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Arizona SciTech Blog

This blog is courtesy of the Arizona SciTech Festival.

2STEM Matters

STEM Matters Manager: Marisa Ostos

Stem cell research has been a highly-debated topic of conversation among politicians, scientists, and the everyday citizen. You may have heard about the many contributions stem cell research has made in the health field, such as its success in helping bone marrow transplant patients. On another note, you may also have heard of people’s disapproval of stem cell research due to the way it can be conducted.  But rather than listening to others state that stem cell research is “good” or “bad,” let’s delve into the basics of what stem cells are and how stem cell research works.

From the moment of conception, each one of us starts out as a single, fertilized cell known as a zygote. This single-celled zygote contains the basic genetic material (DNA) from both our father and our mother, which ultimately helps us develop into the person we are today. In less than two days, the single zygote cell divides into two cells, which only 15 hours later divides yet again. After just one week, what was once a single cell has now become a blastocyst, a “berry-like” structure the size of a pin that is composed of hundreds of cells! It is the blastocyst that eventually makes its way down to the woman’s uterus where from there, a baby will continue to grow until its birth.

We humans are made of billions upon billions of cells, each serving a specific function for the continued growth and development of our body. One of these types of cells within are body are stem cells, “immature cells that have the potential to become specialized into different types of cells throughout the body” (American Medical Association). Groups of cells together form the different tissues that make up our body, and the reason these stem cells are so special is because they, as immature cells, can either literally become any type of cell in the body (which is what embryonic stem cells do), or can serve to repair specific tissues within our body because of their dividing and specializing capabilities (which is what adult stem cells do).

Of course, scientists do obtain stem cells from different resources, which is where the controversy often comes into play. Of the two types of stem cells (adult vs embryonic), adult stem cells can easily be removed from our own tissue with very little, if any effect on us (*Note: the sample size of the tissue can be quite small). Embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, are “derived from multicellular embryos that have been cultured in the laboratory.” No, a researcher does not take cells from an embryo that is already growing inside of a mother. Rather, these stem cells may come from a variety of sources: Spare embryos created via in vitro fertilization that were not needed for infertility treatment; Adult tissue such as bone marrow; An empty egg cell into which DNA from an adult cell is placed; Mature adult cells that were pre-programmed to behave like stem cells (cool, huh?); Blood cells from an umbilical cord; etc.  Yes, there are a variety of places that these stem cells come from, but do know, too, that any scientist who does research follows guidelines to do their research in the most ethical, humane, and respectful manner possible.

Now that you know where stem cells come from and that they can become or help repair almost any type of cell in the body (such as cell that replaces disfunctional bone marrow or a cell that helps repair the lining of the heart), what are they used for? Well, the possibilities for their use are endless! Right now, stem cells “provide life-saving treatments for patients with leukemia, lymphoma, other blood disorders, and some solid tumors.” They help in bone marrow transplants…. With their potential to become any type of cell in the body, it is also possible that these cells can ultimately help to prevent or cure diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, hearing loss, arthritis, and so much more. Maybe one day these single cells can be used to replace a leg someone may have lost years ago, or even more, maybe they can be used to create a brand new human heart! Scientists are already doing the research to solve these problems using stem cells!

So yes, while various sources of stem cells can be debatable, it is important to remember again that scientists who do stem cell research do so in the most ethical and human way possible, and even more, they are uncovering each day more and more information that may eventually help prevent or cure hundreds upon hundreds of the world’s problems today, all because of a single cell. What a wonder science is!

*Source: “Basics of Stem Cell Research,” American Medical Association.


Por: Carmen Cornejo. Coordinadora de Relaciones con la Comunidad Hispana, AZSciTech

Arnold’s Pickle House es un edificio que trae muchos recuerdos, que está en la esquina de Van Buren y la calle 14th. Es un almacén viejo y abandonado decorado con una imagen antigua de un pepino con ojos, boca, brazos y piernas, corriendo con una gorra de béisbol. Adentro, pepinos solían ser procesados y transformados en “pickles”-pepinillos, años atrás.

El edificio ha sido abandonado hace tiempo, pero gracias a Chicanos por la Causa (CPLC), una de las más importantes organizaciones de desarrollo comunitario de Arizona, pronto volverá a la vida como un centro de creación, de STEM, de desarrollo de productos e ideas.

Chicanos por la Causa cerró el trato de adquirir el edificio el pasado mes de Noviembre gracias a un estímulo monetario del gobierno federal de 3 millones del Departamento de Comercio y Desarrollo Económico, con el propósito de crear un espacio como los llamados “maker” para la creación de productos e incubar negocios.

“La idea es crear nuevos negocios aquí. Las maquinarias y equipo que estarán disponibles en este edificio darán la oportunidad a emprendedores para construir prototipos, desarrollar productos que podrán ser vendidos”, dijo David Adame, Jefe de Desarrollo de Chicanos por la Causa.

“Si vienes con una nueva idea y diseñas un prototipo, te ayudaremos a hacer una impresión en 3 dimensiones. Entonces tú podrás ir a promover tu idea. Nosotros te podremos ayudar con órdenes de manufactura”, explico David.

CPLC está planeando a mantener elementos del edificio antiguo, incluyendo el nombre y el pepinillo para conectar el pasado con el presente y el futuro.

Este centro representa una gran oportunidad para la comunidad central de Phoenix al ofrecer un espacio creador o “maker space”, hacer crecer el movimiento emprendedor en Arizona y atraer creadores de las escuelas high schools, colegios comunitarios, universidades y expertos del público en general.

CPLC planea que los trabajos de construcción comenzarán después de las fiestas decembrinas y espera tener el espacio listo para usarse para Junio del 2015.

arnold pickle


Guest Author:  Carmen Cornejo, AZSciTechFest Hispanic Outreach, Principal, Critical Mass Communications, LLC

Arnold’s Pickle House is an iconic building right on Van Buren  and 14th Street, an old warehouse decorated with a vintage looking drawing of a pickle dude with eyes, mouth, arms and legs running in a cap.  Inside cucumbers were processed and transformed in pickles, years ago.

The building has been abandoned for years but thanks to Chicanos por la Causa (CPLC), one of Arizona’s top community development organizations, soon it will come back to life as a center for STEM and entrepreneurship.

Chicanos por la Causa just closed on the building mid-November thanks to a 3 million federal grant from the US Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, with the purpose of creating a maker space and business incubator.


“The idea is to create new businesses here.  It will give entrepreneurs the opportunity to build a prototype, create a product and try to sell it,” said David Adame, CPLC’s Chief Economic Development Officer.

“If you come in with a new idea and bring the prototype in, we can make a 3D printing of it. Then you go out and pitch it.  We can later help with manufacturing orders,” David explained.

CPLC is planning to keep elements of the old building, including the name and the pickle dude to connect the past with the present and the future.

This space represents a great opportunity for Phoenix by offering a maker space, nurture the maker movement in the central area of the valley and attract young creators from high-schools, colleges and universities in addition with experts.

CPLC is planning work on the building will begin after the holidays and expects to have the maker space up and running by June 2015.

arnold pickle

2Ted Kraver

Guest Author:  Theodore “Ted” C. Kraver, Ph.D.

The recent election pitches on school testing had Common Core against Arizona homebrew assessment.  The arguments, being political, were political smack downs not dreary rationalizations.  Let’s use dreary to size up the real situation.  Standardized student tests are used to determine how well students, teachers, administrators and schools have done in the past. In education parlance they are called summative tests because they sum-up what happened in the past. Higher-ups use them to support statistical judgments on policy, curriculum, educators, schools, and student learning. These adults from parents to politicians make broad comparisons and decisions that have little effect on improving the individual learning of students. If summative assessments don’t work then what assessments do?

There is a complementary type of assessment that focuses just on supporting student learning call formative and is used only by the student and teacher  during the learning process. Formative assessments are real time and provide direction of what to do in the future learning minutes.  Is supports forming the learning process. Unfortunately legacy book based education does not have the means to deliver effective formative assessment in a 30 student classroom. In fact research studies show one-on-one student teacher classroom interaction averages one minute per day. But the most effective 21st century digital curriculum based education does. Development by the military and university researchers uses a “scaffolding” type of formative assessment. The real time student problem solving actions are assessed by superficial intelligence systems. The digital curriculum then provides the next learning step. It could be a repeat part of the lesson, hints, acceleration to a high level, move on to that next subject or other type of individualized support.

This use of educational technology can be very effective in most STEM (simulations) areas as well as history (dynamic maps), reading (automated dictionaries) and writing (computer assessed  essays).

But transformation to digital curriculum requires a systemic change in the classroom. There must be significant investment in broadband computer interfaces for each student, educator  education and training, and digital curriculum. Exemplar schools like Wilson District, Vail Empire High, Carpe Diem charter school in Yuma and others have shown this system can produce outstanding results with challenged populations. But our disjointed statewide education system does not provide a pathway for these exemplar schools to influence the transformation of the rest of  Arizona’s 2100 schools.

Other industries thrive on technology innovation.  What if we had just stuck to summative data systems of yesteryear that counted the planes that took off and landed on time, the passengers flown and miles covered?  Instead aviation engineers  focused on innovation of the then primitive navigation and flight monitoring formative assessment technology (city names painted on roofs and “steam” gages in the cockpit).   Radar systems provided real formative information on weather and positions of other aircraft.  GPS assures precise navigation. Warning sensors monitor every aspect of vital aircraft systems

What if our leaders could switch their fussing with ineffective summative data and implement a system transformation based on formative assessment for each teacher-student nexus? As real time decision support rippled through our education system their summative numbers would go through the roof. They could then refocus on other nagging issues like climate change,  prisons  and immigration.

2STEM Matters

STEM Matters Manager: Marisa Ostos

Here’s a fun experiment: How long can you last without yawning (and why do we yawn in the first place)? Did you yawn upon reading the title?

Yawning is a fascinating thing that one may often do when they need to catch some shut-eye, but what about those times when a yawn is caused by seeing someone else yawn? It is known that yawning can be contagious, but did you know that a variety of factors play into its “contagiousness”?

Our bodies work to maintain homeostasis (stability), and this includes maintaining a stable body temperature. Our brains likewise work best at a certain temperature, and yawning is thought to cool your brain via processes such as the increase in heart rate and blood flow. With this, whether or not we yawn  when someone else does may also be associated our own amount of empathy, the ability to feel or understand what another is feeling. On the neuroscience side, within our brains are cells called mirror neurons. These mirror neurons activate when we observe an action performed by someone else, and may also cause us to yawn when we see someone else yawn.

If you’re interested watching a quick video to see how long you can go without yawning, CLICK HERE. Follow the ensuing video to learn more about the science behind yawning.

*Source: ASAP Science- Why Do We Yawn?

Guest Author:  Ester Skiera, science writer, Arizona SciTech

As a modern university and the biggest university in North America, Arizona State University is a home for so many great programs. One of them is Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, which is part of Arizona State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. The Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives harness the knowledge within the University to deliver solutions for the complex challenges of sustainability.

In 2014, the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives hosted the first annual Sustainability Solutions Festival.  The Sustainability Solutions Festival seeks to engage and inform the public to build awareness around sustainability issues, celebrate innovative solutions to our challenges and encourage behavior change.  After all, the term “sustainability” can simply be described as “to maintain,” and building awareness is one way to influence people to care more about sustainability.

Sustainability issues work together with STEM, as it can provide answers to the issues. “We believe that sustainability solutions can come from the sciences, humanities and business.  Year round we encourage all ages to come up with sustainability solutions by sponsoring prizes for sustainability solutions,” says Kelly Saunders, project coordinator, Sustainability Festival. For this purpose, the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives works with Bear Essential News for Kids, Future City Arizona, Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, Social Venture Partners of Arizona and SEED Spot.

Partnership is important, that’s why the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives is a sponsor (partner) of Arizona SciTech to help promote the value of STE(A)M education in developing sustainability solutions. “The Sustainability Solutions Festival has gained valuable connections with the STEAM community by participating in the Arizona SciTech Festival.  Spring time is an excellent time in Arizona and even more rich with exciting activities,” Saunders explains.

The Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives has a lot to offer in its upcoming festival that takes place February 16-21st  as part of the Arizona SciTech. “The Sustainability Solutions Festival invites participants to (re)imagine how one person, one community, or one organization can have an impact on our planet’s future,” says Saunders. And don’t worry; they’re not all serious. There will be fun and engaging activities as well. “This year’s Sustainability Solutions Festival will kick-off at the Arizona Science Center with hands on activities and engagements for families, there will be film screenings in Mesa, Phoenix and Tempe, business conferences, and the week will end with a grand public festival we call, “The Sustival,” February 21st, 4PM-8PM in downtown Phoenix’s Civic Space Park,” Saunders adds.

Want to be enlightened about sustainability and what can be done to solve our planet’s issues? Come to the festival, enjoy, and learn!

Guest Author: Theodore “Ted” C. Kraver, Ph.D.

With the rapidly changing institutions and culture measured in months to decades, not centuries to millennium, personal STEM success will depend on flexibility and ability to as fast-movers , seize both failure and opportunity.

The first great human technological innovation was putting the handle on a stone hand axe. It greatly increased usefulness for both domestic needs and warfare.  The axe remained unchanged for over 200,000 years. The life span of the first hoe was several thousand years before enchantment.   By the Middle Ages STEM was starting to emerge in agriculture, buildings and warfare. The innovation cycle from invention to failure do to obsolescence decreased to about a century. During the 20th century it dropped to decades. Today technology products become obsolete and fail in the market in a few years, and many have yearly cycles.

Going back to early times, failure of a farmer’s crop experiment could go either way both bad. If successful,  his landlord or ruler would confiscate the surplus. If not successful then his family starved.  In more recent centuries our civilization became more complex and invention-driven innovation began to thrive. The limited areas of betting your life on food, shelter or battles was greatly expanded into many less hazardous areas. Innovation by skilled artisans picked up the pace. By the Industrial Revolution innovation began to flourish. Risks were spread to the developing financial institutions and companies and reduced by increasing access to markets.  But by the 1960’s innovation had shifted to corporations and was throttled by bureaucracy. Inventions like the transistor, computer languages, the mouse, laser printers, and Ethernet languished because successful corporate management had no incentive to be disruptive of their profitable product lines. Workers and families planned a stable job over their lifespan. The innovation cycle time continued to plummet and new forms of innovative enterprises were emerging.

By the 1980’s computers, networks and entrepreneurs were challenging the corporate status quo. Health care, finance, government and education have become the major part of the U.S. economic powerhouse. Accounting has changed from tracking expenditures to risk management. Cloud manufacturing and 3-D printing has vastly reduced the risk of manufacturing of new products in small companies. Information sourcing of heritage seeds delivers as many new apples in grocery stores as Apple devices in computer retailers.

For STEM students and workers, the challenges and opportunities will continue to change. Future social institutions will be as hard to predict as were the changes in the Progressive era (resisted by the Robber Barons) and 1930’s reforms (resisted by Wall Street.) In the past, your reputation could be based on your institution. Now it’s your personal reputation, which must be self-made and self-marketed.

In the distance past it was all risk and no reward. The corporate era had stable rewards and low risk. The current transformation embraces risk and failure as the foundation for innovation.  Our STEM-driven strategy is embracing an emerging paradigm: use failure as the pathway to personal and financial success.

Ref: Adam Davidson, “Welcome to the Failure Age,” NY Times, 11/16/2014

Guest Author: Lisa Herrmann, science writer, Arizona SciTech

Nextiva now ranks as Arizona’s third largest telecommunications company, but it’s our largest home grown version. “Arizona is our home – it’s where Nextiva started and where we’ll continue to grow,” explains Yaniv Masjedi, Nextiva’s vp of marketing. Launched in 2008, this company has grown now to over 300 employees, most from our local talent pool. Masjedi has been very pleased by the quality of employees that Arizona’s schools are generating, despite assumptions that regions better known for high tech might have the upper hand in this respect.  “Many people look to other regions for technology workforce talent, but in our case, Nextiva is finding that Arizona is an amazing place to start and grow a technology business. The schools seem very strong, and the local government supports innovative companies,” Masjedi adds.

Beyond the regional talent, it also seems that part of Nextiva’s success with its workforce is its heavy emphasis on its organizational culture. ”We focus on fostering and nurturing the team,” Masjedi says. “‘Before you can provide amazing customer service, you have to start with your own team. You can have the best technology, but at the end of the day, what’s running the business is the people.” Nextiva has its own ‘culture’ group, focused on creating team spirit, keeping the work environment positive and vibrant, where employees say their co-workers are ‘like family’.  A recent concept created by the company was a Saturday ‘Build-a-thon,’ where the goal was to achieve a challenging customer solution in one 12-hour Saturday work session. “We had lots of employees commit to the event  because they sincerely wanted to do it,” Masjedi proudly describes. Phoenix Business Journal named Nextiva one of the Best Places to Work in Phoenix.

Nextiva’s focus on culture-building extends beyond the organization itself and out into the community. As a Silver Sponsor of Arizona SciTech, Nextiva is contributing to support its Arizona home. “The Festival is educating the public, and bringing greater awareness to STEM as a whole – that’s a good thing,” explains Masjedi . “When we first heard about the Festival, we got in touch that same day to find out how we could participate.”

2STEM Matters

STEM Matters Manager: Marisa Ostos

Are you the type of person who typically pays close attention to detail? Before we get started on a fun psychology lesson, let us watch a video before you continue reading. Watch this video now before reading anything else!!

Were you paying close attention? How many times did you see the players with the white shirts pass the ball? If you’re like most people, you counted 15 passes among the participants with the white shirts. However, if you are like most people, you may have also missed the gorilla walk across the screen. This is what we call “selective attention.”

Selective attention is the mind’s tendency to hone in on certain dynamics, processes, or under-goings of the environment around you. In this case, you may have been so focused on counting the passes, that you missed the gorilla that walked right in front of you, which most people do. Does this mean that you are in any way deficient when it comes to your attention-span? Not at all! In fact, it is a simple, yet fascinating demonstration of the way the mind works. People pay attention to different things for a number of reasons. Three attendees at a football game may be sitting in the same row and watching the same game, but while one focuses on the next move of the quarterback, one may be watching #24 get ready to tackle a player, while the other attendee may have just caught the quick move of the linebacker heading toward the player he was guarding. As when watching a game of football, a number of things happen in the environment all around you each and every day. If we were to remember and take in every process and instance that happened around us in each minute, our mind would most likely be a mess due to the overwhelming amount of stimuli it received each second.

So if  you missed that gorilla the first time, don’t worry one bit. Just take in the wonder of the mind’s consciousness and its fascinating ability to be able to focus and comprehend the things we do. Our human-brain is a wonderful organ.

*Source: http://www.csun.edu/~vcpsy00h/students/arousal.htm 

2ASML ed

Guest Author: Lisa Herrmann

Sand and water are basic elements that have drawn the human imagination to create a multitude of beachside sculptures, but in Chandler these substances are the basis of some of the smallest microchips ever developed. Arizona SciTech Festival’s Bronze level sponsor, ASML, is the world’s leading provider of lithography systems for the semiconductor industry, manufacturing complex machines that are critical to the production of microchips.  ASML designs, develops, integrates, and services these advanced systems, which continue to help chipmakers reduce the size and increase the functionality of microchips and consumer electronic equipment.

The manufacturing process begins by converting sand into a silicon crystal that is sliced into wafers. The wafers are polished flat, cleaned and sent to a wafer processing fabrication facility – ‘the Fab’. The Fab is a multi-billion dollar chipmaking plant built around a cleanroom; ASML notes, ‘the cleanest and one of the most controlled environments on earth.’ Lithography is the process responsible for projecting small electronic features onto the silicon wafers. R&D efforts at ASML have included the process of ‘immersion lithography’, described as ‘an excellent trick to make chips smaller and more powerful.’ The process involves adding water between the lens and the wafer. The water bends the light in such a way as to get more light onto the wafer and improve the image it creates, allowing sharper lines and smaller features. ASML’s most advanced immersion systems can image lines just 38 nanometers wide! Thanks to ASML’s lithographic systems, ever-shrinking microchips have brought better, more affordable and more energy-efficient electronics and services to everyone, improving mobility, connectivity, safety, and digital entertainment.

ASML’s senior communications specialist Michael Pullen is proud of these efforts, and eager to support the next generation of scientists in our community. “We are looking forward to being involved with a great program like the AZ SciTech Festival and all the activities around it. STEM education is something that ASML cares deeply about and is evident in our ASML4Kids program where we teach STEM principles to students of all ages through fun, interactive lessons.”