one of the visiting kids kidnapped Lucy. This amateur video captures the program up to this point. Beware: Many parts are jumpy and can make you dizzy. To determine who took Lucy, every boy and girl must give a fingerprint, a footprint, and a voice sample. The data are compared with the fingerprint, voiceprint, and footprint gathered from the crime scene, and all kids are exonerated. But where is Lucy? Tim Boyle asks the kids to investigate the case of the missing dog. But first they must take an oath to be sworn in as junior scientists. The enthusiasm at swearing-in, led by University New Mexico chemistry professor and Sandia scientist Richard Kemp, is ear-piercing: Now the junior scientists are ready to examine the evidence at the crime scene. The lab has four suspects, and the junior scientists must figure out whodunit by examining the evidence at six science stations. Using what they are told about the suspects and what they learn at each station, they associate each piece of evidence to all likely suspects. Eventually, they nail the culprit from the preponderance of evidence correlating with him or her. Here are some scenes from the science stations. At the Powder Lab, they examine the white powder at the crime scene, they prepare a material called Yuck, and they learn about non-Newtonian fluids, which behave like a solid when something hits them with force but like a liquid when handled gently. At the pH Station, they examine the yellow spill at the crime scene, use cabbage juice as pH indicator, and learn about acids and bases. At the Glow...

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Advancing STEM Education
Apr05

Advancing STEM Education

This guest editorial is by Ted Kaufman, Democratic senator from Delaware. This is a critical moment in our nation's history, with great opportunities that require innovative solutions. Engineers and scientists will be at the center of revolutionizing our approaches to deciphering these crucial issues: how we produce and consume energy, revitalize our health care system, and maintain our nation's security. I am honored to be a U.S. senator at this time in our history, but even more so to be a U.S. senator who is an engineer. That's because I believe the key to the future of our country—and the world—rests on our ability to use science, technology, engineering, and math, the four STEM subjects, to solve the biggest problems we face. Solving those problems, of course, will in turn create the jobs of tomorrow. We don't know where the next generation of innovation will come from. That is the nature of innovation. But we must have a national innovation policy, one that generates greater interest in STEM and actually leads to the training and graduation of more scientists and engineers. The numbers state loudly and clearly why this need is more pressing than ever. In 1985, for example, 77,572 individuals received bachelor's degrees in engineering—the highest number ever recorded. In 2007, however, that number had fallen to 68,274. This precipitous decline occurred at the same time that the total number of undergraduate degrees rose to 1,541,704 from 990,877. This trend must be reversed. There are four things the federal government can do, and is doing with bipartisan support, to promote STEM education. First, we can build a new generation of engineers through policies that promote STEM education. To help see this through, in February I joined a bipartisan group of senators to introduce the Engineering Education for Innovation Act—or the "E-Squared" for Innovation Act. This legislation authorizes the secretary of education to award competitive planning and implementation grants to states for the purpose of integrating engineering education into K–12 instruction and curriculum. Second, we can promote policies that encourage women and underrepresented minorities to pursue careers in engineering. Women earn 58% of all bachelor's degrees, but they constitute only 18.5% of those awarded in engineering. African Americans hold only 4.6% of bachelor's degrees awarded in engineering, and Hispanic Americans only 7.2%. We can and must do better. Last year, another bipartisan group of 13 senators joined me in asking the Appropriations Committee for more funding to help increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities from rural areas in STEM fields. The Agriculture Appropriations bill, which was signed into law last October, includes $400,000 to fund research and...

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