MIT Stem Pals
March 2014

Strong STEM, Beautiful BLOSSOMS
From Richard C. Larson

Dick LarsonThe Washington DC USA Science & Engineering Festival is just over one month away, April 26 & 27.The conference will be held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. This is probably the largest and most well attended STEM event in the USA. We hope to see many of you there.

MIT BLOSSOMS will be there: Engineering Pavilion, Hall A, Booth Number 563. Please drop by, say Hello, and take some of the BLOSSOMS Challenges:

  1. Is it true that my friends on Facebook have more friends than I do? And why?
  2. Can it be that all the children of Lake Wobegon are "above average"?
  3. If I break a wooden yardstick at two "random points," what is the likelihood that I can make a triangle with the resulting 3 pieces?
  4. What fraction of the mass of a dried log comes from the soil?
  5. How do mosquitoes fly in the rain?
  6. Why do boomerangs come back to the thrower?
  7. Why does a spinning figure skater spin twice as fast when she brings her arms in?
  8. Does your stability on a bicycle have anything to do with angular momentum?
  9. What does computer programming have to do with creating a mango shake in the kitchen?
  10. Are random triangles acute or obtuse?
  11. How can you measure distances to nearby stars?
  12. How can you “hide” a computer file inside a digitized picture?
  13. How does Google maps find the shortest path between two points?
  14. Is the “Tragedy of the Commons” about more than just cows grazing?

All of these STEM Challenges illustrate that STEM thinking can be fun yet deep, creative, and drawing on your fundamental knowledge. True STEM education must go in this direction, as inquisitiveness, playfulness, and willingness to speculate are all characteristics of scientists. So is willingness to undertake hard work, hours of study to get on top of any field of science or math. STEM is not about building gadgets. Although a well-educated engineer or scientist will likely become expert at building things, all STEMming from deep study in math and science.

Five wonderful educational specialists will staff our BLOSSOMS booth at the USA Science & Engineering Festival:

This is a great team. There will be prizes for the best responses to the BLOSSOMS challenges! Hope to see you in Washington DC on April 26, 27! Remember: Engineering Pavilion, Hall A, Booth Number 563.

Richard Larson is the Mitsui Professor of Engineering Systems at MIT. He is also the Director of MIT LINC and the Principal Investigator of MIT BLOSSOMS.

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