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Science education

Fall 2016

Kids solving the unsolvable

Imagine Tomorrow

Flushing the toilet stirred up a good idea in four young women from Walla Walla High School. They recognized that families use hundreds of gallons of water per day, a real problem in places faced with water shortages. To ease that, Karen Maldonado, Edlyn Carvajal, Sandra Escobedo de la Cruz, and Ruth Garcia developed a trapping system using an inexpensive charcoal filter to recycle wastewater back to the toilet tank.

The Walla Walla teens took their plan to the Alaska Airlines Imagine Tomorrow competition, an annual problem-solving challenge at Washington State University that encourages high school students to propose and present ideas … » More …

Trip the light fantastic
Spring 2016

Trip the light fantastic

When physicist Mark Kuzyk throws a science soiree he doesn’t mess around. Out come the lasers, high-tech origami, ornate wire sculptures, and sticky-stretchy gel that’s fun to throw at the wall. But it’s all for a greater purpose.

The Washington State University Regents professor is developing a shape-changing, laser-guided electrode for the treatment of pain, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and depression.

The ultra-thin electrode is designed for use in deep brain stimulation (DBS) and relies on optics and photomechanical materials to improve the precision and delicacy of the procedure. Sometimes known as the “brain pacemaker,” DBS holds promise for a wide range of conditions and may … » More …

Pam Nolan-Beasley and class
Fall 2014

Pam Nolan-Beasley ’88—Physics for five-year-olds

“People don’t realize how much you can teach science at a kindergarten age,” says Pam Nolan-Beasley, a teacher at Waitsburg Elementary. But these kids are inquisitive little sponges, ever curious and energetic, she adds: “It’s a perfect time for science.”

Nolan-Beasley’s success at getting five- and six-year-olds—and their families—interested in science recently garnered her the Presidential Award in Mathematics and Science Teaching, an honor for the nation’s top math and science teachers provided through the National Science Foundation. One of two teachers in Washington to earn the honor, she was nominated by her superintendent who also credited her with convincing the school board to make … » More …

Summer 2014

Machine in the Classroom

New tech tools engage young scientists

In a familiar classroom scene, lab partners take turns squinting into a microscope. They spy a wriggling paramecium, if the organism doesn’t swim away from the field of view. These days they also peer into an iPad to watch videos and access digital textbooks. Engineer and entrepreneur Jeff Stewart sees a happy marriage between these old and new technologies in science classrooms.

Stewart and his colleagues at Exo Labs have enhanced that connection with an accessory that connects any microscope to an iPad, where students and teachers can take pictures and videos, measure objects, and quickly share … » More …

West Nile virus chart
Summer 2014

Charting the course of a globe-trotting pathogen

For more than half a century, West Nile virus was someone else’s problem.

The mosquito-borne pathogen was first isolated from a feverish human in 1937 in northern Uganda’s West Nile district. It then lay low for a decade before emerging in an actual epidemic in Israel in 1951. With several Egyptian outbreaks in the early ’50s, researchers started to see the disease infect non-humans, particularly crows and horses. Mosquitoes of the Culex genus appeared to be its chief transmitter, or vector.

By the time the virus hit the United States, in 1999, it had taken on a more sinister character. Where before it mostly struck … » More …

Fall 2012

Engineers in the Making

Intent on programming a machine to cut a section of sheet metal, six engineering students hunch around a worktable on an upper floor of a factory that designs and builds tooling and automation for the aerospace industry.

The space is bright and warm. A tinkerer’s dream of wires, tubes, tools, fittings, shelves, cords, and hardware surrounds them. The students scrutinize a screen, scribble in their notebooks, and scratch their heads. Determined to arrange a resistor ladder electrical circuit to tell the machine to move a single part before lunch, Josh Sackos frowns at a laptop. “You could just try to run it and see what … » More …

Fall 2011

Creature crossings: A lesson in teaching the nature of science

How quickly can you determine which expression most accurately describes the animated interaction below? (click the play button to start; rewind button to restart)

var flashvars = {
initialURL: escape(document.location)

But not so fast… (click for more)

Whereas the 1 + 1 = 1 may be the obvious answer in expressing the interaction, 1 + 1 = 2 is equally valid given possible alternative explanations: Does the larger “creature” carry away the smaller creature as its young? Or maybe the smaller creature … » More …

Fall 2011

Cross-cultural pen pals

One morning this spring a group of WSU students from Jeff Petersen’s Communication Studies 321 class fills half of a small lecture hall at Spokane’s Riverpoint campus. They have traveled here from Pullman to meet their pen pals, 5th through 8th graders from the Nespelem Elementary School on the Colville Reservation in north-central Washington. Though they have been communicating with the grade-schoolers by letters throughout the semester, they are meeting for the first time to visit, “play” with science, and talk about going to college.

The Center for Civic Engagement at WSU started the pen pal project last fall. As a part of its mission, … » More …