Politics

White House Science Fair 2015

It was awesome.

Don't believe me?

Just watch.


Thank The Moon, Think of Mars #Apollo45

 Image Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

When US astronauts successfully walked on the moon 45 years ago, it was the culmination of years of science being leveraged to do something that most thought was impossible. Unfortunately, this was not done solely for the sake of science - it was also to have a leg up on the Soviet Union. The US was "behind" in the Cold War space race, since the Soviet Union launched the first satellite (Sputnik) and the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin).

 Image Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

With NASA's new plan, entitled Next Giant Leap, to launch manned missions to Mars, we have an opportunity to leverage the positive scientific aspects of the moon landing without the xenophobia and Cold War mentality that perpetrated it. This time, we're doing it just for the science, and it involves a freaking ASTEROID.  

By practicing with the moon and an asteroid, our astronauts can learn how to become reliant on being in space for the several months that it takes to get to Mars. The space shuttle has been retired, but NASA is building a more powerful rocket (the Space Launch System or SLS) to carry the new Orion spacecraft to Mars.  Exciting days are ahead!

Mandela's Vision for Science

 Image Credit: Len Sak (via Nelson Mandela Foundation)

Image Credit: Len Sak (via Nelson Mandela Foundation)

Nelson Mandela passed away this week. He's one of the few that could truly be called a  legend, despite the criticism he received for most of his life. He's done so much for the world for his revolutionary role in taking on a country system built on hate, being imprisoned for 27 years of his life, and coming back to lead that same country. He's stood as a champion for education, and the The Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) supports his vision of cultivating leaders to keep Africa on a consistent path of improvement.

According to a 2009 presentation by NM-AIST alumni Burton LM Mwamila, World Bank Group President Jim Wolfensohn met with several African leaders in 2001 and 2002. It was there where Mandela suggested that one of Africa's greatest needs are science institutes in the vein of the Indian Institutes of Science and Technology (IITs), MIT, CalTech, etc. NM-AIST schools were thus created in Western, Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa.

The official vision and mission are listed below:

The Vision of NM-AIST is to become a world-class institution of higher learning dedicated to the pursuit and promotion of excellence in science and engineering, and their applications for economic growth and sustainable development in Africa.

The Mission of NM-AIST is to deliver and promote high quality and internationally competitive teaching and learning, research and innovation, and public service in science, engineering and technology for enhanced value addition to people and natural resources, emphasizing entrepreneurship with a view to stimulating, catalyzing and promoting economic growth and sustainable development in Africa.

I love the focus of the vision and mission - it's not just to churn out great scientists, but to apply their knowledge in South Africa, a country that has been exploited over and over again by external powers. HIS country. Mandela was committed to improving his country and making it self-sustaining by developing its own crop of talented scientists.  It's refreshing to see that instilled in the documented vision of an educational organization.

Make sure to check out the Nelson Mandela Foundation for great info on the man. RIP.

50 Years of Tech: March on Washington

 AFP / Getty Images

AFP / Getty Images

The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s had a clear high point when Dr. King gave his "I Have A Dream" speech at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial 50 years ago in Washington, DC. If the march had taken place in current times, official photos like the one above would show an entire crowd with mobile phones and tablets, recording King's speech, tweeting, and uploading pics and videos to Instagram.  The trolls would be out in full force on social media, delivering instant reaction to the speech and trashing King and the rest of the civil rights movement pioneers. Maybe even King would have a social media account managed by someone else, updating the account with segments from the speech soon after they were spoken.  But in 1963, mainstream television was still in its early ages and a mobile phone was a pipe dream. 

 A few highlights of the tech scene in 1963 are below: 

  • NASA culminates its first spaceflight program Mercury by sending astronaut Gordon Cooper into Earth orbit. He completed 22 full orbits before returning home. The Mercury program, which had a goal of putting a human into Earth orbit, made a hero out of John Glenn when he became the first human to orbit the Earth the year prior (1962). 50 years later, many astronauts have been beyond Earth orbit to to land on the surface of moon.  While we still haven't ventured past the moon to put our feet on another planet, we've sent various probes throughout the entire solar system and, in Voyager's case, beyond.

  • The first episode of sci-fi cult classic of Dr. Who was broadcast in London., with William Hartnell as the first Doctor. 50 years later and the current reboot of Dr. Who is still going strong.  Still waiting for a Doctor that's not white or male though ...

  • Instant Replay is used for the first time during the live transmission of the Army Navy Game by its inventor, director, Tony Verna. 50 years later and we're able to create video on our phones and rewind, fast forward, and manipulate our videos in the same way that instant replay was intended for. Also, we have to deal with annoying commentating by sports announcers who usually replay the most horrible injuries over and over again.

  • The television remote control is authorized by the FCCpaying the way for people to turn the TV on and off and change channels without leaving their chair. 50 years later and we are controlling our TVs with our phones, tablets, and WIi U Gamepads.  Somehow, I still didn't have a remote for my TV when I grew up in the 80s though ... 

The Atlantic put together a beautiful photo montage of 1963 which includes some of these tech highlights - check it out here! 

 

White House STEM Efforts are Full Steam Ahead

The White House continues its STEM initiatives by hosting Champions of Change for Tech Inclusion. According to the website:

All across the country, ordinary Americans are doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. Every week, we will invite these Champions of Change to the White House to share their ideas to win the future.

This panel discussion, hosted by Baratunde Thurston, featured a number of influential folks promoting STEM in their communities, including Kimberly Bryant from Black Girls Code.

The government also streamed  the discussion live and took questions using the Twitter hashtag #WHChamps.  I ... may have sent my clone to answer a question.

In addition, the White House hosted another addition of its We The Geeks discussion, entitled "Intelligence is Our Real Superpower". The video featured scientists talking about inventions being worked on to "enable real-life “superpowers” such as invisibility and super strength." I've had my issues with the lack of youth involvement in We The Geeks, but the videos are still fascinating and a great watch. Check it out below.