STEM Beats - April 2015

Horse Science: Let the Race Begin

April 29, 2015

Jockeys and horses take to the track this Saturday for the Kentucky Derby, which is often called the “most exciting two minutes in sports.” Each year, 20 horses run in the Derby -- and on to a chance at the Triple Crown. The winners of all the major prep races are expected to start this year, so we’re in for an exciting race. What makes a Derby winner, you might ask? Bet you couldn’t have guessed that there’s a STEM answer to that . . . so, let’s look into the science behind horse racing.

Kenneth McKeever, professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at Rutgers University, spends a lot of time considering the science that separates the winner horse from the duds. McKeever notes several interesting physiological features and jockey techniques that make horses great racers.

Astounding ability to use oxygen: Aerobic capacity (VO2 max) is the maximum amount of oxygen a body can use in an exercise session. VO2 max is an important indicator for success in sports achievement. Elite human athletes such as Greg LeMond, U.S. professional road racing cyclist, have reported VO2maxes in the 90s, whereas an elite thoroughbred racehorse's lungs move in the 150 to 160 range.

Heavy breathers: Inhaling tons of oxygen is no simple task. Horses can breathe only through their nostrils, which are situated on the sides of their snouts. This is likely to prevent kicked-up dust and dirt from entering their lungs when running with their mouths open. They can inhale only when their front hooves are striding outward and exhale when all four legs come together. Unlike humans, a galloping horse’s breathing is coupled with its stride so that it operates like a giant bellows.

Crouching jockeys make horses run faster: Nope, it’s not wind resistance. That tough balancing crouch saves the horse some energy. When jockeys shortened their stirrups and began crouching uncomfortably, racetrack times improved by five to seven percent. The crouch essentially allows a jockey’s legs to act as giant shock absorbers, so a horse no longer has to lift up a jockey’s full weight with every stride.

A great body and good rider technique certainly impact a horse's racing success, but they’re not the only factors. A champion horse must have its head in the game. The more we learn about the science behind horse racing, the more we understand why they are often won just by the tip of a nose. And now that we know how some of it actually works to put horses in the winner’s circle, we’re looking forward to watching the "Run for the Roses" this weekend -- with all bets off. 

Tags: science

STEMtistic on Display: STEM Job Surge

April 28, 2015

Wow! In the next 10 years, STEM jobs will grow much faster than non-STEM jobs. So, now is the time to strengthen the pipeline to meet the coming demand. 

For more, visit the STEMtistics section of our website and search by category to find the perfect fact for your STEM needs.

Tags: jobs & workforce, STEMtistics

CED Conference Examines the Skills Gap

April 27, 2015

The Committee for Economic Development (CED) held its Spring Policy Conference last week, offering an array of discussions, from finding stability in global debt to identifying business solutions to health care reform, and CTEq was there. One topic really hit home for us, “Ensuring a Competitive Workforce for the Global Economy,” which brought together a mix of policy and corporate leaders: Ed Rust, CEO of State Farm Insurance and CTEq member; Carl Camden, CEO of Kelly Services; Bryon Auguste, co-founder of Opportunit@Work; Chauncy Lennon, managing director of JPMorgan Chase Foundation; and Teresa Carlson, vice president of Global Public Sector of Amazon Web Services. Each speaker was clearly passionate about increasing educational attainment and discussing ways the business community could help close the U.S. skills gap. 

A theme throughout the discussion was the disconnect between education and the needs of the business community. Speakers noted that if we approach education in economic terms, we’re clearly experiencing a market failure. The U.S. has a growing number of tech jobs available, yet lacks the skilled workforce to meet this demand. On the flipside, there’s a significant population of recent college graduates who struggle with finding employment -- a skills gap paradox. Carlson mentioned the lack of computer science courses in K-12 schools across the country as an example of our failure to fuel the market. 

The panelists echoed some of what we learned from our recent survey on CEO perceptions of the skills gap, in which 97 percent of CEOs reported the skills gap is a problem and 41 percent reported problems finding qualified applicants for jobs requiring advanced math skills. Panelists emphasized the importance of partnering with schools, increasing funding for STEM programs, and expanding the business community’s reach through internships.

When asked about what success will look like when the education sector is doing it right, panelist responses varied. Camden mentioned shifting from a transaction orientation of education to continual and systematic development, while Carlson offered investing in diverse teacher professional development. The session certainly added a sense of urgency in the room that resonated with us. Check out CED’s related report, “The Role of Business in Promoting Educational Attainment: A National Imperative,” to learn more. 

Tags: jobs & workforce

Guest Blog: Dr. Jaime Curtis-Fisk of Dow Chemical Company

April 23, 2015

What first sparked your interest in STEM?
I have always been interested in STEM even though as a child I had no idea what that was. My family had a farm, the perfect opportunity to grow up seeing all aspects of STEM working together. I had no idea at the time that all of those discussions I had with my family about what made the crops grow, or why one of the animals got sick, or to know the amount of seed we would need for a field were teaching me about the importance of math and science, but through all of that it sparked my love for science and set me on the path to be a scientist.

What aspect of STEM is most appealing to you?
What excites me the most about working in STEM is that every day I get to help to build the understanding of how the world around us works, and through my career I get to turn that into practical solutions for big challenges. In my job at Dow, I work with teams of scientists and engineers to design new products that I know some day will be on store shelves. My family, friends, and neighbors will be using products that I helped to design, using technology that I helped to create.

Who is your “STEM hero”?
My STEM hero is my college organic chemistry professor, Dr. Laurie Witucki. She is one of the most intelligent, creative people I have ever met. She had the potential to take her career in so many different directions, but decided that she wanted to focus her career on making an impact on students. I experienced it firsthand, without having a professor like Dr. Witucki to help me see where my talent and passion were at, I may not have found my way to this career that I love.

How did you decide to pursue a STEM career?
Growing up I expected that I would be a doctor. I was good at math and science, and with the limited exposure that I had to other careers that seemed like the logical choice. That quickly changed once I started college and connected with two amazing professors that helped me to see I was most driven by understanding the science, figuring out the “why” and solving the problem. I began doing research with one of those professors, that experience of transitioning between following the steps that someone had laid out for me to me needing to figure out how I would solve the problem was so exciting, and I was hooked!

How do you use STEM every day?
I use all areas of STEM everyday in my career as a Formulation Scientist at the Dow Chemical Company. I am a Formulation Scientist in the R&D division of Dow Chemical. My role is to develop active ingredients into products, developing the formulation that combines all of the components needed to allow that active ingredient to have the maximum impact, as well as being shelf stable and safe. In this role I have the opportunity to use my technical skills in biochemistry and polymer chemistry to solve challenges in the areas of pharmaceuticals, antimicrobials, water purification, and packaging.  

What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue STEM – for fun or for their career?
My advice is to find the aspect of STEM of that excites and dig in! If you like sports, statistics may be your entry point for math. If you like to bake, kitchen science could be your start at understanding chemistry. A new area will seem much less intimidating if you can start learning it through something that you love, after that branching out into new areas becomes much easier, you will be ready for the new adventure!

Dr. Jaime Curtis-Fisk is an R&D scientist for the Dow Chemical Company and leads Dow’s STEM Ambassador program globally.

Tags: guest blog, women & girls, science

Celebrating Earth Day the STEM Way!

April 22, 2015

Today we celebrate 45 years of Earth Day. Started as a grassroots movement, people from across the country gathered to support the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of several environmental protection acts. These politically-driven demonstrations raised public awareness about pollution. (Check out a PBS video of the first Earth Day to learn more.) The Earth Day legacy has continued and has since evolved into an annual event celebrating the environment, raising public awareness, and promoting environmental stewardship. We’ve combed the web and found some fun ways for  STEMthusiasts to get involved.

It’s no surprise that Corporate America can play a major role in reducing the carbon footprint -- and we’re excited to see that CTEq members are part of this discussion. In fact, Forbes just released a list of the best 50 Green Brands and AT&T, Hewlett Packard, and IBM – all CTEq member companies – were spotlighted. The business community is also making an impact by volunteering. Short on ideas? Check out this list of 8 ways your business can participate in Earth Day 2015.

There are endless opportunities for K-12 educators and students to get involved in Earth Day, for instance: the Department of Energy has a list of K-12 STEM activities focused on environmental conservation, and the National Education Association developed an Earth Day curriculum and resource bank.

STEMthusiasts may decide to join NASA’s social media campaign asking folks to share pictures and video of their favorite place on Earth with the hashtag #NoPlaceLikeHome. You can also track your personal carbon savings through this cool app or personal footprint calculator

You don’t have to join a rally or demonstration to participate in Earth Day -- although we certainly applaud the activism. Volunteering to plant a tree, reducing your consumption of water, or teaching young people a fun conservation lesson all count. Margaret Mead said it best, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” 

Tags: science

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