This is the second part of a two part series celebrating LGBTQIA+ folks in the STEAM fields. The first part discusses the importance of diversity and history of exclusion. This part will honor the people in the fields.

In honor of Pride Month*, the Los Alamos STEAM Lab would like to recognize a few of the countless LGBTQ+ scientists and innovators that have aided in the advancement of numerous STEM fields. 

* Yes, we know that was soooo last month. Luckily, we celebrate diversity every day!

Sally Ride (1951-2012)

  • Astronaut, physicist, engineer, and professor. Known as the first LGBTQ+ astronaut, youngest American to have flown in space, and first American woman in space. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sally_Ride

Allan Cox (1926-1987)

  • American geophysicist and specialist in paleomagnetism. Instrumental in developing a way to measure the changes in the earth’s geomagnetic alignment and polarity. His work enabled testing of the seafloor spreading hypothesis which gave some of the first credible evidence to the theory of plate tectonics. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_V._Cox

Alan Hart (1890-1962)

  • American medical doctor, radiologist, author, and pioneer of tuberculosis research and screening. Developed x-ray photography to detect tuberculosis and implemented screenings that saved many lives.
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_L._Hart

Lynn Conway

  • American electrical engineer, inventor, systems architect, transgender activist, professor, and computer scientist credited with the invention of generalized dynamic instruction handling used by most modern computer processors to improve performance. Also known for the Mead-Conway VLSO chip design revolution that greatly simplified the design and fabrication of complex microchips allowing for the rush of high-tech startups in the 80s and 90s. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynn_Conway

Angela Clayton (1959-2014)

  • British physicist and trans rights advocate known internationally for her work in the fields of nuclear criticality safety and health physics. Former Head of Criticality Safety at the Atomic Weapons Establishment and chairperson of UK Working Party on Criticality among other achievements. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angela_Clayton

Ben Barres (1954-2017)

  • Neurobiologist and researcher credited with numerous landmark discoveries including the identification of glial-derived factors that promote the formation of neuronal synapses and the characterization of signals that induce the formation of myelin sheaths. His pioneering work revolutionized the field of neuroscience and he was the first openly trans man recognized by the prestigious National Academy of Science. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Barres

Peter Thiel 

  • German-American entrepreneur, co-founder of PayPal, and first outside investor in Facebook. Involved as a founder, investor, and developer of many innovative technology companies such as Tesla Motors, LinkedIn, SpaceX, Yelp, and YouTube. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Thiel

Neil Divine (1939- 1994)

  • American astrophysicist and major contributor to the modern theory of star formation. His research helped identify numerous interplanetary bodies and radiation belts as well as expanded our fundamental understanding of the complex environments space probes might face. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Divine

Josephine Baker (1873-1945)

  • American physician and public health pioneer who made numerous significant contributions in the areas of public health and child welfare. She was the first woman to receive a doctorate in public health and organized the first child hygiene department under government control in New York City, leading to the lowest infant mortality rate in any American or European city during the early 1900s. She was also instrumental in identifying “Typhoid Mary” amidst the New York typhoid fever epidemic. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sara_Josephine_Baker

Martine Rothblatt 

  • American lawyer, author, entrepreneur, transgender rights advocate, and biotechnologist. Creator of Sirius XM satellite radio, founder of biotech pioneer United Therapeutics, and former CEO of the satellite-focused company GeoStar. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martine_Rothblatt

Jon Hall 

Karissa Sanbonmatsu 

  • American structural biologist and principal investigator at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Credited with performing the first atomistic simulation of the ribosome. Determined the secondary structure of an intact IncRNA and published a one billion atom simulation of a biomolecular complex. Influential in the advancements in the understanding of epigenetics and use of computer simulations to understand RNA and DNA mechanisms. 
  •  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karissa_Sanbonmatsu

Jim Pollack (1938-1994)

  • American astrophysicist, a senior space research scientist at NASA, and world-renowned expert in the study of planetary atmospheres and particulates. First graduate student of astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan. His later work in the evolutionary climate change of terrestrial planets and evolutions of giant gas planets led to many advances in the understanding of our solar system. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_B._Pollack

Clyde Wahrhaftig (1919-1994)

  • American geologist and professor who worked for the United States Geological Survey and made significant scientific contributions to the field of geology. One of the first scientists to bring the role of plate tectonics in causing earthquakes to public awareness. Pioneer in applying geological sciences to environmental problems with a particular focus on forest management practices and lifelong advocate for public transportation and inclusivity in STEM. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clyde_Wahrhaftig

Sofya Kovalevskaya (1850-1891)

  • Russian mathematician and developer of Kovalevsky’s Theorem that made numerous noteworthy contributions to the fields of mathematical analysis, partial differential equations, and mechanics. First woman to obtain a doctorate in mathematics, be appointed to a full professorship position, and work as an editor in a major scientific journal. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sofya_Kovalevskaya

Margaret Mead (1901-1978)

  • American anthropologist, psychologist, and author. Curator of Ethnology at the American Museum of natural history and former President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Credited with changing the way different human cultures are studied and her efforts to apply the principles of anthropology and the social sciences to societal problems and issues such as world hunger, childhood education, and mental health. Her pioneering work on sexuality, culture, and childrearing continues to be influential today. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Mead

Louise Pearce (1885-1959)

  • American physician and pathologist at the Rockefeller Institute who helped develop tryparsamide, a treatment for trypanosomiasis (also known as African sleeping sickness). Her research led to many profound discoveries and treatments related to syphilis, infection resistance, cancer, immune reaction, and hereditary diseases. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louise_Pearce

Bruce Voeller (1934-1994) 

  • American biologist, pioneering AIDS researcher, professor, gay rights advocate, and founder of the Mariposa Foundation who pioneered the use of the topical virus-transmission preventative serums and research the spread and prevention of various diseases. Credited with coining the term “acquired immune deficiency syndrome” (AIDS).
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Voeller

Alan Turing (1912-1954)

  • British mathematician, cryptanalyst, logician, philosopher, theoretical biologist, inventor of the Enigma machine, and father of modern computer science. His role in deciphering German military code contributed to the Allied victory in WWII. Credited with creating the theoretical framework and design for the earliest modern computer and provided formalization of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)

  • English economist, journalist, and financier whose ideas fundamentally changed the theory and practice of macroeconomics and the economic policies of governments. Recognized as one of the most influential economists of the 20th century whose ideas are the basis for Keynesian economics and its offshoots. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Maynard_Keynes

Frank Kameny (1925-2011)

  • American astronomer, politician, military personnel, and gay rights activist referred to as “one of the most significant figures” in the American  LGBTQ+ rights movement. Conducted photometric studies of variable stars and worked as an astronomer with the Army Map Service before being fired and denied the opportunity to continue his astronomy research by the federal government due to his sexuality. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Kameny

Jessica Esquivel

  • Physicist, data analyst, science communicator, and advocate for diversity and inclusivity in STEM. Her research focuses on developing and applying machine learning models to improve data analysis in particle physics experiments and she is currently working at the Fermilab on experiments to test the current theories of the standard model of particle physics by measuring the anomalous magnetic dipole moment of muon particles. 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessica_Esquivel

Alexander Von Humboldt (1769 – 1859)

RESOURCES AND ORGANIZATIONS 

by JoAnna O’Neill

This is the first part of a two part series celebrating LGBTQIA+ folks in the STEAM fields. This part discusses the importance of diversity and history of exclusion. Part two will honor the people in the fields.

In honor of Pride Month*, the Los Alamos STEAM Lab would like to recognize a few of the countless LGBTQ+ scientists and innovators that have aided in the advancement of numerous STEM fields. 

* Yes, we know that was soooo last month. Luckily, we celebrate diversity every day!

The term “LGBTQ+” encompasses a wide range of identities including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning and the plus symbol acknowledges groups in the community that aren’t included in the short initialism, including intersex, pansexual, asexual, non-binary, and two-spirit individuals alongside other identities. Queer is an umbrella term that is commonly used to describe sexual orientation or gender identities that fall outside the heterosexual mainstream or the idea of a gender binary.

The word queer can also be used to describe the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, but it is important to note that although widely reclaimed, “queer” has historically been used as a slur and may still be offensive to some people and therefore should be used with caution. For an in-depth guide to the terminology surrounding gender identity and sexual orientation as well as LGBTQ+ history, resources, and more, please refer to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide: https://www.glaad.org/sites/default/files/GLAAD-Media-Reference-Guide-Tenth-Edition.pdf

When discussing historical LGBTQ+ figures, it can be difficult to describe them using modern terminology found within the community today. LGBTQ+ individuals in past decades or centuries likely lacked the proper labels to describe themselves and/or may not have openly used them for fear of ostracization, imprisonment, or violence in the society they lived in. As homophobia and gender discrimination continue to run rampant in our society, the fear of retaliation is, unfortunately, something that many LGBTQ+ individuals face today. This heartbreaking reality has resulted in countless individuals (both historically and present) keeping their identities private.

All of the living scientists and innovators listed in the second part of this article have come out publicly as queer. Many of the historical mentions were confirmed as LGBTQ+ during their lifetime or after their passing while others have strong historical evidence supporting the speculation that they did not align a gender binary or the heterosexual mainstream and were therefore likely LGBTQ+. 

Visibility and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in STEM fields is something that is historically lacking. Within academic and professional environments, LGBTQ+ experience horrifically high rates of exclusion, harassment, assault, and discrimination as represented in the following statistics: 

Diversity is an incredibly important factor within STEM as it allows people from different backgrounds and walks of life to make decisions about how to investigate the world around us. Increased diversity comes hand in hand with a more complete picture of the world and ultimately aids in the process of scientific discovery and understanding. Negative attitudes and other harmful biases create barriers to opportunity, produce unwelcoming environments that disadvantage LGBTQ+ people, and ultimately prevent the advancement of all fields both scientific and otherwise.

Education and representation are key to gaining a better understanding of the challenges and hardships faced by the LGBTQ+ community. It is key that LGBTQ+ individuals and their communities receive support from colleagues, classmates, and peers as they work to make STEM (alongside other fields) more diverse, accepting, and equitable. Simply being an active bystander that speaks up against the negative or discriminatory actions or behaviors of others can go a long way. 

An adventure in STEM and brought to you by Family Strengths Network and the Los Alamos STEAM Lab – credit JoAnna O’Neill

Clouds 

Most days when you look up into the sky you can see a variety of different types of clouds.  Even when we can’t see them, clouds affect our daily lives in a number of different ways. Clouds are important components of the complex global weather system and play a key role in Earth’s water cycle. Clouds have dramatic effects on climate and weather and can influence the locations and severity of floods and droughts as well as affect the temperature of the planet as a whole. Gaining a better understanding of clouds allows scientists to better predict severe storms, global freshwater distribution, and the course of climate change. 

How are Clouds Formed? 

Water can exist in three phases (solid, liquid, and gas) and is the primary component of all clouds. The water that makes up clouds can exist in any of its three phases as ice crystals, water droplets, and water vapor. The main source of the water vapor necessary for the initial steps of cloud formation comes from evaporation (the process of turning from a liquid into a gas or vapor) as well as transpiration (the release of water by plants). 

As the sun warms the Earth’s surface, water vapor is introduced into the atmosphere through evaporation from bodies of water such as oceans and lakes,  and transpiration from Earth’s many plants. As warm air rises, it brings water vapor with it. The warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold and the colder the air, the less water vapor it can hold. If the air becomes cold enough, it will reach a state called supersaturation (when more water vapor is present than needed to produce saturation) and some of the water will transition back into a liquid or solid state. Water molecules will form around tiny particles such as dust, pollen or smoke suspended in the atmosphere. These particles are called condensation nuclei and serve as a starting point for the formation of tiny water droplets and ice crystals from water vapor. As this process is repeated billions and billions of times, these newly formed ice crystals and water droplets will clump together to form a visible cloud. Once a cloud becomes large and full enough, it will release the water back down to the Earth as precipitation in the form of rain, snow, sleet, or hail. 

Types of Clouds:

Clouds can have many different characteristics including a wide variety in appearance and atmospheric height. A cloud’s qualities are dictated by the elements available in the direct environment, including the amount of water vapor, temperatures at that altitude, wind, and the interplay of other air masses. Clouds are formally classified by both appearance and height of the cloud base. Information on the 10 basic types of clouds and how they are classified can be found here: https://www.weather.gov/jetstream/basicten

Cloud Facts: 

  • Clouds reflect sunlight but also absorb infrared energy. Reflecting light from the sun is what gives them their typical white appearance. 
  • Clouds appear whiter if the water droplets contained in them are smaller. This happens as the result of more condensation nuclei or aerosols in the clouds. 
  • Clouds can appear gray when they are either very full of water or if there are so many clouds in the area that they are casting shadows on eachother. 
  • The average cumulus fair weather cloud can weigh more than a million pounds and a lively thunderstorm cloud can pack billions to trillions of pounds of water into a tiny fraction of the sky. 
  • In meteorology, the study of clouds is called nephology and a person who studies clouds is known as a nephologist. 
  • A cloud will float as long as the air that the water and air it is made of is warmer than the air surrounding it. 

At Home Experiments 

For local families, supplies can be picked up at Family Strengths Network during June (2021)

Experiment 1: Cloud in a Jar

Video Tutorial: 

Materials: 

  • Glass jar with a metal lid 
  • Hot/boiling water 
  • Ice 
  • Hairspray 

Instructions: 

  1. Start by pouring the hot water into the jar carefully until it is about halfway full. Swirl it around to heat up the side of the jar. 
  2. Turn the metal lid upside down and place it on the top opening of the jar. 
  3. Place your ice cubes inside the upside down lid. 
  4. Wait about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  5. Quickly and carefully remove the lid holding the ice cubes and briefly spray hairspray into the jar. 
  6. Immediately replace the lid and ice cubes to seal off the jar opening. 
  7. Observe the cloud form.
  8. Remove the lid to release the cloud when you are ready. Watch as it rises up and disappears into the air outside of the jar. 

How It Works:

This experiment mimics the natural cloud formation process described above. As hot water is added to the jar, some of it turns to its gaseous form, water vapor. As this vapor rises to the top of the jar, it encounters the cold lid filled with ice cubes. Upon contact with the lid, the water vapor condenses as it cools down. However, a cloud will not form unless the water vapor has something to condense to. The hairspray added to the jar serves as the condensation nuclei that allow a cloud to form and become visible within the jar. 

Experiment 2: Rain in a Jar

Video Tutorial: 

Materials: 

  • Glass jar
  • Food coloring drops 
  • Shaving Cream 
  • Room temperature water 

Instructions: 

  1. Fill the glass jar about 2/3 of the way full with water.
  2. Fill the rest of the jar with shaving cream to form a fluffy cloud at the top. 
  3. Drip your food coloring onto the shaving cream until the first drops of rain (food coloring) make their way through your cloud (shaving cream) and are released into the water below. 

How it Works: 

In this experiment, the shaving cream serves as a cloud, the water as the atmosphere, and the food coloring as moisture entering the cloud during cloud formation that will eventually leave in the form of precipitation. As the food coloring is dropped into the shaving cream, the shaving cream cloud becomes saturated and mimics how clouds grow and become heavier until they reach a point where they can no longer hold onto that much water. When clouds reach this point, they will release water as rain or other forms of precipitation in a similar way to how the shaving cream releases the food coloring into the water below after enough drops are added.  

Thank you for joining us! 

We’ve got some camp offerings up (and adjusted to accommodate K-6+)! They are all half-day, outside, free-form, and run from 8:30 – 12:30. We believe in providing a pretty loose format that allows time for free play. We often find the most fun happens after the kids start saying, “I’m bored.”

Two-week camp to finish off June: https://lasteamlab.com/shop/june-summer-camp/

And as of now, two, focused, single week offerings in July: https://lasteamlab.com/shop/summer-camp-2021/

We’re hoping to create a fun and safe outdoor experience. Camps will be run by our adult teachers, but supported by our teen employees. We’re aiming for a ratio of 5 kids per adult and 3 per teen. Our teens missed out on employment last year and we want to fix that for as many of them as possible this year.

Classes

We’ve got an online Minecraft Modding class in the works for kids who are looking to take their programming skills to the next level. We’ll be programming in Java and the learning curve will be a bit steep, but kiddos should come out with some solid skills.

Other classes may be in the works as we field requests from families and have a better handle on what the other local offerings are. If you’ve got something in mind, we’ll see if we can work with you.

Celebrating Black History Month with the Los Alamos STEAM Lab 

by JoAnna O’Neill

As Black History Month comes to an end, the Los Alamos STEAM lab would like to take the time to recognize just a few of the countless Black scientists, innovators, and inventors whose contributions in STEM have profoundly changed our world for the better. Systemic racism, both historically and currently, has resulted in a severe underrepresentation of Black scholars in nearly every field of STEM and their vast achievements and contributions often go forgotten or unrecognized. By highlighting and celebrating the accomplishments of these incredible individuals, we hope to promote increased diversity, intersectionality, and inclusion in STEM. 

Making STEM equitable for everyone requires that the community as a whole actively put in the work to combat racism, bias, and underlying systems of oppression. A great resource for more information about anti-racism in STEM can be found in this great paper as well as this website by the same authors.

Prolific Black Scientists, Inventors, and Innovators:

Mark Dean – Inventor, computer engineer and co-creator of the IBM personal computer. Developed the ISA bus, colored PC, and the first gigahertz chip.

Marie Van Brittan Brown – Nurse and Inventor of the closed-circuit television security system that paved the way for modern home security systems.

Garrett Morgan – Businessman, community leader, and inventor of the traffic light and gas mask.

Gerald Lawson – Electronics engineer that designed the first video game console and pioneered commercial video game cartridges. Known as the “Father of Modern Gaming”.

Frederick McKinley Jones – Inventor of the air conditioning unit, self-starting gas engine, movie projector, and first automatic refrigeration system for trucks. Co-founder of Thermo King; the global leader in transport temperature control systems. 

Marian Croak – Vice President of Engineering at Google known for initiating and developing Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) that allows audio and video communication through the internet. 

Alexander Miles – Inventor that designed and patented automatic elevator doors, drastically increasing elevator safety. 

Lewis Latimer – Inventor and designer of the carbon filament for the incandescent lightbulb. Contributed to the invention of the first telephone.

Shirley Ann Jackson – Physicist, first Black woman to earn a doctorate at MIT, and eighteenth president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Inventor of the portable fax, touch tone telephone, solar cells, caller ID, call waiting, and fiber optic cables.

Otis Boykin – Engineer credited with improving the technology of electrical resistors and electronic control devices used in missile guidance, televisions, computers, radios, and pacemakers.

Lonnie Johnson – Aerospace engineer and inventor of the Johnson thermoelectric energy converter and iconic super soaker.

Charles Drew – Medical researcher and surgeon that improved techniques for blood storage. Developed the blood bank, plasma programs, and the concept of  blood mobiles. 

Jane Cooke Wright – Professor, surgeon and pioneering cancer researcher that analyzed a wide range of cancer treatments and explored the relationships between patient and tissue culture response. Developed new techniques for administering chemotherapy and was the first Black woman to be named associate dean of a nationally recognized medical institution. 

Lisa Gelobter – Computer scientist and technologist credited with developing the animation software program used in GIFs. Worked on several pioneering internet technologies and advancements in animation and online video. 

Alice Ball – Chemist that developed the “Ball Method” (the most effective treatment for leprosy until the 1940s) and conducted groundbreaking work in the cure of Hansen disease. 

Jesse Ernest Wilkins Jr. – Mechanical engineer, nuclear engineer, mathematician, and scientist that developed the mathematical models to explain gamma radiation that he later used to develop advances in gamma radiation shielding.

Elijah McCoy – Engineer and inventor of the lawn sprinkler, portable ironing board, and lubricants that revolutionized the steam and railroad industries.

Mary and Mildred Davidson – Sisters that invented the sanitary belt, toilet paper holder, walker tray, and multiple accessibility tools. 

Gladys West – Mathematician whose calculations,  computer programming and extensive contributions to satellite geodesy helped construct a model of the earth’s shape that was incorporated into the Global Positioning System (GPS), resulting in its widespread use. 

George Edward Alcorn Jr. – Physicist, engineer, and distinguished professor known for his work in Rockwell missiles, technology transfer, and his multiple aerospace and semiconductor inventions including the imaging x-ray spectrometer. 

George Carruthers – Astrophysicist and inventor of the ultraviolet camera and spectrograph used by NASA in the Apollo 16 flight as well as an image converter for detecting electromagnetic radiation. 

Ernest Everett Just – Biologist and scientific writer that conducted pioneering work in the physiology of development and fertilization. First to recognize the fundamental role of cell surface in development of organisms.

Patricia Bath – First African-American to complete a residency in ophthalmology and first Black woman to receive a medical patent for her invention of the Laserphaco Probe used to treat cataracts.  

Bessie Blount Griffin – Writer, nurse, physical therapist, forensic scientist, and inventor of the electronic feeding device along with other assistive devices.

Daniel Hale Williams – Cardiologist that performed the first documented, successful heart surgery and founded the first interracially staffed hospital and first Black nursing school in the United States. 

Katherine Johnson – NASA research mathematician and trailblazer whose calculations of orbital mechanics and flight path were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights. 

Betty Harris – Chemist known for her work in environmental remediation, hazardous waste treatment, and explosives research at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Synthesized and characterized high explosive and energetic materials and developed the detection methods and the extremely sensitive spot test for the explosive TATB. 

Kenneth J. Dunkley – Physicist and visual pioneer in the field of holography. Best known for inventing and patenting 3D glasses.

Valerie Thomas – Scientist, data analyst, and inventor of the illusion transmitter that has since been adopted by NASA and adapted for use in surgery and the production of television and video screens. Developed digital media formats and image processing systems used in the Landsat program to send images from space.

John Henry Thompson – Former Chief Scientist at Macromedia, computer programmer, and inventor of the Lingo programming language used in Adobe Director and Shockwave to render visuals in computer programs, video games, and animation.

Marie Maynard Daly – Biochemist and first Black woman to earn a PhD in Chemistry in American. Conducted important studies on cholesterol, sugars, and proteins and developed programs to increase enrollment of minority students in graduate and medical programs. 

James West – Acoustician, engineer, and inventor of the electret microphone. Holds over 250 foreign and U.S. patents for polymer foil electrets and microphone production and design.

Dorothy Vaughan – Mathematician, computer programmer, and NASA’s first Black manager. Known as the “Human Computer”.

Percy Lavon Julian – Research chemist and pioneer known as “The Chemist Who Changed the World.” Ingeniously developed chemical synthesis of important medicinal compounds from plant based sources, making them more affordable to mass produce. Received more than 130 chemical patents and was the first Black chemist inducted into the National Academy of Sciences.

George Washington Carver – Botanist, inventor, scientist, and agricultural chemist whose innovative discoveries and inventions helped restore the struggling agricultural economy of the South during the early 20th century. Known as the father of regenerative agriculture.

We’ll use our breadboard, some LEDs, and wire to light out rocket.

Materials:

  • 1 wooden rocket
  • 1 coin cell battery
  • 1 AA battery holder
  • 4 AA batteries
  • bread board
  • Alligator – male jumpers
  • copper tape
  • 2ft each red, blue, and black 22 gauge wire
  • Wire strippers
  • 4 5mm red LEDs
  • 4 3mm blue LEDs
  • 1 470ohm resistor
  • 1 male-male jumper

Hour of Code can be a little overwhelming. Here are some of the projects I find most valuable. Most resources were pulled from https://hourofcode.com/us/learn

Pre-Readers

Pre-reader activities just don’t involve written language. Most of these are still completely fun for older kids and even adults.

CodeSpark Academy: I don’t love their pay structure it seems dishonest, and honestly my kid was done after a month, but the puzzles are great for problem solving and can be replayed to collect stars. Some amount of gameplay is free with hour of code.

Website: https://codespark.com/play/
Click “Schools” in the upper left and then “Students” then “Hour of Code.” I recommend the puzzles, but you can design games as well.

Lightbot: I love lightbot enough that I bought the full featured app awhile ago. It is challenging enough for adults and simple enough for preK kids to at least start out. The puzzles involve getting a robot to light squares, but he can jump, turn, light, and more. It works on sequencing and adds functions. The number of commands becomes restricted over time forcing the use of functions. This can limit it for younger kids, but it adds a nice challenge for older kids.

Website: https://lightbot.com/hour-of-code.html

PBS ScratchJr: PBS has some really great guided lessons for ScratchJr. This requires some more hands on work from a parent, but the lessons walk through an unplugged activity, teach some basics of how to use Scratch Jr, watch a 15 minute PBS video clip, and then have kids re-enact a scene in Scratch Jr. These are a great jumping off point for having them create more of their own stories.

Scratch Jr is a block based app that allows kids to create movies or visual stories. It is not nearly so extensive as Scratch, but the simplicity makes it a great jumping off point.

Website: https://pbskids.org/learn/scratchjr/

Block-Based Programming for Readers

Dance Party: This is the quintessential Hour of Code activity and kids tend to love it. There are a lot of videos to watch. They can be skipped, but they are also all about underrepresented people coding in unique ways, so they’re pretty worthwhile.

Website: https://code.org/dance

AI for Oceans: This activity teaches about machine learning and uses the ecological impact of trash in the oceans as a teaching tool. Kids train the bot to recognize fish and not fish and see how well it works. It is a bit slow-paced and I almost didn’t include it, but so few coding activities talk about machine learning that I thought it was important.

Website: https://code.org/oceans

Minecraft: Three of these are Minecraft based puzzle games that teach kids how to sequence. They’re very popular and well done, but they do assume some basic minecraft knowledge. The fourth is more complex and allows kids to have events trigger behavior. I really like this set.

Website: https://code.org/minecraft

You can also download minecraft education edition and run through some free activities there. I like education edition in concept and have even run some classes with it, but it is a bit buggy still and that can be frustrating.

Plethora: This one is new to me and I think I really like it. It starts off a bit slow and it is a bit clumsy to me, but I think that is because of my preconceived notions. Each level starts with a set of colored shapes and should end with a different set. Kids set collision events to create or delete shapes for the final outcome. This concept comes up in game design a lot, and I’ve never seen it taught so explicitly. I like it a lot. Kids can also design their own challenges and the platform is forever free. There is reading at the start, but I think this would be suitable for pre-readers if a reader got them started.

Website: https://www.iamplethora.com/levels.html

Art with Kano: Kano has a great drawing toolkit that lets folks programmatically create drawing by setting the background and pen colors and creating shapes and lines. The tutorials are well done and easy to follow. They progress to creating pong-like games.

Website: https://world.kano.me/challenges/kano-code/strings

Coding Without Blocks

You’ll never catch me saying that block coding isn’t real, but sometimes it is limiting based on the platform you are doing it in. Learning a fully developed language requires typing, spelling, and problem solving skills, but can lead to more freedom.

Bitsbox: Bitsbox is a subscription box I’ve heard some positive things about. In this free hour of code you create a few apps. They walk you through the exact things to type, but also encourage a lot of play with your finished project. I like this, because playing around with functional code is a great way to learn programming, and quite frankly an accepted way to be a professional programmer as well.

Website: https://bitsbox.com/hoc2016.html

Code Combat: This is gamified coding and it works pretty well. STEAM Lab had a free subscription at the beginning of covid and several kids really enjoyed it. There was a major shift of gameplay between worlds, so if your kid loves the free levels, they still may not love the paid version.

Website: https://codecombat.com/play/dungeon?hour_of_code=true and https://codecombat.com/play/game-dev-hoc?hour_of_code=true

Our own Python Tutorials: Not as flashy as some of the Hour of Code apps, but our python tutorials walk kids through the steps needed to make an interactive program in their web browser.

Python: Math Facts

Python: MadLibs

Whatever you do and whatever your style you should have fun with Hour of Code. Programming opens a door to a different way of thinking about the world and is a great tool for both art and science.

Elatsoe (Amazon / Los Alamos Public Library) is YA/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction set in an alternative United States that is a home to magic. Magic is commonplace enough not to be astounding, but also not really a huge part of life for most folk, hence it is not fully in the fantasy realm.

Elatsoe (Ellie)’s Lipan Apache family has passed down the knowledge that allows them to raise ghosts, but only animals. Raising people is bad news; they come back as angry balls of energy, unlike her faithful dog who will protect and love her all of its days. The secret is well hidden and is passed from mother to oldest daughter and must be used carefully to serve and protect their community.

The story centers around a dream in which Ellie’s cousin visits her with his last breath asking her to avenge his murder and protect his family. She must use all her knowledge, cunning and contacts to uncover the truth and avenge him without unleashing his ghost to do untold damage.

This story pits the little guy against the rich and powerful without ever implying that Ellie doesn’t have plenty of her own power. It doesn’t gloss over the historic and current atrocities enacted against indigenous people, but always there is hope and a desire to restore the earth. Ellie is followed in every store she enters while her friend Jay is adored.

This story is wonderfully diverse in the best ways. Ellie’s culture plays a large part in the story as it does in her life. Her mom uses story-telling to impart truths and we learn the life of Six Great at the story unfolds. Lipan burial rites and beliefs serve as a central theme to the story and elders are consulted.

There is also incidental diversity included causally and without fanfare. Ellie is asexual and doesn’t plan to have children. She considers breaking tradition and passing her legacy to her cousin’s son. Her best friend is a cheerleader and his sister is the star of her basketball team. Vampires are evil, but they’re also just normal people. Marriage is not just between a man and a woman. Inter-racial families must find ways to incorporate multiple cultures into their lives. Men can take a back seat to their wives careers and passions.

This book is appropriate for most anyone. It has some complex concepts, but a story that can be followed by any kiddo up for longer books. I adored it without reservation, but I could have read it out loud to my girls when they were 4 and 6, my son, currently 5, doesn’t have the attention for it though.

Crystal structures are all around us. We eat them in the form of salt and sugar and in freezing weather we see them in the forms of snow, ice, and sleet. Water is one of the simplest molecules to form crystals, making it an interesting and fun topic of study. However, don’t let the simplicity of water molecules fool you into thinking the process of snow formation is simple! Water crystals can be exceptionally complex and are the focus of extensive scientific inquiry

First, we need to consider the basis of snow; water. Water is made of two hydrogen atoms attached to a single oxygen through covalent bonds (in which atoms share electrons to create linkages and form molecules). It looks like this:

When water is in its gas or liquid state, the molecules bounce around freely, but when colder temperature causes it to solidify, the slightly positive charge of the hydrogen atoms is attracted to the slightly negative charge of the oxygen.This causes the water molecules to form interactions between each other (known as hydrogen bonds) which leads to the development of crystals that generally come together in very specific ways, the most basic of which is shown below.

The crystal on the right is a variation in which a few of the hydrogen atoms are pointing up at a 120° angle. They could as easily be pointing in different directions which allows for a diverse variety of snowflakes to be formed

When liquid water freezes, it forms neat crystals and we get ice. But when water vapor deposes, turning directly from a gas to a solid, the molecules don’t have time to form large, clean crystals and instead form snowflakes through a complex additive process. A basic start of a snowflake could look roughly like this:

The speed at which snowflakes form combined with other factors including temperature, pressure, and humidity determines the shape, size, structure, and organization of a snowflake. For example, colder temperatures generally form snowflakes that are less elaborate or organized due to the rapid speed of formation.

Drawing out all of the individual molecules in a snowflake is a long process and can obscure the larger picture. Thus, they are often simplified as hexagons or star shapes like these. All six arms of the snowflake grow independently, but under near identical conditions as they fall from the sky to the earth’s surface. This permits the formation of complex, symmetrical, and ultimately unique shapes.

Caltech has an excellent guide on classifying snowflakes and wikipedia has an entire article on snow science that talks about temperatures and classifications. Use those and this simple hexagon guide to draw your own snowflakes.

All About Blood

With Halloween having just passed, you may have noticed fake blood covering various costumes and decorations. But what exactly is this incredible red substance that courses through our bodies? 

Blood is a specialized fluid found in bodies of humans and other animals. It accounts for approximately 10% of an adult human’s weight, with the average person having roughly 10 pints of blood in their body. 

Blood has a variety of different functions, including: 

  • Oxygen and nutrient delivery to tissues of the body
  • Waste product transportation, such as moving CO2, urea, and lactic acid to organs that can process and/or eliminate them from the body
  • Prevention of infection through immunological functions
  • Clot formation (coagulation) to prevent excessive blood loss in the case of injury
  • Body heat regulation
  • Hormone transportation for chemical signalling and messaging functions 
  • pH regulation
  • Cellular water concentration maintenance
  • Osmotic pressure regulation in blood cells

What is blood made of? 

Blood is composed of four major components: plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. 

Plasma: 

Plasma is the yellowish liquid portion of blood that is a mixture or water, proteins, sugars, hormones, and salt. Plasma is mostly water by volume (about 92%) and serves to transport blood cells, nutrients, antibodies, waste products, clotting proteins, and chemical messengers or hormones throughout the body while helping maintain the delicate fluid balance required for life.

Red Blood Cells: 

Red blood cells (RBCs) are also known as erythrocytes. RBCs are shaped like indented disks and have no nucleus, allowing them to be more flexible for passage through blood vessels. The lack of a nucleus also limits the lifespan of these cells, meaning that RBCs only live about 120 days on average. RBCs make up about 40-45% of total blood volume and are made daily inside our bone marrow at a rate of about 4-5 billion cells per hour. Red blood cells also contain a special protein called hemoglobin that carries oxygen and gives blood its characteristic red color. 

White Blood Cells: 

Also known as leukocytes or WBCs, white blood cells account for about 1% of total blood volume, but are a very important component of the immune system. WBCs help fight bacteria and viruses to defend the body against infection. Like red blood cells, WBCs are generated constantly in bone marrow as well as in the  spleen, thymus, and lymph nodes. WBCs flow through the bloodstream attacking foreign bodies they encounter. When fighting an infection, white blood cell production increases to generate more cells to help protect the body. The lifespan of WBCs ranges from hours to years and some types of WBCs generate antibodies (special proteins that help the body recognize foreign materials in order to get rid of them). Several of the many types of white blood cells are:

Monocytes

The largest WBC, monocytes are effective at engulfing pathogens or worn out cells in a process called phagocytosis. They are known as macrophages once they leave blood circulation and enter tissues. Monocytes influence the process of adaptive immunity, provide immune surveillance, and live for an average of 3 days.  Neutrophils: The most common type of white blood cell, accounting for 55-75% of total WBC count. Neutrophil acts as an immediate response cell and is used for immune defense through its killing and phagocytizing bacteria and mediating inflammation. The lifespan of a neutrophil ranges from minutes to days. 

Lymphocytes

T-Lymphocytes: Help regulate the function of other immune cells and directly attack infected cells and tumors in a process called cellular immunity. 

B-Lymphocytes: Are responsible for antibody production (which is important in humoral immunity) and function as memory cells that live for years. They can also recognize surface antigens of bacteria and viruses. 

Basophils

These small cells sound the alarm when infectious agents invade blood. Basophils secrete chemicals that help control the body’s immune response and promote inflammation. They have a lifespan ranging from hours to days and can enter tissues in places of injury where they secrete the anti-clotting factor heparin. Basophils are the least common WBC, accounting for only 0.5-1% of circulating white blood cells in the body. 

Eosinophils

Eosinophils have a lifespan ranging from minutes to days and work to promote inflammation. Eosinophils perform antiparasitic and bacteria killing activities. 

Platelets:

Also known as thrombocytes, platelets are tiny, colorless cell fragments found in our blood. Platelets work to control and prevent bleeding by gathering at the site of an injury where they will stick to the lining of an injured blood vessel to form a platform for blood coagulation (clotting). This coagulation leads to the formation of a fibrin clot that covers the wound and stops the flow of blood out of the injury. Fibrin also helps promote healing by forming the initial scaffolding for new tissue to form. Platelets are made in our bone marrow and have a lifespan of about 10 days before they are removed from the bloodstream. 

Blood Vessels

The heart pumps blood throughout the body through a series of blood vessels. The three main types of blood vessels are arteries, veins, and capillaries. 

  • Arteries carry nutrients and oxygenated blood from away from the heart and to the rest of the body. 
  • Veins carry deoxygenated and nutrient poor blood from various parts of the body back to the heart. 
  • Capillaries are small, thin vessels that connect arteries to veins. They have thin walls to permit oxygen, nutrients, carbon dioxide, and waste products to pass to and from the surrounding tissue cells. 

Blood Types

There are 8 different blood types determined by the presence or absence of substances that can trigger an immune response. These substances are known as antigens. In the case of blood transfusions, it is important to match compatible blood types, because some antigens can cause a patient’s immune system to attack transfused blood. The blood types are described using the letters A, B, and O to signify which antigens are present on red blood cells.The positive and negative signs indicate if the Rh protein is present in the blood or not. 

  • A- only has A Marker
  • A+ has A marker and Rh factor 
  • B- has B marker only
  • B+ has B marker and RH factor but no A marker
  • O- doesn’t have A or B markers or Rh factor
  • O+ doesn’t have A or B markers, but does have Rh factor
  • AB- has A and B markers but not Rh factor
  • AB+ has both A and B markers and Rh factor