This New COVID-19 Test is Bringing Us Closer to the Cure
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African-american scientist or graduate student in lab coat and protective wear works in modern laboratory

The University of Washington’s Virology Lab has been working tirelessly since the COVID-19 pandemic began. It was one of the first labs to formulate a test for the presence of the virus and has processed thousands of these tests at its facilities. In fact, the university’s virology lab is currently processing its newest success in partnership with Abbott Labs’ antibody test for COVID-19.

The University has been running trials of Abbott Labs’ antibody blood tests, designed to find out who has natural or built-up immunity to COVID-19. The trials have proved to be incredibly successful.

Though showing immunity isn’t a cure, it is a major step to getting to that point. Knowing who is immune and who has had the virus before helps track the origins of the disease, knowing the components that can be used in a vaccine, and helps ensure the safety of bringing people back into the workforce. It is unclear how the antibodies of the novel coronavirus work or if you could get infected with the virus a second time, but Keith Jerome, the leader of the University of Washington’s virology program, assured that people with the antibodies will have more protection than those who do not. Receiving the virus a second time could result in more cold-like symptoms and not require the extreme hospitalization methods in place now.

The work being done in the study of antibodies through the University of Washington would not be possible without Abbott’s partnership. The antibody test produced by Abbott is not the first of its kind to be produced, but it is said to be the most reliable and the most sensitive in analyzation. In fact, Abbott’s test has correctly identified COVID-19 99.6% of the time against other viruses and has a 100% sensitivity to the coronavirus antibodies. Best of all, the test only takes about ten to fifteen minutes to retrieve the results.

“This starts to get us to the point that we can make a difference for the population of our area, get people back to work and give them back the lives that they were hoping for,” Jerome said.

This American Astronaut Voted from Space. Here’s how She did it.
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Astronaut Kate Rubins

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins casting her vote from some 200 miles above Earth should be all the motivation you need to make a plan to vote this year.

Rubins, the only American voter not currently on Earth, said she was able to vote from the International Space Station last week.
This isn’t the first time Rubins has cast her ballot from space: She voted in 2016 when she was also researching at the space station.
Rubins, along with two Russian cosmonauts, began their mission earlier this month and will spend a total of six months in space as part of the Expedition 63/64 crew. Rubins will research “the use of laser-cooled atoms for future quantum sensors” and conduct cardiovascular experiments from the space station, according to NASA.

How to vote from space

Astronauts registered to vote in Texas got the right to vote from space in 1997, when Texas lawmakers ruled they could electronically cast their ballot off-planet if they’d be on a spaceflight during the early-voting period or Election Day, according to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Successfully Touches Asteroid
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Stock image of an asteroid in space with earth sitting behind it.

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft unfurled its robotic arm Tuesday, and in a first for the agency, briefly touched an asteroid to collect dust and pebbles from the surface for delivery to Earth in 2023.

This well-preserved, ancient asteroid, known as Bennu, is currently more than 200 million miles (321 million kilometers) from Earth. Bennu offers scientists a window into the early solar system as it was first taking shape billions of years ago and flinging ingredients that could have helped seed life on Earth. If Tuesday’s sample collection event, known as “Touch-And-Go” (TAG), provided enough of a sample, mission teams will command the spacecraft to begin stowing the precious primordial cargo to begin its journey back to Earth in March 2021. Otherwise, they will prepare for another attempt in January.

“This amazing first for NASA demonstrates how an incredible team from across the country came together and persevered through incredible challenges to expand the boundaries of knowledge,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Our industry, academic, and international partners have made it possible to hold a piece of the most ancient solar system in our hands.”

At 1:50 p.m. EDT, OSIRIS-REx fired its thrusters to nudge itself out of orbit around Bennu. It extended the shoulder, then elbow, then wrist of its 11-foot (3.35-meter) sampling arm, known as the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), and transited across Bennu while descending about a half-mile (805 meters) toward the surface. After a four-hour descent, at an altitude of approximately 410 feet (125 meters), the spacecraft executed the “Checkpoint” burn, the first of two maneuvers to allow it to precisely target the sample collection site, known as “Nightingale.”

Ten minutes later, the spacecraft fired its thrusters for the second “Matchpoint” burn to slow its descent and match the asteroid’s rotation at the time of contact. It then continued a treacherous, 11-minute coast past a boulder the size of a two-story building, nicknamed “Mount Doom,” to touch down in a clear spot in a crater on Bennu’s northern hemisphere. The size of a small parking lot, the site Nightingale site is one of the few relatively clear spots on this unexpectedly boulder-covered space rock.

“This was an incredible feat – and today we’ve advanced both science and engineering and our prospects for future missions to study these mysterious ancient storytellers of the solar system,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “A piece of primordial rock that has witnessed our solar system’s entire history may now be ready to come home for generations of scientific discovery, and we can’t wait to see what comes next.”

“After over a decade of planning, the team is overjoyed at the success of today’s sampling attempt,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Even though we have some work ahead of us to determine the outcome of the event – the successful contact, the TAGSAM gas firing, and back-away from Bennu are major accomplishments for the team. I look forward to analyzing the data to determine the mass of sample collected.”

All spacecraft telemetry data indicates the TAG event executed as expected. However, it will take about a week for the OSIRIS-REx team to confirm how much sample the spacecraft collected.

Real-time data indicates the TAGSAM successfully contacted the surface and fired a burst of nitrogen gas. The gas should have stirred up dust and pebbles on Bennu’s surface, some of which should have been captured in the TAGSAM sample collection head. OSIRIS-REx engineers also confirmed that shortly after the spacecraft made contact with the surface, it fired its thrusters and safely backed away from Bennu.

“Today’s TAG maneuver was historic,” said Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The fact that we safely and successfully touched the surface of Bennu, in addition to all the other milestones this mission has already achieved, is a testament to the living spirit of exploration that continues to uncover the secrets of the solar system.”

Continue on to NASA.GOV to read the full article. 

Raising Our Voices for Diversity in the Geosciences
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A geologist working underground

By Lucila Houttuijn Bloemendaal, Katarena Matos, Kendra Walters, and Aditi Sengupta

Almost 50 years ago, in June 1972, attendees at the First National Conference on Minority Participation in Earth Sciences and Mineral Engineering [Gillette and Gillette, 1972] held one of the first formal discussions on the lack of diversity in the geosciences.

Unfortunately, despite the many conversations since then addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), the geosciences still face many of the problems cited in that meeting. These problems include, for example, difficulty recruiting youth from marginalized groups into a field that is often hostile to them and scientists from underrepresented backgrounds routinely needing to go above and beyond their peers to prove their professional value and right to belong.

Clearly, drafting statements in support of diversity—as many institutions have done—is not enough to effect change in the geosciences. Individuals and institutions must engage deeply and with a long-term mindset to ensure sustainable efforts that translate to real, personal success for geoscientists from a diversity of backgrounds. In addition, the community must continue to create spaces for conversations that highlight and share best practices focused on improving DEI.

As members of AGU’s Voices for Science 2019 cohort, we learned several effective methods of science communication. For example, we learned that by sharing lessons learned and blueprints for action with broader audiences, we can more effectively use our voices and power to demand real, tangible goals to make the geosciences inclusive and accessible. From among the 2019 cohort, a small team of scientists from a variety of fields and career stages thus convened a town hall at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2019 to discuss improving DEI. At the town hall, titled “Power of Science Lies in Its Diverse Voices,” panelists highlighted their approaches and work to increase diversity in the geosciences for an audience of roughly 100 attendees.

To make the town hall an example of a diverse event, invited panelists represented a wide array of fields, nationalities, ethnicities, genders, and career paths and stages. Below, we highlight the advice and work of the panelists, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Sujata Emani, Heather Handley, Tamara Marcus, Bahareh Sorouri, and Robert Ulrich, to provide avenues for readers to promote diversity, incentivize DEI work, and enact change in their own fields, institutions, and lives.

Continue on to EOS: Science News by AGU to read the full article.

Scientists Have Discovered a Genuine Room-Temperature Superconductor
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Superconductor stock image

By Joel Hruska

The search for a truly room-temperature superconducting material has been one of the great Holy Grails in engineering and physics. The ability to move electricity from Point A to B with zero resistance and hence no losses would be a game-changer for human civilization.

Unfortunately, until today, every known superconductor still required very cold temperatures. Today, scientists announced they’ve achieved superconducting at 59 degrees Fahrenheit/15 Celsius. While this is still a bit chilly, you can hit 59F in a well air-conditioned building. This is a genuine breakthrough, but it doesn’t immediately clear the path towards easy deployment of the technology.

At extremely low temperatures, the behavior of electrons through a material changes. At temperatures approaching absolute zero, electrons passing through a material form what are known as Cooper pairs. Normally, single electrons essentially ping-pong through the ionic lattice of the material they are passing through. Each time an electron collides with an ion in the lattice, it loses a tiny amount of energy. This loss is what we call resistance. When cooled to a low enough temperature, electrons behave dramatically differently. Cooper pairs behave like a superfluid, meaning they can flow through material without any underlying energy loss. Tests have demonstrated that current stored inside a superconductor will remain there for as long as the material remains in a superconductive state with zero loss of energy.

There are two problems yet standing between us and a more effective exploitation of this discovery. First, we aren’t sure exactly why this combination of elements works in the first place. The research team used sulfur and carbon, then added hydrogen, forming hydrogen sulfide(H2S) and methane (CH4). These chemicals were placed on a diamond anvil and compressed, then exposed to a green laser for several hours to break sulfur-sulfur bonds. This much is known. Unfortunately, determining the exact composition of the material has proven impossible thus far. The diamond anvil prevents the use of X-rays, and existing technologies that can work around that problem aren’t capable of locating hydrogen atoms in a lattice. The team’s efforts to characterize and understand its own discovery are still ongoing.

Continue to ExtremeTech to read the full article.

2 Scientists Awarded Nobel Prize In Chemistry For Genome Editing Research
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Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna at an event together

By Nell Greenfield Boyce and Mark Katkov

The Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded this year to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna for their work on “genetic scissors” that can cut DNA at a precise location, allowing scientists to make specific changes to specific genes.

“This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true,” the Nobel Committee said in announcing the prize.

Already, doctors have used the technology to experimentally treat sickle cell disease, with promising results.

While some research advances take decades for people to fully appreciate how transformative they are, that wasn’t the case for this new tool, known as CRISPR-Cas9.

“Once in a long time, an advance comes along that utterly transforms an entire field and does so very rapidly,” says Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, which has long supported Doudna’s research. “You cannot walk into a molecular biology laboratory today, working on virtually any organism, where CRISPR-Cas9 is not playing a role in the ability to understand how life works and how disease happens. It’s just that powerful.”

Since scientific papers were published in 2011 and 2012 describing the work, Charpentier says people had repeatedly suggested to her that it was worthy of a Nobel Prize.

“It was indeed mentioned to me a number of times, maybe more than what I would have liked, that one day this so-called discovery may be awarded the Nobel Prize,” Charpentier said in a press briefing.

Still, even after winning other big awards, she says, that possibility didn’t completely hit her until Goran K. Hansson, the secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, called to tell her the news.

“I was very emotional, I have to say,” says Charpentier, who added that she had been told that winning a Nobel is always a big surprise and feels unreal. “Obviously, it’s real, so I have to get used to it now.”

There’s been an ongoing feud, including a fight over lucrative patents, over who deserves the most credit for the development of CRISPR-Cas9.

“It’s a big field and there’s a lot of good science being done in this field. But we have decided this year to award the prize to Charpentier and Doudna, and I can only say that,” said Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, when asked if the committee had considered including anyone else in the prize.

Continue on to NPR to read the complete article.

Photo Credit: Peter Barreras/Invision/AP and NPR

Life on Venus? Astronomers See a Signal in Its Clouds
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The planet Venus

By Shannon StironeKenneth Chang and 

High in the toxic atmosphere of the planet Venus, astronomers on Earth have discovered signs of what might be life.

If the discovery is confirmed by additional telescope observations and future space missions, it could turn the gaze of scientists toward one of the brightest objects in the night sky. Venus, named after the Roman goddess of beauty, roasts at temperatures of hundreds of degrees and is cloaked by clouds that contain droplets of corrosive sulfuric acid. Few have focused on the rocky planet as a habitat for something living.

Instead, for decades, scientists have sought signs of life elsewhere, usually peering outward to Mars and more recently at Europa, Enceladus and other icy moons of the giant planets.

The astronomers, who reported the finding on Monday in a pair of papers, have not collected specimens of Venusian microbes, nor have they snapped any pictures of them. But with powerful telescopes, they have detected a chemical — phosphine — in the thick Venus atmosphere. After much analysis, the scientists assert that something now alive is the only explanation for the chemical’s source.

Some researchers question this hypothesis, and they suggest instead that the gas could result from unexplained atmospheric or geologic processes on a planet that remains mysterious. But the finding will also encourage some planetary scientists to ask whether humanity has overlooked a planet that may have once been more Earthlike than any other world in our solar system.

“This is an astonishing and ‘out of the blue’ finding,” said Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an author of the papers (one published in Nature Astronomy and another submitted to the journal Astrobiology). “It will definitely fuel more research into the possibilities for life in Venus’s atmosphere.”

“We know that it is an extraordinary discovery,” said Clara Sousa-Silva, a molecular astrophysicist at Harvard University whose research has focused on phosphine, and another of the authors. “We may not know just how extraordinary without going back to Venus.”

Sarah Stewart Johnson, a planetary scientist and head of the Johnson Biosignatures Lab at Georgetown University who was not involved in the work, said, “There’s been a lot of buzz about phosphine as a biosignature gas for exoplanets recently,” referring to the search for life on worlds that orbit other stars. “How cool to find it on Venus.”

Continue on to The New York Times to read the complete article. 

Photo by: Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

How Engineers are Contributing to the COVID-19 Fight
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software engineers hands typing on keyboard with abstract technology background

By Trevor English

Around the world, there are a plethora of engineers, physicists, scientists, and otherwise just normal people making superhuman efforts at fighting back against COVID-19. From 3D printed masks to mechanical ventilators, the STEAM community is putting up a solid fight.

Let’s take a look at a few of the top engineering projects:

3D Printed Solutions

With 3D printing practically in the mainstream, it’s been a primary tool for engineering to fight against the coronavirus. One notable project is the NanoHack Mask. While there have been a number of 3D printed masks, this mask design offers up versatility in just what you use for the air filtering portion.

Designed specifically for use with a polypropylene filter material to fit in the bottom, it can provide filtration for up to 96.4 percent of microorganisms the size of one micron and 89.5 percent of microorganisms of .02 microns.

Notably though, due to the way that the interface of the mask was designed, it allows for you to replace the filter material with any other found material if you don’t have access to the specific filter required.

Source: Copper3D

Robotic Solutions

While there have been a plethora of companies and individuals that have hacked robots to create ventilators for seriously ill patients, we’re going to focus on another robotic innovation helping patients’ well-being: Robot doctors.

Researchers at Chulalongkorn University have rolled out three new telemedicine robots that can aid the doctor-patient relationship while sparing the regular human interaction. The robots can easily be used by hospital staff to communicate with COVID-19 patients remotely.

The robots were initially designed by the university team to help care for patients that were recovering from strokes, but they are now being repurposed to supply world-class leading medical care during a time when intense quarantine and isolation is needed.

These robots not only maintain a strict barrier between doctor and patient, but they also help one doctor quickly and easily talk with multiple patients. Seeing multiple patients after one another in hospitals often requires stripping and reapplying medical garb, whereas telemedicine robots can easily avoid that.

The robots are capable of assessing the patients’ conditions as well as helping the medical staff to easily track the patients’ symptoms.

Sanitation Solutions

Sanitation has become of a big concern in the overcrowded medical systems where coronavirus outbreaks are peaking. In many places, there is a serious deficit in medical supplies that is forcing doctors and nurses to reuse their surgical masks.

This presents a need for a device that can quickly and easily disinfect surgical masks with a 100 percent success rate. That is exactly what Prescientx, a company located in Ontario, Canada, has tried to create.

They have engineered a device that can disinfect N95 masks utilizing ultraviolet, or UV light. The device is situated overtop of the masks and a UV-C light is shone on the mask at different angles for differing amounts of time. That said, it doesn’t take very long to disinfect just one mask. In fact, the device, called the Terminator CoV, can disinfect up to 500 masks per hour. This can be life-changing for medical staff across the world as they battle the need for safe and clean protective gear.

The machine isn’t just specific to one kind of N95 mask, either. Thanks to the way that it is built, it works practically universally with a variety of mask types and sizes. The masks are driven through a reflective aluminum tunnel for disinfection. While in this tunnel the UV-C light is shone, being sure to hit the masks at all angles, as UV light rays cannot pass through the N95 grade mask material.

How You Can Get Involved

At the end of the day, we’re all in this fight together as we engineer against the coronavirus. Sharing ideas and collaborating is the first step. Check out our map that showcases the most notable engineering contributions to fighting the COVID-19, as well as the latest and most accurate statistics, at interestingengineering.com

Source: https://interestingengineering.com/how-engineers-are-contributing-to-the-fight-against-the-outbreak

Virtual Events Take Center Stage
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young woman on tablet outside

By Innovate Marketing Group

As the live events industry awaits COVID-19 regulations, guidelines, and phase rollouts; innovations and digital opportunities arise, virtual events take center stage, and the importance of an events agency and planner sustains.

Why go virtual? Virtual events have proven to be an effective and efficient way to convey content and engage attendees. Experts shared that future events will incorporate a digital aspect as a hybrid-type model as the events industry seeks to widen their audience and maintain contingency plans. Events will see more virtual aspects embedded into their programs moving forward.

Going virtual also brings market share and new opportunities.
“Some companies that were previously on hold to wait out COVID-19 have either pivoted to virtual or seriously considering since the recovery is so uncertain. Business still needs to go on. Leadership conferences, educational and training are still vital for companies,” said Amanda Ma, chief experience officer of Innovate Marketing Group.

All of the different elements of a virtual event need to be coordinated into one impactful and engaging experience. The event agency’s role includes helping guiding businesses to pivot to the new normal, advising and adjusting contract changes, applying event strategies to help meet goals, vendor coordination and recommendations, program management and managing multiple tracks, marketing and communication, incorporating sponsors and stakeholders and the guest experience.

Some of the many benefits of pivoting to virtual include:

  • Cost savings and lower cost per guest attending
  • Access to a wider audience and reach, and not limited by location
  • Replay capabilities and reusable on demand content
  • Lower carbon footprint and less impact on the environment
  • Attendee engagement
  • Opportunity to get creative and engage viewers in new ways
  • Metrics, instant data tracking and capture, and gaining new insights
  • Virtual events eliminate the need for a venue, catering, rentals, stage, décor, photographer, videographer, transportation, etc.
  • Taking action – calls to action link in right away; connect, survey, polling, Q&A and donate

Some challenges in comparison to a live event include emotion and energy, stimulations such as touch, taste and smell, memory and recall, networking, and viewer attention span.
Innovate Marketing Group also shares top best practices in going virtual, such as setting your goals on information, education, message, attendee and sponsor engagement, networking, etc.

Format: Determine your virtual event format – webinar, webcast, pre-recorded sessions, simu-live, live streaming, networking, exhibitors.

Registration: Reconsider the registration process, including number of users who will be accessing the website, personal data, payment processing safety, and customized questions per data you would like to collect.

Keep Your Audience Engaged: with tools such as live polling, question and answer sessions, networking opportunities, gamification, live leader boards, rewards and social media feeds. Maintain your event experience by making your guests feel involved and connected to your program. We are in the planning stages of a 3,000 people walk/run event, and one of the ideas is on the day of the event to have a virtual DJ play during the walk and the organization lowers the volume if messages need to be communicated. The music is based on what the organizers want. This way while people are walking, they can stay connected as part of the program.

Pre-Event Communication & Marketing: Communication and marketing are key. Unlike an in-person event where they must get dressed up, drive to the event, and spend more time to prepare for the event, a virtual event is simply a login to a platform. Therefore, it is very important to send out reminders and build up the anticipation of the event. In a recent virtual event, we advised the client to ask for the attendee’s cell phone number.

So, in addition to email reminders, the week of event and day of, a text notification was sent out to all attendees. We received great feedback for putting that in place. It reminded folks the virtual event is coming up and to tune in. Digital marketing, promotion, advertisement, and video content is still very important for a virtual event, before broadcasting on your event day.

Surprise and Delight Before the Event: Sending a swag bag prior to the event with items relevant to the event. For an upcoming conference, we are sending a box with a blue light blocking glasses, candle, custom door handle, notebook, T-shirt, and a coffee tumbler. We have a special note to go along with this kit to kick off the conference mindset. On the day of the conference, we asked everyone to wear the shirt provided. One less worry about what to wear on “top.”

Content is King: Offer educational, relevant, timely and meaningful content that people will want to hear. It is vital to create content that captivates guests, sparks their creativity and results in productivity.

Do Not Try to Replicate Your Live Event: Instead, look for new opportunities but stay true to purpose of your event. Keep principle of why your guests were coming together, and make it part of the equation.

Test, Test, and Test Again: Technical difficulties may occur, and it often distracts from your event. Have a run through with your speakers and moderator in advance and test the virtual release on your platforms.

Navajo Roots Trailblaze a Path to Mars
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Aaron Yazzie's headshot

Aaron Yazzie continues to set his sights higher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. With a Diné (Navajo) background, he earned his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University, and as a Mechanical Engineer with a focus on Sample Acquisition and Handling at NASA, Yazzie designs mechanisms for acquiring geological samples from other planets.

Diversity in STEAM Magazine had a chance to talk with Yazzie about his Native American background and how it influenced his journey to NASA.

DISM: Can you tell us about your background and journey to becoming a mechanical engineer at NASA?

Yazzie: I was born in Tuba City, Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation. I was born to parents who were 1st generation college students in their families—families that have had traditional Diné upbringings. Their first language was Dinébizaad (Navajo Language), their first known homes were our traditional Diné Hooghan (Navajo Hogan Houses/Dwellings). They learned the English language in elementary school, where they were the first generation in their family forced to attend school by the US government. From that unique beginning, and from that early-childhood culture shock and trauma, both my mother and father made it through an educational system rigged against them, graduated high school, and went to college—the first in their families. My mother earned her degree in education—she became a high school level math teacher. And my father received a degree in civil engineering—he became an engineer for the Arizona Department of Transportation. Both of them have been pioneers of Indigenous achievement in higher education and STEM careers. They may not be known and recognized by the larger Native community as STEM pioneers, but they are certainly my inspiration and the trailblazers to my career at NASA.

I grew up in Holbrook, AZ, a small border town to the Navajo Reservation. My brothers and I grew up, and attended school in the Holbrook School District, where we all graduated proud “Holbrook Roadrunners.”
Growing up, I didn’t have any examples or role models who went to prestigious private schools or went on to work at places like NASA. I knew I wanted to transcend the expectations of my family and my hometown, which is why I always strove for the highest grades in school, participated in all the school leadership positions and sought out all the high school summer enrichment programs. These are the programs that ended up transforming me from a self-doubting minority student into a solid college applicant with some awareness of my self-worth. They gave me the confidence to apply to, and to eventually be accepted to, Stanford University—an event that changed the course of my life.

Making the transition from small-town public school to prestigious private college was a big challenge. Nothing about my time at Stanford was easy, whether it was the rigorous academics or the constant financial struggle. Not to mention being separated from a tight-knit home community like the Navajo community for the first time. I was forced to learn quickly how to adapt, persevere, and overcome many challenges during my time at Stanford. Thankfully, there was a supportive community of BIPOC students who were going through the same challenges as I was. We all supported each other and made it through—not only graduating, but each of us moving on to do incredible things.

I was hired by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory mid-way through my senior year at Stanford. I was heavily involved with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society from the time that I was a high school freshman. I grew from there to be president of my high school AISES chapter, then became the Stanford AISES chapter president, and then National AISES Region 2 Student Representative. Along the way I received a 4-year scholarship from AISES to attend Stanford, and while there, I received 2 NASA internships through AISES. One placed me at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and one at NASA Glenn Research Center. By the time I was ready to look for a job, AISES had helped give me a college education, 2 NASA internships, and a job opportunity with one of the most prestigious engineering institutions in the world. I met the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory recruiter at the AISES National Conference in 2007. From that interaction, I received an on-lab interview, and was hired soon after. I have been working as a Mechanical Engineer at NASA JPL for 12 years and counting.

DISM: Tell us about your significant milestone – when NASA’s InSight lander touched the surface of Mars. What were you feeling, and how was that experience?

Yazzie: NASA InSight was the first mission I worked on where I was tasked with leading the design and delivery of space flight hardware. Up until this point in my career, I supported missions as a test engineer or support engineer. When InSight successfully launched into space, it was the first time something I designed—something I touched with my own hands—went into space. And when it landed on Mars, it was the first time I sent something to another planet. I was completely thrilled, and overwhelmed with emotions when I saw the first set of pictures of my hardware on Mars. Considering where I came from, this achievement was monumental!
Being an engineer from a remarkably underrepresented community in STEM fields, it is a constant struggle to overcome imposter syndrome. I did not think I was a thriving or even adequate engineer at NASA. It’s a shame that it took an achievement like sending something to Mars to convince me that I belonged in my field, and that I belonged at NASA.

DISM: Can you tell us more about “Mars 2020”? What is the mission? How has the experience been?

Yazzie: Currently, I am the lead engineer for the Mars 2020 Drill Bits. We are sending the Mars 2020 Rover “Perseverance” to drill rock samples and save them in hermetically sealed tubes, so that we can eventually bring those samples back to Earth in future missions to determine if life exists on Mars. Additionally, this mission will study the history of rocky planets and conduct experiments that will pave the way for humans to travel to Mars. It’s really incredible to be part of another historic NASA mission. I’ve grown so much as an engineer—now sending my second flight hardware to Mars, but also being able to lead a team and be a mentor for the first time in my career. I’m very proud to have successfully delivered my parts to the rover, and very excited for the Mars 2020 launch in July 2020.

DISM: How has your Navajo background influenced your career?

Yazzie: Coming from an Indigenous background, I have a deep appreciation for the advancements of my family and ancestors before me. Considering that Native Americans weren’t granted basic civil rights in this country until 1968, it is remarkable that our people have not only overcome this historic oppression, but have been able to thrive and advance. I reflect on my own family, where as recent as one generation ago, my parents spoke no English, but learned in a small amount of time that education was the modern way to advance their people. My own academic achievements and this career I have been fortunate to achieve has all been made possible by the advancements of the Navajo people who have come before me. And it is for them that I use my privilege and platform to continue on.

DISM: What advice would you give to Native Americans wanting to pursue engineering?

Yazzie: Be resilient. It’s almost guaranteed that along your STEM journey, you will look around and not see very many others like you, from backgrounds like your own. But please understand that there are people in all directions of your life that are there to help you. Those before you, who want to help you succeed through mentorship and wisdom. Those beside you, who are on your same journey. And those behind you, who see you as an inspiration and role model. Recognizing that you have a full circle of support and inspiration will help you achieve any and all of your goals.

Starting From a Company of One
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Brian Geisel headshot

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has named Brian Geisel, CEO of Geisel Software, the Massachusetts Small Business Person of the Year for 2020.

Geisel Software is a custom software development company that specializes in the medical device and robotics industries and whose clients include FLIR Systems, Medica, iRobot, the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Carbon Black and more.

After spending years as an industry consultant, Geisel started the company out of a loft in 2011. By 2015, Geisel had added his first full-time employee and a couple of interns. In 2017, the company moved to a space in the Higgins Armory and sales started to take off.

Today the company occupies a large office space in the Worcester Business Center and employs a large staff of permanent employees, contractors, freelancers and interns. Sales have grown at 83 percent CAGR since 2017.

“I am honored to be recognized by the SBA and I am profoundly grateful to Massachusetts’s incredible support programs that have helped with so many aspects of growing our business,” commented Geisel. “And while the award says Small Business Person of the Year, it really reflects the commitment, hard word and exceptional talents of everyone at Geisel Software so I’m really excited for my team.”

Diversity in STEAM Magazine asked Geisel a few questions about his own journey in business:

Diversity in STEAM: What is your educational background?

Brian Geisel: My educational background is pretty non-traditional. I picked up a few books in junior high on computer programming and taught myself from there. By the time I graduated high school, I was considering entering the professional world. I went to Rochester Institute of Technology for one year, skipped to senior level computer science courses and then took the early retirement package. I feel strong that education is really important, but it may or may not come through traditional channels.

DISM: Why did you start your own company?

Geisel: I knew that no matter what I did, it would only ever be the work of one person so I started the company to scale. With a team, you have this multiplication effect like compound interest that gives you an opportunity to have a real, tangible positive impact on the world.

DISM: What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner?

Geisel: We founders tend to start companies out of our superpower — something we’re really great at. For me, that was writing software. Suddenly, you find that you need to be really good at running and growing a business and your old superpower can even become a liability. That becomes a tremendous challenge on many levels.

DISM: What advice would your give others who want to start their own business?

Geisel: Never let low self-confidence be your guide in starting a business. There are plenty of great reasons to start a business and plenty not to, but self-esteem should never be one of them. Do you want to know a secret? None of us knew going in that this would work. That’s the nature of business. You learn to embrace it. So, if you want to start something, get out of your own way and get going!

Geisel has been featured as a thought leader in Entrepreneur Magazine, Bloomberg Business, The BBC, Forbes and other major outlets. Outside of the office, he is passionate about helping others. He’s participated in many mission trips to Guatemala, Thailand and other locations to hand out food and supplies and assist with medical care.

Brian Geisel, CEO of Geisel Software, is named Massachusetts Small Business Person of the Year for 2020

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has named Brian Geisel, CEO of Geisel Software, the Massachusetts Small Business Person of the Year for 2020. Geisel Software is a custom software development company that specializes in the medical device and robotics industries and whose clients include FLIR Systems, Medica, iRobot, the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Carbon Black and more.

After spending years as an industry consultant, Geisel started the company out of a loft in 2011. By 2015, Geisel had added his first full-time employee and a couple of interns. In 2017, the company moved to a space in the Higgins Armory and sales started to take off.

Today the company occupies a large office space in the Worcester Business Center and employs a large staff of permanent employees, contractors, freelancers and interns. Sales have grown at 83 percent CAGR since 2017.

“I am honored to be recognized by the SBA and I am profoundly grateful to Massachusetts’s incredible support programs that have helped with so many aspects of growing our business,” commented Geisel. “And while the award says Small Business Person of the Year, it really reflects the commitment, hard word and exceptional talents of everyone at Geisel Software so I’m really excited for my team.”

Diversity in STEAM Magazine asked Geisel a few questions about his own journey in business:

Diversity in STEAM: What is your educational background?

Brian Geisel: My educational background is pretty non-traditional. I picked up a few books in junior high on computer programming and taught myself from there. By the time I graduated high school, I was considering entering the professional world. I went to Rochester Institute of Technology for one year, skipped to senior level computer science courses and then took the early retirement package. I feel strong that education is really important, but it may or may not come through traditional channels.

DISM: Why did you start your own company?

Geisel: I knew that no matter what I did, it would only ever be the work of one person so I started the company to scale. With a team, you have this multiplication effect like compound interest that gives you an opportunity to have a real, tangible positive impact on the world.

DISM: What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner?

Geisel: We founders tend to start companies out of our superpower — something we’re really great at. For me, that was writing software. Suddenly, you find that you need to be really good at running and growing a business and your old superpower can even become a liability. That becomes a tremendous challenge on many levels.

DISM: What advice would your give others who want to start their own business?

Geisel: Never let low self-confidence be your guide in starting a business. There are plenty of great reasons to start a business and plenty not to, but self-esteem should never be one of them. Do you want to know a secret? None of us knew going in that this would work. That’s the nature of business. You learn to embrace it. So, if you want to start something, get out of your own way and get going!

Geisel has been featured as a thought leader in Entrepreneur Magazine, Bloomberg Business, The BBC, Forbes and other major outlets. Outside of the office, he is passionate about helping others. He’s participated in many mission trips to Guatemala, Thailand and other locations to hand out food and supplies and assist with medical care.

Each year, the SBA recognizes the achievements of outstanding small business owners and entrepreneurs across the United States. All winners are invited to attend ceremonies in Washington, D.C., in May where they will be honored with their award and the 2020 National Small Business Person of the Year will be announced.

Air Force Civilian Service

Air Force Civilian Service

Robert Half