Dr. Mae Jemison: On a ‘Starship’ Enterprise

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Doctor Mae Jemison floating in spacesuit

By Brady Rhoades

The first female African-American astronaut in space was not cured of curiosity when she whirled about the cosmos as part of NASA’s STS-47 in 1992. Her vision sharpened, like a kid who takes her first plane flight. Wondrous, yes, but still a hint.

Space, for Dr. Mae Jemison, is a wild trip in your bones and a homecoming in your soul. “It’s the one thing that connects us all around the world,” she said, in an interview with Diversity in STEAM Magazine. “And it also connects us to the planet and to the greater universe.”

Jemison is in demand, but she manages telescopic vision when it comes to her current project: 100 Year Starship.

The goal? Human travel to another solar system in the next 100 years. “Creating an extraordinary tomorrow actually creates a better world today,” Jemison said.

Jemison, the principal and leader of the 100 Year Starship program, stated on the organization’s website (100yearss.org): “When we explore space, we garner the greatest benefits here at home. The challenge of traveling to another star system could generate transformative activities, knowledge, and technologies that would dramatically benefit every nation on Earth in the near term and years to come.

“The concept of humans traveling to other star systems may appear fantastical, but no more so than the fantasy of reaching the moon was in the days of H. G. Wells. The First Men in the Moon was published considerably less than 100 years before humans landed on the Moon (1901 vs. 1969), and the rapidity of scientific and technological advances was not nearly as great as it is today. The truth is that the best ideas sound crazy at first. And then there comes a time when we can’t imagine a world without them.”

Jemison was the science mission specialist on STS-47 Spacelab. STS-47 was a cooperative mission between the United States and Japan. The eight-day mission was accomplished in 127 orbits of the Earth, and included 44 Japanese and U.S. life science and materials processing experiments.

Dr Mae Jemison seated resting hand on chin
Dr. Mae Jemison

She was a co-investigator on the bone cell research experiment that traveled with the mission. In completing her first space flight, Jemison logged more than 190 hours in space. She’d been starstruck all her life; that didn’t change. “I imagined myself on another star, and I was connected to that star because I’m part of the universe,” she said.

Dr. Jemison, the author of Find Where the Wind Goes: Moments From My Life and other books, overcame all the obstacles placed on the career course, and life course, of an African-American woman. She negotiated each pothole, each roadblock, moved on, didn’t look back. “You make sure you’re doing the best you can do, but you don’t hang out at stumbling blocks that other people want you to hang around.”

Her advice for those facing similar challenges? “You have to be comfortable with yourself,” she said. “The key issue is to understand criticism. Is it coming because you aren’t doing something right or because someone has a different expectation of you?”

Jemison, who earned a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Stanford University in 1977 and a doctorate degree in medicine from Cornell University in 1981, urges others to focus on education.  “There is nothing we can do that is more important in this world than education,” she said. “Here’s the thing: Children don’t get to do 8 years old over again… if we fail to take advantage, then we have lost.”

The astronaut who went on to be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the National Medical Association Hall of Fame, and the Texas Science Hall of Fame, started off gazing at the night sky as a girl in Chicago and watching the Gemini and Apollo flights on TV.

“I used to be really irritated when I was a little girl that there were no women astronauts,” she said. “And no people of color in the astronaut program. Really irritated.”

She said there’s a difference between role models and inspiration. She’s had many role models, including cats (“They’re so confident; they don’t take nonsense”), but inspiration is another matter. “Life inspired me,” she said.

Dr Jemison onstage with Stephen Hawkings
(L-R) Ann Druyan, producer, co-founder and CEO of Cosmos Studios; Zac Manchester, post-doctoral fellow, Harvard University; Yuri Milner, Breakthrough Prize and DST Global founder; Stephen Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, Dennis Stanton Avery and Sally Tsui Wong-Avery Director of Research, University of Cambridge; Freeman Dyson, Emeritus Professor, Princeton Institute for Advanced Study; Mae Jamison, NASA Astronaut, Principal 100 Year Starship Foundation; Peter Worden, Chairman, Breaktrough Prize Foundation and former NASA Director; Avi Loeb, Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University; and Philip Lubin, UC Santa Barbara Physics Professor, pose for a photo together. BRYAN BEDDER/GETTY IMAGES FOR BREAKTHROUGH PRIZE FOUNDATION

Jemison, a lover of the arts who dove deeply into dancing, has a background in engineering and medical research. She has worked in the areas of computer programming, printed wiring board materials, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, computer magnetic disc production, and reproductive biology. She completed her internship at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center in June 1982 and worked as a general practitioner with INA/Ross Loos Medical Group in Los Angeles until December of that year.

From January 1983 through June 1985, Jemison was the Area Peace Corps Medical Officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa. On return to the United States, Jemison joined CIGNA Health Plans of California in 1985 and was working as a general practitioner and taking graduate engineering classes in Los Angeles when she was chosen for the astronaut program in 1987.

She worked on the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory and the Science Support Group activities.

Then she was chosen to go to space, and she made history. “We have been in science all along,” she said about women of color. “Even when people didn’t want us involved. I want folks to understand they have the right to be involved. They don’t have to ask.”

Jemison left NASA in 1993—with a new mission. “My path was to include other people,” she said. She formed the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, which fosters science literacy. The non-profit, founded in honor of Jemison’s late mother, who was a school teacher, is all about “personal excellence.” The foundation’s main program, developed in 1994, is The Earth We Share international science camp. Students from the United States and around the world work together to solve such global issues as, “How Many People Can the Earth Hold?” and “Predict the Hot Public Stocks for the Year 2030.”

Dr. Mae Jemison in Star Trek episode picture Lt. Ohura
Jemison appeared in a speaking role on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Lieutenant Palmer, an officer serving aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D in 2369. Seen here speaking to Nichelle Nichols, who played communications officer Nyota Uhura in the original Star Trek series and movies.

Today, if you visit the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City, Jemison will speak directly to you about the contributions women have made to the space program, via a life-size hologram in the exhibit Defying Gravity: Women in Space. She narrates, discussing her career and those of other women involved in the space program while visitors wear Microsoft HoloLens mixed-reality headsets and walk around the exhibit. Holograms appear, helping to illustrate her points, including a life-size rendering of an spacewalking astronaut that appears to be tethered to the real-life Enterprise that hangs above the installation.

Jemison’s story jumpstarted when, as a girl, she did a simple thing: she looked up.

The story never really ends; the cosmos are infinite; you can never look too closely or far enough. All this is to say Jemison is still looking up, and she wants others—especially generations to come—to do the same.

That’s why she coaxed a sea of people to do just that on September 28, 2018, as part of her Look Up project. “We want to chronicle what happens when you look up at the sky,” she said. “What do you hope, dream, think, fear, wish, plan, love?” Stories of those voyages were posted to the digital world as poems, songs, photos and art. That day and in the days after, Americans, Africans, French, Japanese, girls, boys, old, young and you-name-them connected in strange and soothing ways.

“What’s above us, unites us,” Jemison said.

Felix Zhang ‘only student on the globe to ever ace the AP Calculus exam
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Penn Junior Felix Zhang being interviewed by reporters. (Credit: Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation)

An Indiana teenager, Felix Zhang, has achieved something no other student in the world achieved this spring: a perfect score on the Advanced Placement Calculus AB exam. The story will amaze you.

The Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation said that the College Board, which administers the AP exams, told the school’s principal that Felix Zhang achieved a perfect “5” rating and was the only student in the world to earn every possible point on the AP Calculus AB exam. In other words, he achieved a 108 out of 108.

“I felt pretty confident knowing that I knew what to do on the test, but there was always a chance I would make a small error or something,” he said. “So I wasn’t really expecting to see a perfect score. And that was pretty surprising to me because I felt like, there’s a lot of other people out there who probably perform very well on this test, and I’m pretty surprised that no one else got a perfect score.”

Felix Zhang is currently studying AP Calculus CB.

Read the Full Article on Fox11

Scientists Partially Restored a Blind Man’s Sight With New Gene Therapy
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In previous studies, researchers have been able to treat a genetic form of blind ness called Leber congenital amaurosis, by fixing a faulty gene that would otherwise cause photoreceptors to gradually degenerate.

By Carl Zimmer, Yahoo! News

A team of scientists announced Monday that they had partially restored the sight of a blind man by building light-catching proteins in one of his eyes. Their report, which appeared in the journal Nature Medicine, is the first published study to describe the successful use of this treatment. “Seeing for the first time that it did work — even if only in one patient and in one eye — is exciting,” said Ehud Isacoff, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the study.

The procedure is a far cry from full vision. The volunteer, a 58-year-old man who lives in France, had to wear special goggles that gave him the ghostly perception of objects in a narrow field of view. But the authors of the report say that the trial — the result of 13 years of work — is a proof of concept for more effective treatments to come.

“It’s obviously not the end of the road, but it’s a major milestone,” said José-Alain Sahel, an ophthalmologist who splits his time between the University of Pittsburgh and the Sorbonne in Paris.

Sahel and other scientists have tried for decades to find a cure for inherited forms of blindness. These genetic disorders rob the eyes of essential proteins required for vision.

When light enters the eye, it is captured by photoreceptor cells. The photoreceptors then send an electrical signal to their neighbors, called ganglion cells, which can identify important features like motion. They then send signals of their own to the optic nerve, which delivers the information to the brain.

In previous studies, researchers have been able to treat a genetic form of blindness called Leber congenital amaurosis, by fixing a faulty gene that would otherwise cause photoreceptors to gradually degenerate.

But other forms of blindness cannot be treated so simply, because their victims lose their photoreceptors completely.

“Once the cells are dead, you cannot repair the gene defect,” Sahel said.

For these diseases, Sahel and other researchers have been experimenting with a more radical kind of repair. They are using gene therapy to turn ganglion cells into new photoreceptor cells, even though they don’t normally capture light.

The scientists are taking advantage of proteins derived from algae and other microbes that can make any nerve cell sensitive to light.

In the early 2000s, neuroscientists figured out how to install some of these proteins into the brain cells of mice and other lab animals by injecting viruses carrying their genes. The viruses infected certain types of brain cells, which then used the new gene to build light-sensitive channels.

Originally, researchers developed this technique, called optogenetics, as a way to probe the workings of the brain. By inserting a tiny light into the animal’s brain, they could switch a certain type of brain cell on or off with the flick of a switch. The method has enabled them to discover the circuitry underlying many kinds of behavior.

Click here to read the full article on Yahoo! News.

This is how the human heart adapts to space
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Two men are standing looking at each other in front of what appears to be a map.

By Ashley Strickland

When astronaut Scott Kelly spent nearly a year in space, his heart shrank despite the fact that he worked out six days a week over his 340-day stay, according to a new study.

Surprisingly, researchers observed the same change in Benoît Lecomte after he completed his 159-day swim across the Pacific Ocean in 2018.
The findings suggest that long-term weightlessness alters the structure of the heart, causing shrinkage and atrophy, and low-intensity exercise is not enough to keep that from happening. The study published Monday in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.
Photo : CNN
The gravity we experience on Earth is what helps the heart to maintain both its size and function as it keeps blood pumping through our veins. Even something as simple as standing up and walking around helps pull blood down into our legs.
When the element of gravity is replaced with weightlessness, the heart shrinks in response.
Kelly lived in the absence of gravity aboard the International Space Station from March 27, 2015, to March 1, 2016. He worked out on a stationary bike and treadmill and incorporated resistance activities into his routine six days a week for two hours each day.
Lecomte swam from June 5 to November 11, 2018, covering 1,753 miles and averaging about six hours a day swimming. That sustained activity may sound extreme, but each day of swimming was considered to be low-intensity activity.
Even though Lecomte was on Earth, he was spending hours a day in the water, which offsets the effects of gravity. Long-distance swimmers use the prone technique, a horizontal facedown position, for these endurance swims.
Researchers expected that the activities performed by both men would keep their hearts from experiencing any shrinkage or weakening. Data collected from tests of their hearts before, during and after these extreme events showed otherwise.
Kelly and Lecomte both experienced a loss of mass and initial drop in diameter in the left ventricles of the heart during their experiences.
Both long-duration spaceflight and prolonged water immersion led to a very specific adaptation of the heart, said senior study author Dr. Benjamin Levine, a professor of internal medicine/cardiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
While the authors point out that they only studied two men who both performed extraordinary things, further study is needed to understand how the human body reacts in extreme situations.
Read the full article at CNN.
Empowering Women in STEM at Stanford
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Stanford women in stem pose together with arms around each other shoulders smiling

By Taylor Kubota

Although women are graduating with science degrees in increasing numbers, their representation diminishes by the time they reach more senior levels.

To give women a sense of belonging in STEM departments—and ultimately ensure the world benefits from their ideas and insights—over a dozen groups at Stanford University are pushing their communities to amplify and encourage the influence of women in STEM.

One such group, led by Margot Gerritsen, professor of energy resources engineering in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, runs an international network of data science conferences that feature woman panelists and speakers called the Women in Data Science Conference (WiDS).

“We do not just want work with women at the exclusion of others. We do want to promote outstanding work by outstanding women, and show women they are not alone in this field.” Gerritsen said.

A Vision for Stanford

As part of Stanford’s vision, the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Environment (IDEAL) initiative is working across the entire campus community to advance the university’s commitment to the values of diversity and inclusion.

“Promoting diversity at Stanford is critical for ensuring our intellectual strength and ability to contribute to our communities in meaningful ways,” said Provost Persis Drell. “The number of women undergraduates in STEM subjects at Stanford is increasing—which is great—but there is still a large disparity for women entering these fields professionally. And women leave their STEM-based careers at a much higher rate than men. These campus organizations help call attention to these issues.”

Centering Women, Welcoming All

Stanford’s Women in STEM groups focus on supporting women, but are open to anyone who shares the goal of promoting a supportive and encouraging environment for all.

“The default is for men to feel more wanted and for women to doubt whether they should attend an event or speak up during a discussion. It’s important to have some spaces where we reverse that expectation and explicitly tell women that they belong here,” said Julia Olivieri, a graduate student in the Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering who is also co-president of Women in Mathematics, Statistics and Computational Engineering (WiMSCE).

Olivieri founded WiMSCE with her co-president, Allison Koenecke, also a graduate student in the Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering, inspired by Gerritsen’s efforts to elevate women in their institute.

As with many similar groups, they aim to create an environment where women don’t have to worry about being the spokesperson for their gender or about bringing up issues specific to being a woman in STEM.

“Oftentimes you’re the only woman in the room, so you’re scared that if you say something wrong, not only will they think you’re stupid, they’ll think that all women are stupid,” said Koenecke. “These women-centric groups, like WiMSCE, are a place for women to gain experience in asking questions and not be afraid to fail.”

The Women in STEM groups at Stanford support many activities, bridging professional, personal and cultural enrichment. They host networking and career development events, where attendees can find mentors, meet with industry professionals and learn how to ask for raises. They have informal community-building events, like paint nights and hangouts, to discuss the week’s highs and lows.

The groups do delve into specific issues that tend to go hand-in-hand with existing as a woman in academia, such as the imposter syndrome (the idea that you don’t deserve your success, even in the face of clear evidence that you do) and the “mom effect” (the expectation that as teachers, they should be more nurturing than teachers who are men).

“I went to community college before transferring and was fortunate enough to learn about programs that encourage women and minorities in science,” said Priscilla San Juan, a graduate student in biology and president of Stanford Hermanas in STEM. “We can make an impact just by being present, so that these young students can see that there’s more than one kind of scientist.”

Elevating Others

Many of Stanford’s groups supporting women in STEM are having an impact outside the campus community. Stanford’s Womxn in Design had over 350 people attend their conference last fall, and hosted their first makeathon in February.

“As we were searching for a diverse lineup of conference speakers, we were faced with the harsh reality— the rest of the field isn’t really elevating womxn of color. So, we are really pushing to be more inclusive,” said Nicole Orsak, a management science and engineering major and co-president of Stanford Womxn in Design. “We’ve also changed the ‘e’ in our name to an ‘x’ to make it clear that we welcome all womxn and, really, anyone who is an ally to womxn.”

Stanford’s Hermanas in STEM is also considering a name change in order to reinforce that their membership goes beyond women and Latinx people.

“Everyone is welcome in Hermanas in STEM. All we ask is that people advocate for Latinx folks in academic spaces because we don’t always feel welcome or that we belong,” added San Juan.

Gerritsen, too, acknowledges that the success of WiDS sets the stage for a more complex effort to promote other minority groups in data science, such as women of color and gender non-binary people.

For now, she’s focused on how to make the WiDS network as strong as possible.

“What I’m hoping is someday these conferences are totally unnecessary. That would be great,” said Gerritsen. “We just want to normalize that there are women out there doing outstanding work.”

Source:  https://news.stanford.edu/2020/03/02/recognizing-empowering-women-stem/

Stressed out? Blame bad technology
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By Reuters

There is no question that we are all more dependent on technology than ever. So what happens when that tech does not work?

In the past, Emily Dreyfuss used an old-school strategy: She yelled.

When Amazon’s Alexa spat out wrong answers or misunderstood questions, Dreyfuss let the virtual assistant have it.

“I used her as a scapegoat for my feelings,” said Dreyfuss, a writer and editor for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. “When you have a non-sentient and annoying device in your home, who isn’t doing what you want, I talked to her in not the nicest terms. And my husband ganged up on her, too.”

Tech frustrations like this have happened to all of us. Your wifi is always dropping out. Your passwords do not work. Your laptop crashes, and you lose everything you were working on. Just reading about those possibilities could be enough to raise your blood pressure.

Technology can damage our state of mind, and new research is bearing that out: Computer giant Dell Technologies, in partnership with neuroscience firm EMOTIV, put people through a gauntlet of bad tech experiences, and then measured their brainwaves to gauge their reactions.

Test subjects had trouble logging on, or had to navigate sluggish applications, or saw their spreadsheets crash.

“The moment people started using bad technology, we saw a doubling of their levels of stress,” said Olivier Oullier, EMOTIV’s president. “I was a bit surprised by that, because you rarely see those levels going so high. Tech stress had a lasting effect, Oullier added. “People don’t relax back into calmness quickly. It takes a long time.”

Company bottom lines have suffered along with the mental health of employees. Constant frustration with bad tech affects how staffers handle their daily workloads, especially younger workers. Gen Z and Millennial test subjects saw a whopping 30% productivity drop as a result.

“Bad experiences affect you regardless of computer literacy,” said Cile Montgomery, who leads customer experience initiatives for Dell. “But young people seem to be even more impacted, because they expect technology to work.”

Read the full article at Reuters.

Six Apps that Help you Stick to a Budget
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A cartoon of six smart phone being held by a group of hands, displaying various screens

In these days of furloughs, layoffs, and shortened hours, when many people are struggling to pay their rent, figure out how to manage their bills, and looking askance at their college loans, it can help to have a solid financial app to assess your situation, create a budget, figure out exactly what you can (or can’t) afford, work with those pesky and confusing figures, find a better way to save, or just keep from panicking.

We asked four staff members from The Verge to talk about what they used to keep financially sane, and here’s what they recommended.

Buxfer: All Around Accounting

First of all, I need to admit that I monitor my finances in an absurdly old-fashioned way. I don’t use an app that downloads all of my accounts and tracks everything for me (although I have played around with Mint a bit). Instead, I enter all of my expenses and income manually into my accounting software and then check off which expenses have cleared at the end of the month. That way, I can “pay” many of my bills ahead of time by entering them before the payments are actually made and end up with a much clearer picture of how much cash I’ll have available afterward.

For years, I used native accounting software that just sat on my personal computer, like Microsoft Money. In fact, I held on to Money for several years after Microsoft sunsetted it but still kept it available as a download. (Thank you for that, Microsoft!) However, I found out how much of a mistake that was the day my computer decided to (figuratively) crash and burn. I had a backup, so I wasn’t in much trouble — except I decided I didn’t want to be dependent on a backup. I wanted to be able to access my data from the cloud, so I could access it from a computer or from my phone. However, I still enter it manually.

It took a while, but I found Buxfer. This personal accounting software is simple to learn, easy to use, and flexible enough so that, while it will happily download all of your data for you, it will also let you manually enter your expenses and income (something most other current accounting apps do not). Buxfer does pretty much everything more well-known accounting apps do: it downloads your accounts (if you want it to), tracks your budget, lets you know how you’re doing using charts and tables, follows your investments, and lets you set goals for, say, saving up for a home or paying down a credit card. It even lets you split bills with a spouse or a roommate, so you can track who is paying for what.

If you only need something to manually add expenses and income to, Buxfer is free to use. If you want more sophisticated features — like, for example, automatic syncing with your bank and credit card accounts or automatic tagging of your accounts (so you can easily find “utilities” or “mortgage”) — then a “Pilot” account costs $2 / month. The cost increases up to $10 a month, depending on how many features you need.

I really like Buxfer. It has a clean, understandable interface; lets you choose how many of your features you want to use (and lets you ignore the others); and doesn’t bother you with intrusive ads — even on the free version. And although I was using the free version, when I had a question, I got a prompt reply to my email. Buxfer may not be as well-known as Quicken or YNAB, but it’s certainly worth checking out. —Barbara Krasnoff, reviews editor

Credit Karma:  Keep your Data Secure

A couple of years ago, I needed to find a company (cheap or free) that I could use for identity monitoring, and someone at work recommended Credit Karma. I soon found out that, in signing up for Credit Karma, I was signing up for much more than just identity monitoring.

Credit Karma watches all of your accounts for possible data breaches, monitors your credit standing and notifies you when it changes and why, and helps you to do things like lock your credit so that it’s harder for somebody to open an account in your name, among other services. It also offers links to information about buying a home, buying or leasing a car, paying down an overdrawn credit card, and other financial services. There is an entire section on financial relief, which could be very useful for those impacted by the current situation.

The site makes a variety of suggestions for low-interest credit cards, loans, and other financial instruments. Of course, these suggestions aren’t given strictly out of the kindness of its heart — you know that Credit Karma is getting compensated if you take it up on any of its offers — but I’ve checked out a few of its deals, and most of them aren’t bad. For example, one of their savings accounts offered considerably more interest than my local bank, without charging anything extra. (Unfortunately, when interest rates began to dive, the usefulness of that particular account dove with it.)

Unlike most of the other apps mentioned here, Credit Karma will not help you pay your bills or track your bank account. But it does offer some really useful information and services, and while I don’t check it more than once a month or so, I find it helps me make sure my finances are safe and on the right track. —Barbara Krasnoff

Continue to The Verge to read the full article

Can Virtual Reality Help Autistic Children Navigate the Real World?
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Mr. Ravindran adjusts his son’s VR headset between lessons. “It was one of the first times I’d seen him do pretend play like that,” Mr. Ravindran said of the time when his son used Google Street View through a headset, then went into his playroom and acted out what he had experienced in VR. “It ended up being a light bulb moment.

By Gautham Nagesh, New York Times

This article is part of Upstart, a series on young companies harnessing new science and technology.

Vijay Ravindran has always been fascinated with technology. At Amazon, he oversaw the team that built and started Amazon Prime. Later, he joined the Washington Post as chief digital officer, where he advised Donald E. Graham on the sale of the newspaper to his former boss, Jeff Bezos, in 2013.

By late 2015, Mr. Ravindran was winding down his time at the renamed Graham Holdings Company. But his primary focus was his son, who was then 6 years old and undergoing therapy for autism.

“Then an amazing thing happened,” Mr. Ravindran said.

Mr. Ravindran was noodling around with a virtual reality headset when his son asked to try it out. After spending 30 minutes using the headset in Google Street View, the child went to his playroom and started acting out what he had done in virtual reality.

“It was one of the first times I’d seen him do pretend play like that,” Mr. Ravindran said. “It ended up being a light bulb moment.”

Like many autistic children, Mr. Ravindran’s son struggled with pretend play and other social skills. His son’s ability to translate his virtual reality experience to the real world sparked an idea. A year later, Mr. Ravindran started a company called Floreo, which is developing virtual reality lessons designed to help behavioral therapists, speech therapists, special educators and parents who work with autistic children.

The idea of using virtual reality to help autistic people has been around for some time, but Mr. Ravindran said the widespread availability of commercial virtual reality headsets since 2015 had enabled research and commercial deployment at much larger scale. Floreo has developed almost 200 virtual reality lessons that are designed to help children build social skills and train for real world experiences like crossing the street or choosing where to sit in the school cafeteria.

Last year, as the pandemic exploded demand for telehealth and remote learning services, the company delivered 17,000 lessons to customers in the United States. Experts in autism believe the company’s flexible platform could go global in the near future.

That’s because the demand for behavioral and speech therapy as well as other forms of intervention to address autism is so vast. Getting a diagnosis for autism can take months — crucial time in a child’s development when therapeutic intervention can be vital. And such therapy can be costly and require enormous investments of time and resources by parents.

The Floreo system requires an iPhone (version 7 or later) and a V.R. headset (a low-end model costs as little as $15 to $30), as well as an iPad, which can be used by a parent, teacher or coach in-person or remotely. The cost of the program is roughly $50 per month. (Floreo is currently working to enable insurance reimbursement, and has received Medicaid approval in four states.)

A child dons the headset and navigates the virtual reality lesson, while the coach — who can be a parent, teacher, therapist, counselor or personal aide — monitors and interacts with the child through the iPad.

The lessons cover a wide range of situations, such as visiting the aquarium or going to the grocery store. Many of the lessons involve teaching autistic children, who may struggle to interpret nonverbal cues, to interpret body language.

Autistic self-advocates note that behavioral therapy to treat autism is controversial among those with autism, arguing that it is not a disease to be cured and that therapy is often imposed on autistic children by their non-autistic parents or guardians. Behavioral therapy, they say, can harm or punish children for behaviors such as fidgeting. They argue that rather than conditioning autistic people to act like neurotypical individuals, society should be more welcoming of them and their different manner of experiencing the world.

“A lot of the mismatch between autistic people and society is not the fault of autistic people, but the fault of society,” said Zoe Gross, the director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “People should be taught to interact with people who have different kinds of disabilities.”

Mr. Ravindran said Floreo respected all voices in the autistic community, where needs are diverse. He noted that while Floreo was used by many behavioral health providers, it had been deployed in a variety of contexts, including at schools and in the home.

“The Floreo system is designed to be positive and fun, while creating positive reinforcement to help build skills that help acclimate to the real world,” Mr. Ravindran said.

In 2017, Floreo secured a $2 million fast track grant from the National Institutes of Health. The company is first testing whether autistic children will tolerate headsets, then conducting a randomized control trial to test the method’s usefulness in helping autistic people interact with the police.

Early results have been promising: According to a study published in the Autism Research journal (Mr. Ravindran was one of the authors), 98 percent of the children completed their lessons, quelling concerns about autistic children with sensory sensitivities being resistant to the headsets.

Ms. Gross said she saw potential in virtual reality lessons that helped people rehearse unfamiliar situations, such as Floreo’s lesson on crossing the street. “There are parts of Floreo to get really excited about: the airport walk through, or trick or treating — a social story for something that doesn’t happen as frequently in someone’s life,” she said, adding that she would like to see a lesson for medical procedures.

However, she questioned a general emphasis by the behavioral therapy industry on using emerging technologies to teach autistic people social skills.

A second randomized control trial using telehealth, conducted by Floreo using another N.I.H. grant, is underway, in hopes of showing that Floreo’s approach is as effective as in-person coaching.

But it was those early successes that convinced Mr. Ravindran to commit fully to the project.

“There were just a lot of really excited people.,” he said. “When I started showing families what we had developed, people would just give me a big hug. They would start crying that there was someone working on such a high-tech solution for their kids.”

Clinicians who have used the Floreo system say the virtual reality environment makes it easier for children to focus on the skill being taught in the lessons, unlike in the real world where they might be overwhelmed by sensory stimuli.

Celebrate the Children, a nonprofit private school in Denville, N.J., for children with autism and related challenges, hosted one of the early pilots for Floreo; Monica Osgood, the school’s co-founder and executive director, said the school had continued to use the system.

Click here to read the full article on New York Times.

Women and Drones Documentary Filming Onsite at Commercial UAV Expo
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woman flying a drone wearing a safety vest and glassess

Commercial UAV Expo has been announced as an official filming location for a multi-part documentary produced through a partnership with Women and Drones and documentary film company Monumental Access. The partnership will focus on inspiring the next generation of talented aviation leaders by capturing the stories and footage of women in the drone industry.

In partnership with Women and Drones, Monumental Access has been creating a multi-part documentary for a behind-the-scenes look into the professionals, especially women, in the uncrewed aviation space. The multi-part documentary will give a birds-eye view of the significance of the drone industry by capturing in-depth interviews with educators, CEOs, and professionals allowing their stories to be told from the first-person perspective. Viewers will have an all-access look into the women’s lives who are shaping the industry.

“Women and Drones has been an important supporting partner of Commercial UAV Expo for years. We are thrilled that we can help elevate their mission and provide a documentary filming location to access some of the most influential leaders in the commercial drone industry by bringing the filming location to Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas,” said Lora Burns, Marketing Manager and Coordinator of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion UAV Empower initiatives at Commercial UAV Expo.

“The partnership with Monumental and Commercial UAV Expo will allow us to capture stories of the individuals who are contributing to the future of STEM and aviation. From the nonprofits and educational organizations introducing youth to aviation and STEM via drones to the innovators leading the way in the various emerging aviation technologies we plan to shed a bright light on the industry” said Sharon Rossmark, CEO of Women and Drones.

“Monumental Access is excited to highlight the excellence achieved by women in the field of emerging aviation technologies. By capturing their stories through the lens of a camera everyone will have an opportunity to have a front-row seat alongside these amazing women” said Monte Chambers, founder and CEO of Monumental Access.

Filming started in May with the Disaster Response Workshop hosted by Dr. Robin Murphy at Texas A&M and the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue. The project captured the experiences of the participants and facilitators and shared a powerful message about the importance of this type of training for women. “Ultimately, my desired outcome for filming in the Disaster Response Workshop will be to create engaging content for viewers unfamiliar with the drone sector of the aviation industry. By raising awareness to the public, these modern-day hidden figures will be in the spotlight” Chambers added.

The next round of filming will take place at Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas, Sept 6-8, 2022. In addition to the onsite filming, Commercial UAV Expo offers a robust conference program delivering practical, actionable education. Sessions include a panel on Women Behind the Drone Revolution, hosted by DroneTalks, featuring inspirational women from around the world as they share career path stories, and deliver actionable insight based on their successes, key challenges, important learnings, and their current activities in the industry.  Additional programming includes deep dive vertical industry sessions for professionals in construction, drone delivery, energy & utilities, forestry & agriculture, infrastructure & transportation, mining & aggregates, security, and surveying & mapping. Industry Update Sessions provide up-to-the-minute information on topics that affect everyone in UAS, such as AAM, BVLOS, and autonomy.

Event features include an exhibit hall that will feature 200+ top UAS companies from around the globe. Additional special events include Live Outdoor Flying Demonstrations, the DRONERESPONDERS Public Safety Summit, and Workshops and Trainings, all of which allow for hands-on learning and industry connections. The 2022 event boasts more than 300 media and association supporters from six continents, including the longstanding supporting partnership with Women and Drones. Visit www.expouav.com for more information or to register.

Women and Drones Email Contact:  media@womenanddrones.com
Commercial UAV Email Contact: lburns@divcom.com

About Commercial UAV Expo 

Commercial UAV Expo, presented by Commercial UAV News, is an international conference and expo exclusively focused on commercial UAS integration and operation covering industries including Construction; Drone Delivery; Energy & Utilities; Forestry & Agriculture; Infrastructure & Transportation; Mining & Aggregates; Public Safety & Emergency Services; Security; and Surveying & Mapping. It takes place September 6 – 8, 2022 at Caesars Forum, Las Vegas NV. For more information, visit www.expouav.com.

Commercial UAV Expo is produced by Diversified Communications’ technology portfolio which also includes Commercial UAV News; Geo Week, Geo Week Newsletter, 3D Technology Newsletter, AEC Innovations Newsletter, Geo Business (UK) and Digital Construction Week (UK).

About Women and Drones:

Women And Drones is the leading membership organization dedicated to driving excellence in the uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) industry by advocating for female participation in this dynamic segment of the global economy. We partner with companies committed to an inclusive culture where women can thrive. Our educational programs range from kindergarten to career in efforts to balance the gender equation in the industry now, as well as for the future of flight.

About Monumental Access

Monumental Access focuses on producing quality media by creating content, capturing the heartfelt story, and connecting with community stakeholders. With the nationwide demand for videographers, Monumental Access developed a unique market for governmental, non-profit, and corporate companies.  What started off as a dream during the 2020 Global pandemic, has transitioned into a reality in detailing the important moments of our clients through the lens of a camera.  Combined with unique storytelling and professionalism, Monumental Access connects the hearts and attention of many across the country with its interviews, commercials, and documentaries! As a result, Monumental Access is one of the most creative media companies in the Saint Louis, MO area.

 

Helping girls see STEM careers in a different light
LinkedIn
Systemic barriers and stereotypes can keep women, girls and other underrepresented groups from pursuing careers in STEM.

By Sakeina Syed, The Globe, and Mail

Prior to this summer, Patricia Kennedy had never been to the Northwest Territories. But for the past five weeks, she’s been living in Norman Wells, NWT, teaching STEM to youth.

Each day, she heads to camp to run activities with groups ranging in age from four to 16. They work on engineering design builds, coding activities and learn about chemistry and biology. The programs are also visited by local Indigenous knowledge holders or elders, who help Indigenous youth make connections to the STEM that already exists in their own communities.

“I’ve learned so much,” says Ms. Kennedy, who is an undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa studying engineering and computer science. “It’s really opened my eyes, and it’s been an amazing experience.”

The STEM camp is an initiative run by Actua, a national organization that works to engage youth across the country with science and technology programs.

With special emphasis on bridging the “digital divide,” Actua runs programs focused on communities underrepresented in STEM fields. These include their National Girls Program, Indigenous Youth in STEM (InSTEM) Program and Black Youth in STEM Program.

“STEM equity means creating an environment, creating a space for youth regardless of their gender, regardless of their socio-economic status,” says Jennifer Ladipo, national program manager at Actua. “Creating that sense of fun and magic for all kids, all youth, all genders, all races, is really what STEM equity means to me.”

Bridging the ‘digital divide’
Jennifer Flanagan is the CEO of Actua and has been involved since she helped start a University of New Brunswick chapter more than 20 years ago.

“What has long been understood by us at Actua is that there are deep inequities in access to education writ large,” she says. “Certainly in access to experiences that enrich that education or build skills outside of that education.”

Ms. Flanagan notes that “huge improvements” have been made, such as some university programs achieving equal participation of women. However, she says that in engaging with young girls through Actua’s initiatives, the organization encounters ongoing challenges.

“Stereotypes are unfortunately alive and well,” she says. “We’re still dealing with a significant amount of systemic barriers that impact girls and young women both in the work force – which we hear about all the time – but also just in their daily lives.”

An engineer by profession, Ms. Ladipo has been committed to equity since early in her career. While in university, she started an initiative called The STEM Girl in the hopes of empowering young girls: “I started writing children’s books, trying to encourage young girls to see fascination in STEM and have role models, especially at very young ages.”

Actua STEM programs are often facilitated by youth, for youth, Ms. Ladipo says, such as the summer camps run by undergraduate students such as Ms. Kennedy.

“[It’s] giving [young people] the chance to see role models that look like them, and see people and talk to people that might have the same experiences as them,” Ms. Ladipo says. “To show them that their own experiences are valuable, that they are needed.”

Ms. Flanagan stresses the need for programs like these, now more than ever, particularly considering the number of women who left the work force through the pandemic.

“We worry that will continue to slide [women’s] progress backwards,” she says. “So this work has never before been so important to our economy.”

Science as part of everyday life
Recently, Ms. Kennedy went on a field trip with her campers during their module on plants and medicine. They gathered plants from local fields, then learned from an Indigenous knowledge holder about the different uses for those plants.

“I find a lot of the time in school, STEM concepts are very abstract, and they’re not really related to things in your community or things you might be interested in,” says Ms. Kennedy. “Showing them that STEM can be fun and interesting and relevant to their lives is important at any age.”

By developing programs in partnership with communities, Actua is able to connect lessons to what youth might already see in their own lives, Ms. Flanagan says. “In the case of our Northern outreach programs, [it’s] 20-plus years that we have been working with Northern and Inuit communities.”

Actua has grown over the years, with 1,000 undergraduate students and 350,000 youth participating in the organization’s programs. This has only been possible, Ms. Flanagan says, through a “hyper-local” focus.

“Reflecting the realities of communities is so important to us. We not only build the skills, but we show [youth] how much opportunity exists in their own communities for future engagement,” she says.

“Not only are they a part of science, but science is literally their everyday lives.”

Click here to read the full article on The Globe and Mail.

The latest video game controller isn’t plastic. It’s your face.
LinkedIn
Dunn playing “Minecraft” using voice commands on the Enabled Play controller, face expression controls via a phone and virtual buttons on Xbox's adaptive controller. (Courtesy of Enabled Play Game Controller)

By Amanda Florian, The Washington Post

Over decades, input devices in the video game industry have evolved from simple joysticks to sophisticated controllers that emit haptic feedback. But with Enabled Play, a new piece of assistive tech created by self-taught developer Alex Dunn, users are embracing a different kind of input: facial expressions.

While companies like Microsoft have sought to expand accessibility through adaptive controllers and accessories, Dunn’s new device takes those efforts even further, translating users’ head movements, facial expressions, real-time speech and other nontraditional input methods into mouse clicks, key strokes and thumbstick movements. The device has users raising eyebrows — quite literally.

“Enabled Play is a device that learns to work with you — not a device you have to learn to work with,” Dunn, who lives in Boston, said via Zoom.

Dunn, 26, created Enabled Play so that everyone — including his younger brother with a disability — can interface with technology in a natural and intuitive way. At the beginning of the pandemic, the only thing he and his New Hampshire-based brother could do together, while approximately 70 miles apart, was game.

“And that’s when I started to see firsthand some of the challenges that he had and the limitations that games had for people with really any type of disability,” he added.

At 17, Dunn dropped out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute to become a full-time software engineer. He began researching and developing Enabled Play two and a half years ago, which initially proved challenging, as most speech-recognition programs lagged in response time.

“I built some prototypes with voice commands, and then I started talking to people who were deaf and had a range of disabilities, and I found that voice commands didn’t cut it,” Dunn said.

That’s when he started thinking outside the box.

Having already built Suave Keys, a voice-powered program for gamers with disabilities, Dunn created Snap Keys — an extension that turns a user’s Snapchat lens into a controller when playing games like Call of Duty, “Fall Guys,” and “Dark Souls.” In 2020, he won two awards for his work at Snap Inc.’s Snap Kit Developer Challenge, a competition among third-party app creators to innovate Snapchat’s developer tool kit.

With Enabled Play, Dunn takes accessibility to the next level. With a wider variety of inputs, users can connect the assistive device — equipped with a robust CPU and 8 GB of RAM — to a computer, game console or other device to play games in whatever way works best for them.

Dunn also spent time making sure Enabled Play was accessible to people who are deaf, as well as people who want to use nonverbal audio input, like “ooh” or “aah,” to perform an action. Enabled Play’s vowel sound detection model is based on “The Vocal Joystick,” which engineers and linguistics experts at the University of Washington developed in 2006.

“Essentially, it looks to predict the word you are going to say based on what is in the profile, rather than trying to assume it could be any word in the dictionary,” Dunn said. “This helps cut through machine learning bias by learning more about how the individual speaks and applies it to their desired commands.”

Dunn’s AI-enabled controller takes into account a person’s natural tendencies. If a gamer wants to set up a jump command every time they open their mouth, Enabled Play would identify that person’s individual resting mouth position and set that as the baseline.

In January, Enabled Play officially launched in six countries — its user base extending from the U.S. to the U.K., Ghana and Austria. For Dunn, one of his primary goals was to fill a gap in accessibility and pricing compared to other assistive gaming devices.

“There are things like the Xbox Adaptive Controller. There are things like the HORI Flex [for Nintendo Switch]. There are things like Tobii, which does eye-tracking and stuff like that. But it still seemed like it wasn’t enough,” he said.

Compared to some devices that are only compatible with one gaming system or computer at a time, Dunn’s AI-enabled controller — priced at $249.99 — supports a combination of inputs and outputs. Speech therapists say that compared to augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, which are medically essential for some with disabilities, Dunn’s device offers simplicity.

“This is just the start,” said Julia Franklin, a speech language pathologist at Community School of Davidson in Davidson, N.C. Franklin introduced students to Enabled Play this summer and feels it’s a better alternative to other AAC devices on the market that are often “expensive, bulky and limited” in usability. Many sophisticated AAC systems can range from $6,000 to $11,500 for high-tech devices, with low-end eye-trackers running in the thousands. A person may also download AAC apps on their mobile devices, which range from $49.99 to $299.99 for the app alone.

“For many people who have physical and cognitive differences, they often exhaust themselves to learn a complex AAC system that has limits,” she said. “The Enabled Play device allows individuals to leverage their strengths and movements that are already present.”

Internet users have applauded Dunn for his work, noting that asking for accessibility should not equate to asking for an “easy mode” — a misconception often cited by critics of making games more accessible.

“This is how you make gaming accessible,” one Reddit user wrote about Enabled Play. “Not by dumbing it down, but by creating mechanical solutions that allow users to have the same experience and accomplish the same feats as [people without disabilities].” Another user who said they regularly worked with young patients with cerebral palsy speculated that Enabled Play “would quite literally change their lives.”

Click here to read the full article on The Washington Post.

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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. National College Resources Foundation Upcoming Events–Mark Your Calendar!
    September 24, 2022 - April 1, 2023
  4. Anaheim & CA STEAM Symposium? Yes, Come Present In Person!
    October 1, 2022 - October 2, 2022
  5. HACU 36th Annual Conference
    October 6, 2022 - October 8, 2022
  6. ROMBA Conference
    October 6, 2022 - October 8, 2022

Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. National College Resources Foundation Upcoming Events–Mark Your Calendar!
    September 24, 2022 - April 1, 2023
  4. Anaheim & CA STEAM Symposium? Yes, Come Present In Person!
    October 1, 2022 - October 2, 2022
  5. HACU 36th Annual Conference
    October 6, 2022 - October 8, 2022
  6. ROMBA Conference
    October 6, 2022 - October 8, 2022