Paige

CodeBreak COVID-19?

Can supercomputers and scientists crack the code?

Hidden in white coats in labs across the world are some of the “unknown front line” workers, otherwise known as researchers and scientists, who hold the keys to fighting the novel coronavirus. More than 25 United States-based supercomputers are now available for free to scientists searching for a vaccine or treatment against the virus. A simple phone call made five weeks ago by IBM, set a groundbreaking worldwide movement in motion with the research industry, academia and government uniting to combat the COVID-19 crisis through these sophisticated super computers.

Within a few short days of IBM’s call to the White House, the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium was created. “IBM is co-leading the effort with the U.S. Department of Energy, which operates the National Laboratories of the United States. Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have joined, as well as NASA, the National Science Foundation, Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and six National Labs—Lawrence Livermore, Lawrence Berkeley, Argonne, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Sandia, and others. And then there are academic institutions, including MIT; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; the University of Texas, Austin; and the University of California, San Diego,” said Scientific American.

With the quick spread of this highly contagious disease, researchers are against the clock to find a cure. By using the supercomputers to run countless scientific calculations, researchers and scientists are able to drastically cut the time to discover new molecules that could ultimately lead to a vaccine. Right now, scientists from all over the world are trying to understand the entire life-cycle of the virus and then use computer modeling to see how it can disrupt its progression. Because the virus has been infecting humans for months now, there are an abundance of samples for computer modeling and analysis.

The science world has more tools at its disposal during this pandemic than ever before. With data, supercomputers and artificial intelligence, scientists are looking to create an era of accelerated discovery that has never been seen before in this era of human history. This joint effort shows us now, more than ever, how much we need each other and that by working together, we can truly change the world.

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At-Home STEM: Escape Rooms

I got locked in an Escape Room with my kids…and we all lived to tell about it!

Escape rooms are all the rage right now, and I participated in one a couple of years ago with my mom and my siblings (and a man and his son that we didn’t know). Doing escape rooms with family members has its pros and cons, but for the most part we worked well together and escaped the room (although I’m pretty sure we needed a few extra minutes, which the owners kindly gave us).While normally I would do anything and everything to avoid getting locked up with my pubescent boys (who are under 11 months apart in age), this was actually an incredible experience for all of us. Escape rooms are a fantastic way to teach STEM concepts and critical thinking skills under the guise of a game. I was able to watch my boys work together, problem solve, and deal with “failure” by trying new tactics.

I ordered this one on Amazon, and it was definitely a good beginner game for us. Once I knew they enjoyed it, I proceeded to order another couple online that I could print from home. We haven’t done those yet, but we plan to do them this weekend.

We started out by opening the box and investigating the contents. There was a sheet with instructions, a large “note card”, a wheel that included dials and symbols, and several sealed envelopes. As instructed, we read the first note card with the instructions and the back story. And don’t worry: clues and even the solutions are provided online if you get stuck.

The first card basically had instructions on how to use the enclosed wheel to “solve” each puzzle and move on to the next envelope.

Just like a “destination” escape room, we had to use every piece of the game we had access to in order to search for clues. So we might find clues on the outside of the last envelope that we needed to solve the second puzzle.

We actually had to look up a clue one time because my boys were getting frustrated. The way the clues are provided is nice because you have to click to uncover it. That way you don’t accidentally see a clue or solution you don’t want to.

 

And because I know you’re dying to know whether or not we made it out…

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COVID-19 and the Environment this Earth Day

One of our associates Chris and his daughter participate in in the 50 trees for Earth Day 50

Today, on the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day we are reflecting on how the world has changed since learning of COVID-19. As a majority of people around the world shelter in place with a common goal of containing the virus and reducing the death toll, there have been some unexpected changes in nature – one being a decrease in emissions.

In places like New York, levels of pollution have reduced by nearly 50 percent because of measures put in place to control the spread of the virus. Since Europe has been under extreme lockdown, experts say carbon dioxide emissions have dropped by as much as 20 percent, and the hole in the ozone layer is repairing.

While emissions are decreasing, it’s because nobody is traveling, going to work, eating out or buying things to protect people from a global pandemic that is claiming people’s lives – but it’s also devastating the economy. This isn’t a long-term, or viable, environmental solution.

Throughout this pandemic, we have learned about vulnerabilities in our economic and social systems. We’ve seen large and small businesses struggling and families stretched to their brink.  While some of these changes might be temporary, the most important thing we can do is to learn valuable lessons that will help us in the future, and hopefully find a silver lining.

One of these things is how we approach the way we look at our environment. We’re now seeing how a zero sum game – pitting the economy against the environment – plays out in real time, and it’s not pretty.

So how do we take a step back and look for that crucial silver lining? How do we learn from this crisis on Earth Day and move forward with the lessons we’ve learned? More importantly, how does CEEF help play a role?

First, the silver-lining: as we have witnessed, ecological systems are able to bounce back when given a chance, so looking at things with a more pragmatic approach is key. Second, pitting outcomes against each other always ends in disaster – like we’re seeing now. So how do we create more harmony between both?

That starts with the generations of kids that are working their way through our elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools as we speak. They have the ability, through science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to create the next wave of technology we’ll use to not only help our environment, but keep our economy running.

This is why it is so crucial to champion our youth – to get them excited about subjects and companies that are helping to pave the way towards a brighter future with amazing innovations! And they’re all around us.

But perhaps more importantly, maybe we can use this time to reflect on the fact that when we bond together in times of crisis to solve problems creatively, we have a better shot at changing the world – and ourselves. If we can reflect on these changes together, while applying all of our creativity, we will truly transform our planet without so much human suffering.

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Salt Art Chemistry

(Posted by Anne Seneca, CEEF Director of Marketing)

My middle kid Claire, is always looking for fun new ways to utilize her art cart. This well-loved cart is filled to the brim with markers, crayons, colored pencils, paint, clay, shrinky dinks, scissors, chalk, craft punches, yarn…you name it. If you can craft it, we’ve done it.

Since being on lockdown, we’re always looking for new ways to get our crafting wiggles out – and learn at the same time! So today we introduced a new art medium to the ever overflowing art cart: salt.

The technique of “Salt Art” has been around for a long time, and it’s a super fun way to utilize materials you already have around the house. It’s also a colorful way to introduce your at-home artists to the chemistry involved with this project, while capitalizing the “A” in “STEAM”! We popped over to A Dab of Glue Will Do for inspiration.

For this STEAM project, you’ll need the following materials:

Materials

  • Mixed media paper like cardstock (we used stiff foam board)
  • Pencil
  • Glue
  • Table salt
  • Watercolor paints
  • Paint brush
  • Cup with water

Start by sketching out your project shapes. Claire chose to do a STEAM themed board!

Salt Art

When you’re drawing is ready, pipe over your pencil marks with glue. Claire used a flat tipped bottle for the larger drawings and a smaller tip for going over finer lines.

salt art

Once your board is glued up, shake salt all over the glue. Make sure you shake, shake, shake to cover it all! No shiny spots should show.

Let the glue and salt sit for at least 30 seconds before you shake off the excess salt to reveal your new crystallized artwork.

Now you can start “painting”! Dip your paintbrush in a little bit of color and a splash of water. Gently dot along the glue lines and watch the watercolor instantly get absorbed by the salt. Cool!

Why does this happen?

The salt absorbs the water. Salt is hygroscopic, which means it can absorb both liquid water and water vapor in the air. There are many other hygroscopic substances around, including wood, clay, and wool. And have you ever found one of those “silica gel packets” in food or a shoe box? That substance is also hygroscopic and is placed there to absorb moisture so your products don’t get ruined.

See the example below:

Enjoy this fun STEAM activity at home today!

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At-Home STEM Activities

Outdoor STEMJust because school’s out, it doesn’t mean the learning should stop. As health and safety concerns have more people opting to stay home, we’ve curated a guide of fun-filled, educational activities that don’t require leaving the house. Check out these hands-on activities that will keep your students engaged and entertained with science, technology, engineering and math.

 Creative STEM activities

Learning to think outside the box and use deductive reasoning are just a few key problem-solving skills students learn from STEM. Exploring trial and error techniques teaches students to overcome challenges and provides the opportunity to celebrate little victories. These activities from Little Bins for Little Hands use household items to bring learning home.

  • Catapult Challenge: Using rubber bands, pencils, marshmallows, LEGO, popsicle sticks and more, kids can learn about physics while creating a catapult that will double as an educational toy.
  • Balloon Rocket: Race to the finish using a balloon, a straw and string while exploring Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion (or here for a simpler explanation).
  • 100 Cup Tower Challenge: Learn the fundamentals of engineering as kids see what it takes to strategically balance and stack 100 cups.
  • Build Structures: Using toothpicks and candy or other supplies, kids will become junior architects building towers and bridges.

Energized STEM activities

Just because you’re staying home doesn’t mean you can’t be active. These motion-powered projects are the perfect way for kids to release some energy while learning about sports science. The best part is that these activities from the Science Buddies Hands-on Project Survival Guide don’t require too much space and can be done inside a large room or in the backyard.

Slime STEM activities

Learning about polymers is a sticky science but these recipes from STEM Powered Family make it easy and memorable. From potions that change color with heat to learning about magnetism with “troll bogeys” to edible marshmallow play dough, each concoction teaches a different lesson. For easy, ready-to-use slime kits and other STEM toys, check out KiwiCo’s spring break sale.

Computer Coding for kids

As technology becomes an increasingly important part of everyday life, coding is no longer a skill just used by computer scientists. Basic computer coding is used in a wide variety of careers and according to Tech News World, “coding is a necessary literacy in the technological age.” Take advantage of this time to help your student get ahead with Tynker Coding for Kids. You can also find “unplugged” coding activities (as well as many others) on our Energy Day site.

STEM movie marathon

Turn your living room into a mini movie theater, complete with popcorn and other snacks, before breaking out the STEM-inspired cinemas. From astronauts to science fiction to inspired female heroes, here are a few favorites:

  • “Flubber”
  • “Back to the Future”
  • “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”
  • “Tomorrowland”
  • “Big Hero 6” – Check out these science activities, like making oobleck, inspired by the movie.
  • “The LEGO Movie”
  • “Wreck It Ralph”
  • Hidden Figures”
  • “Apollo 13”
  • “Spare Parts”
  • “The Martian”
  • “Interstellar”

Make your own hand sanitizer

If you’re concerned about hand sanitizer shortages, here’s an easy scientific solution; make your own! Simply whisk together 2/3 cup rubbing alcohol and 1/3 cup aloe vera. An optional step is to add vitamin E to make it softer. The World Health Organization (WHO) has official instructions for making your own sanitizer, so just be aware that anything short of this may not actually work well to fight COVID-19. The CDC actually recommends washing hands over using hand sanitizer, but this is helpful for the times when you can’t wash your hands.

Apply for a STEM scholarship

The Energy Day Academic Program provides opportunities for students and teachers to earn a number of STEM scholarships and awards. In celebration of the 10th anniversary of Energy Day, we’ve kicked off our Energy Day 2020 Media Contest. Teachers and students can win up to $300 for producing a short video and/or designing an Energy Day mascot. All entries must be submitted by May 31.

Our friends at Texas Girls Collaborative Project have an ongoing list of resources  Mommy Poppins and Science Bob also have fantastic ideas for activities for all ages.

Check out additional opportunities in Houston and Colorado.

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At-Home STEM: Homemade (Antibacterial) Putty

At-Home STEM

Does this look like a kid who is bored at home and hates learning? Admittedly, I don’t do as many experiments and activities as I’d like to do with my kids, but this one was so easy! I really didn’t do anything except take the pictures. There was a total of about 10 minutes between the time my kids said they wanted to do the activity and us actually finishing.

We’ve made ALL the slime recipes, and we love messing with Oobleck in our house, but let’s face it: most of that stuff gets pretty messy. This experiment is not only quick and simple, but you probably have the TWO ingredients at home right now. And here’s the BONUS: if you use antibacterial soap, you’re getting your kids to clean their hands without them realizing it (super important during this COVID-19 situation).

I originally found this activity on Mommy Poppins and followed a link to this site. Because it looked so easy and I had the ingredients (usually the biggest issue when my kids find something online they want to try), I immediately went into the kitchen with my boys and got out the necessary materials.

Materials

Corn Starch
Dish Soap (colored soap makes colored putty)
measuring spoons
a small bowl
a spoon to mix the ingredients (not pictured)

Directions

Start by adding 1.5 TBSP of dish soap to your bowl.
add soap
Next add 2 TBSP of corn starch to the soap.
add corn starch
Stir them together.
stir ingredients
If your mix is too runny (which was the case with ours), add a bit more corn starch. Alternatively, if your mix is too dry, add more soap. Note that it doesn’t take much of either to change the consistency, so add a little at a time and stir.

When the mixture becomes too difficult to stir, dig in with your hands to finish the job.

Finally, take it out and enjoy your creation!

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Keep Students STEM Challenged

Posted by Paige Barnes (Director of Education, CEEF)

How do you keep your kids entertained and engaged over the summer with educational activities? This may be an easy task for some, but most of us get at least a little bit stressed about the idea of having our children around for an extra 8-9 hours each day during summer. But there’s good news! You can reinforce their school lessons and have fun this summer with these STEM activities!

There are so many ways to teach STEM beyond the classroom, and summer offers the freedom to do all of them! Kids love to learn when they don’t know they’re learning, so keep things light and fun during the summer, and they’ll never know what hit ’em.

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STEM Partnership with Sugar Land Skeeters

CEEF is proud to announce our Official STEM Partnership with The Sugar Land Skeeters!

If you missed the first game of the season, there’s still time to join the fun on Friday, June 27 and Saturday, June 28. CEEF and Energy Day staff will be on hand demonstrating the STEM of baseball in a fun and engaging way. You can also answer STEM and baseball related trivia for a chance to win a $25 gift card.

Grab all your people, and come out to cheer on the 2018 ALPB Champion Skeeters and enjoy a night out at the ballpark with friends and family! You can learn how to keep score; find out why a curve ball “curves”; learn what statistics are kept in baseball and why they’re so important to the game; and more baseball-related STEM. See how far and how fast you can throw a wiffle ball and why it may not go as far as you think.

See our Facebook page for more details about the event.

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Bus Grant Opportunities

Each year we bus students and volunteers to Energy Day. In years past, many independent school districts and several community centers have taken advantage of this opportunity.

If your school or your community group is interested in applying for a CEEF Bus Grant for these or other events, please email us here.

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Eighth Annual Energy Day Festival Is A Huge Success

HOUSTON – October 20, 2018 – Families, students, educators, and local industry leaders gathered at Sam Houston Park in downtown Houston this past Saturday for Houston’s Eighth Annual Energy Day Festival, hosted by the Consumer Energy Education Foundation (CEEF), along with its partner Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA).

The free event – which is now the largest energy-focused festival in the nation — centers on celebrating the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and their innovative impact on the energy industry. Energy Day Festival featured more than 60 interactive exhibits and demonstrations, from several of Houston’s leading companies – including Caterpillar, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Direct Energy, Golden Pass, Noble Energy, Phillips 66, TechnipFMC, Telemundo and TransCanada. Each exhibitor was on hand to greet, educate, and entertain what Houston Police Department estimated to be more than 25,000 people who attended despite the rainy weather. From robots demonstrations by FIRSTRobotics and Microsoft to LEGO engineering and rocket-making, this year’s exhibitors showcased cutting-edge technology in an accessible format to students as a way to excite the next generation about career opportunities in the energy industry.

“Houston has long been known as the ‘energy capital of the world,’ and the Energy Day Festival has quickly become a fixture in championing local and national STEM efforts related to energy, showcasing some of the fascinating career opportunities that await the next generation,” CEEF Founder and Energy Day organizer David Holt said. “Creativity and innovation is key to maintaining energy leadership in oil, natural gas, wind, solar, and energy conservation; and it’s events such as this that encourage and inspire students to challenge themselves, expand their minds, and pursue opportunities to further their potential as future industry leaders.”

Each year as part of the Energy Day Academic Program (EDAP), CEEF and CEA partner with local and regional STEM-focused competitions in technology, computing, robotics, and inventions, and the winning teams and students are awarded onstage at an awards ceremony at Energy Day in the fall. These programs provide students with opportunities to learn about robotics, STEM and engineering concepts, problem-solving, teamwork, and technical applications. Competitions include the SeaPerch Challenge, MATE ROV competition, the All Earth Ecobot Challenge, The Science Engineering Fair of Houston, The Houston Affiliate NCWIT Aspiration in Computing Award, the CSTEM Challenge, the Young Inventors’ Showcase, the Energy Day Art, Essay, & Media Contest, and the John Kingsley Kerver Educator Award. 2019 will see several more competitions added to EDAP: National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB), International Sustainable World Energy Engineering Environment Project (ISWEEEP), and the Conrad Challenge.

During the awards ceremony at 2018 Energy Day Houston, partners and sponsors awarded over $24,000 to 184 students and teachers in 11 categories.

Since EDAP began in 2011, CEEF and CEA have awarded nearly $130,000 to more than 800 K-12 students and teachers at the Energy Day Festival.

For more on this year’s festival – including photos and videos – please click here. The next Houston-based Energy Day is scheduled for Saturday, October 19, 2019.

For more information on the festival, visit the Energy Day Houston website.

Contact:

Colleen McCauley
P: 713-377-3332

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