The Pipeline: How A Mars 2020 Engineer Started Her Career Later In Life

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When Melony Mahaarachchi interviewed at SpaceX in 2010, she was asked a question that would make most candidates go into panic mode: “We hire rock stars at SpaceX. You just presented a failed project. How do you expect us to think you’re a rock star?”

Mahaarachchi didn’t skip a beat when she answered, “Two reasons: Number one, rock stars are rock stars because they failed at the beginning and learned from their mistakes. Number two, be happy I failed before joining SpaceX so that failure is not at your cost.”

That searing reply was a bit unusual, but it was carefully crafted well before the presentation. Mahaarachchi, then applying for her first job, was different from many of her fellow applicants. The recent UCLA engineering grad was at least 10 years older, with two young children, and no summer internship experience. (“I was busy doing summertime with my kids.”)

But Mahaarachchi knew she was qualified enough to get the job as a mechanical design engineer and excel at it. So when an on-site interview was scheduled with only three days to prep, she started searching for a way to stand out in the competitive pool of candidates. Mahaarachchi was asked to create a 30-minute presentation on an engineering project. The audience would include her hiring manager, the VP of her prospective department, and the entire team of people in that department. She was also told that Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and tech wunderkind, might attend.

Mahaarachchi spent an entire day learning everything she could about Musk, reading blogs and biographies and watching every interview she could find on YouTube. She took notes: Musk liked going to Burning Man, he sold a computer game when he was 12, and as a student at the University of Pennsylvania, he reportedly turned a frat house into a nightclub. Since there’s so much coverage of Musk, Mahaarachchi confesses she also found out about “a lot of private things you should not know about your future boss.”

But the perceptive engineer derived a larger, more important message from her research on Musk and SpaceX: “I realized he was a man with many failures. At that time, SpaceX had not even launched the Dragon.”

So she decided to appeal to her future boss’s history with losing, and present her senior project from UCLA — one which her entire team had failed. It was a risky, but clever move, that ultimately paid off. By the time she arrived home, Mahaarachchi had a job offer waiting in her inbox.

Mahaarachchi’s journey to that first job was anything but usual, but it speaks to the persistence that has always defined her.

Continue onto Refinery29 to read the complete article.

Google Doodle Celebrates Mary G. Ross. Here’s What to Know About the First Native American Woman Engineer

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Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the 110th birthday of Mary G. Ross, the first Native American woman engineer. Over the course of her five-decade career, Ross achieved many firsts and made major contributions to the aerospace industry.

Here’s what to know about the trailblazer, born on Aug. 9, 1908, who opened the doors for future female engineers in the field.

Who Was Mary G. Ross?

Great-great granddaughter to Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Nation, Mary G. Ross was born in the small town of Park Hill in Oklahoma. Raised with the Cherokee value of learning, Ross pursued a path considered nontraditional for women. After receiving a degree in math from Northeastern State College, Ross taught math and science until she returned to school to earn her master’s in math from Colorado State College of Education.

What were her contributions to aerospace?

In 1942, Lockheed Missiles and Space Company hired Ross as mathematician. But after a manager recognized her talent, Ross was sent to UCLA to earn a classification in aeronautical engineering. Lockheed then rehired her as their first female engineer. Ross would go on to work on major projects such as the Agena rocket, which was a crucial step in the Apollo program to land on the moon. She also was a part of SkunkWorks, a top-secret 40-member think tank where she was the only women aside from the secretary. Ross’ work there involved developing initial design concepts for interplanetary space travel, including flyby missions to Venus and Mars.
“Often at night there were four of us working until 11 p.m.,” she once said according to Google. “I was the pencil pusher, doing a lot of research. My state of the art tools were a slide rule and a Frieden computer. We were taking the theoretical and making it real.”

How did she open the door for women?

Ross also devoted herself to encouraging women and Native Americans into careers in the field of STEM. She was a fellow of the Society of Women Engineers, where she established a scholarship in her name to support future female engineers and technologists. To support fellow Native Americans, Ross also worked closely with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Council of Energy Resource Tribes to develop their educational programs.

Continue onto TIME to read the complete article.

Marie Tharp, The Woman Who Discovered The Backbone Of Earth

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Marie Tharp was born July 30, 1920, in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Already in early years she followed her father, a soil surveyor for the United States Department of Agriculture, into the field. However she also loved to read and wanted to study literature at St. John’s College in Annapolis, but at the time women were not admitted there. So she went to Ohio University, where she graduated in 1943. The Second World War changed dramatically the situation. The United States needed a replacement for the men who went into war and women were now encouraged to obtain degrees also in ‘manly’ disciplines, like science and technology. Marie enrolled in a petroleum geology program, becoming so one of the first ‘Petroleum Geology Girls’ when she graduated in 1944. She worked for a short time in the petroleum industry, but found the work unrewarding and decided to resume her studies at Tulsa University. In 1948 she graduated in mathematics and found work at the Lamont Geological Laboratory of the Columbia University. As the Cold War between the United States and the Sowjet Union got hotter, the U.S. Navy was interested in a map of the seafloor, believed to be of strategic relevance for future battles with submarines. Marie started a prolific collaboration with geologist Bruce Charles Heezen (1924 -1977), specialist for seismic and topographic data obtained from the seafloor. As women, Marie was not allowed on board of the research vessel. Instead, she interpreted and visualized the obtained data, producing large hand-drawn maps of the seafloor. She co-authored with Heezen a book and various papers on their research.

Between 1959 until the death of Heezen in 1977 she continued to work on various large-scale maps that would depict the still unknown topography of the entire seafloor. The results were astounding. The following original sketch by Tharp and Heezen of the topography of the Mid-Atlantic shows in green and yellow a mountain range located between the coasts of Africa and America. The preliminary map shows also a series of parallel transform-faults cutting through the mountain range. Based on such sketches Tharp and Heezen published in 1977 the famous World Ocean Floor Map.

Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article.

How Shavone Charles Created Her Dream Job In Tech

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Shavone Charles holds many titles. From being a musician and artist to her role as Head of Global Music and Youth Culture Communications at Instagram and recent founder of a passion project, Magic in Her Melanin, Charles is undoubtedly known to her peers and the surrounding tech and entertainment industries as being a renaissance woman and connoisseur of culture.

The term, “Do It For The Culture”, according to the Urban Dictionary, is a statement requesting that someone carry out a specific action for benefit of their shared culture. Charles is doing just that with not only her work in Silicon Valley but for black creatives globally. With her deep Trinidadian roots, Charles is passionate about maintaining her self-identity while creating an environment of inclusivity for women of color in tech.

Before she was trailblazing a new path for future generations, millennials and black women in tech, or creating her own job title at multi-billion dollar companies like Twitter and Instagram, she was a San Diego native and first-generation college graduate from UC Merced, just trying to figure it out. Upon graduating in 2012, Charles snagged several high-profile entertainment and communications based internships at Google, BET Networks, Capitol Hill and The Department of Justice. Her big break happened when she was the presented with the opportunity to create her own role and title at Twitter.

At Twitter, Shavone established her niche career focus on culture-focused communications and social marketing, business partnerships and data analysis with a close lens on music, online communities and youth culture. Upon joining the Twitter team, Shavone created her own role, as the first person to join her team and head up the company’s global music and culture communications, with a focus on data, often working on efforts tied music partnerships and high-priority product launches and acquisitions (including Vine and Periscope). During her time at Twitter, Shavone also remotely oversaw all of the company’s communications efforts for Brazil and Canada out of San Francisco and employed a number of successful global culture-driven communications programs tied to major entertainment and consumer moments in market (including Rock In Rio, Brazil’s Fashion Week, Juno Awards and more). She led content management and curation for the official @TwitterMusic account and helped grow it by over 5 million followers, as result of social campaigns with talent and highlighting the best uses of Twitter and Vine in music.

In addition to launching PR and social campaigns, Charles had the unique opportunity to create the first-ever employee resource group for African-American employees, aptly named Twitter BlackBirds. Her role at Twitter, catapulted her into a new realm of visibility and influence, leading her to head up communications and culture at Instagram. Charles has always been intrigued by the notion of connecting diverse groups of people through social media and cultivating an accepting community for people to have the choice to share commonalities.

Technology has allowed the culture to be seen on a global scale, with creatives now at the forefront of the movement and art form. It’s not a “niche” community anymore and people are using the internet to build a community around their interests,” which she said at Forbes I.D.E.A Summit.

Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article.

10 Latinas Making Their Mark in the STEM World

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As the job market rapidly changes, STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – skills have become increasingly valuable. These careers are among the fastest-growing and highest-paying, yet Latinas only account for 3 percent of the industry.

Believing that lucrative STEM fields can pull low-income communities of color out of poverty and instill young girls and women with financial independence, groups across the nation have emerged to pique the interest, educate and mentor Latinas in STEM. In Miami, CODeLLA offers Latinas between the ages of 8 and 12 an eight-week tech entrepreneurship and coding immersion program. In Chicago, Latina Girls Code hosts workshops and hackathons that teach brown girls and teens technology languages and entrepreneurial skills. In Los Angeles, DIY Girls provides underserved female youth, 97 percent of them Latina, from fourth to eighth grade with after-school classes and summer programs where they build prototypes of products that can improve a problem in their community. Even Eva Longoria, whose master’s thesis from Cal State Northridge focused on Latinas in STEM careers, started TECHNOLOchicas, a nationwide campaign to increase visibility of brown women in these fields and educate Latino families of the opportunities STEM can provide their girls.

While STEM outreach programs are doing great and necessary work, the reality for women of color in tech or engineering isn’t as alluring as it’s made out to be. Women make up almost half of all STEM graduates, though just 3.5 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded in STEM fields in 2010 went to Latinas, yet they account for less than a quarter of all graduates in the 20 highest-paying STEM jobs. In contrast, they make up the majority, two-thirds, of the 20 lowest-paying gigs. For those who manage to get fat paychecks, many face almost everyday instances of discrimination and microaggressions, from sexual harassment to painful double standards. The problem is twofold for women of color, who face gender and racial/ethnic biases. In fact, a study by UC Hastings College of Law published in 2015 found that 46.9 percent of Latina scientists reported that they had been mistaken for administrative or custodial staff.

Despite all the odds, there are several Latinas in STEM breaking glass ceilings, solving major scientific problems, creating innovative products that save lives, and creating programs for young Latinas that ensure the presence of women of color in science, technology, engineering and math isn’t as modest in the next generation. Here are 10 Latina engineers, physicists, techies, and STEM activists kicking ass in fields they’re widely underrepresented in.

1. Sabrina González Pasterski

The world’s “next Albert Einstein” is a cubana from Chicago – at least that’s how Harvard University describes Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski. At just 24 years old, the physicist has a résumé that even veterans of her field can’t match. Gonzalez Pasterski, who’s a doctoral student at the ivy league studying high energy physics, started showing signs that she’d break barriers in 2003, back when the then-10-year-old started taking flying lessons. Three years later, she started to build her first kit aircraft. By 2008, it was considered airworthy.

These days, Gonzalez Pasterski, who studies black holes and spacetime, particularly trying to explain gravity within the context of quantum mechanics, has been cited by the likes of Stephen Hawking and Andrew Strominger, been offered jobs by NASA and Blue Origin, an aerospace research and development company Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos also started. She’s also received hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to support her work.

2. Laura I. Gomez

Mexicana Laura I. Gomez is one of the leading ladies in tech. At 17, when the formerly undocumented immigrant first obtained a work permit, she took an internship with Hewlett-Packard. Seeing no one like her in the workplace, she instantly wanted out. However, she decided to stay in the field after her mother, who saw a lucrative career for Gomez in tech, encouraged her to stay. Gomez would go on to work as one of the only Latinas at Google and YouTube, and then she became a founding member of Twitter’s international team, where she led Twitter en Español.

Being underrepresented in the tech world and experiencing discrimination, Gomez decided to do something about it, founding (and acting as CEO of) Atipica in 2015. It’s a recruiting software start-up that uses artificial and human intelligence to help companies make bias-free decisions when hiring employees.

3. Nicole Hernandez Hammer

Nicole Hernandez Hammer is a sea-level researcher and environmental justice activist who educates and mobilizes the Latino community to understand and address the ways in which climate change negatively impacts them. The Guatemalan-Cuban advocate speaks from personal experience as well as academic knowledge. When Hernandez Hammer was four years old, she and her family moved from Guatemala to South Florida. There, she learned firsthand about the effect of rising sea levels.

During Hurricane Andrew, when she was 15 years old, her house – much like the homes of other Latino families near coastal shore lines – was destroyed. She felt “obligated” to learn more about the issue, and went on to study biology and the natural sciences. Hernandez Hammer was the assistant director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University, authoring several papers on sea level rise projections, before moving into advocacy. She served as the Florida field manager for Moms Clean Air Force and is now a climate science and community advocate at the Union of Concerned Scientists. In 2015, she was former first lady Michelle Obama’s guest at the State of the Union Address.

Continue onto Remezcla to read the complete article.

A Scientist-Turned-Investor Is Helping Female Entrepreneurs Build And Scale Their Businesses

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Dr. Silvia Mah, investor and founding partner at Ad Astra Ventures, and her team are equipping female entrepreneurs to build, run and scale investable businesses.With her primary focus on empowering, nurturing and launching women-owned businesses, Mah is investing in new ventures that allow women to break through barriers in order to excel.

In addition, Mah serves as the Executive Director of Hera Labs, a business accelerator for women-owned small businesses. She also is the founding member of Hera Angels, an early stage female angel group.

Initially, Mah earned her doctorate (Ph.D.) in Molecular Marine Biology preparing to work as a researcher in a lab. Her pivot to investing began the day she was offered a position to lead a program focused on service learning projects for multidisciplinary undergraduate engineering students at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Working with the students ignited her entrepreneurial spirit. She knew she wanted her next step to be in business, wanting to work with scientific companies. “I really wanted to be in this arena of commercialization and service learning,” she stated. “I began asking myself ‘how do I teach these students to be entrepreneurial as engineers?’” In order to prepare for her next pivot, she went back to school and earned a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from Rady School of Business at UCSD.

“During that time,” Mah details, “my father passed away. He was an entrepreneur in Venezuela. I received an inheritance. Instantly, I became an investor. I didn’t want to buy a new house, I wanted to purposefully ‘give it away’. I thought this was pretty cool because as an entrepreneurial advocate, and a startup advocate, I knew access to capital is the number one thing that is so challenging for entrepreneurs. I also saw women are not getting enough funding, but I could actually make a big impact with the inheritance I received. So I became an investor in only female and minority-led startups. Fast forward, I have 21 companies in my portfolio.”

Working as a scientist enabled her to develop a strong foundation, which ultimately made it easier for her to transition to the investment world. “There are two things going on here,” Mah recollects. “One is a practical thing, and the other one’s more strategic. The practical aspect is that a lot of investors, or what I come up against, is that the science part of it, or the engineering part of it is a little bit daunting. Most investors have had great businesses and they understand the business side of it [investing], and then they come to the science part. They’re like, ‘oh, my gosh, I don’t understand it.’ For me, I understand the science part because I’ve been in the field.”

“The strategic part of it,” she continues, “is more that the scientific method is similar to the business development method.”

Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article.

How Today’s Google Doodle, Dr. Virginia Apgar, Made A Big Difference

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Today is the birthday of Dr. Virginia Apgar, who has helped make many, many, many birthdays possible.  The pioneering doctor lived from June 7, 1909, to August 7, 1974, and is the subject of today’s Google Doodle. You can’t really go through medical school without knowing Apgar’s name, at least her last name. Here’s why.

In 1952, Dr. Apgar unveiled the Apgar score. Besides being her last name, Apgar stands for the following five domains “Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration” of the score. Basically 1 minute and 5 minutes after a baby is born, doctors, nurses, and midwives will score the baby from 0 to 2 (with 2 being the best) for each of these domains. The following table from the KidsHealth website shows how this scoring is done:

You then sum the 5 domain scores to get a sense of the baby’s overall health. If you do the math, you will see that the total score can range from a 0 to a 10 with a higher score being better. A baby rarely scores a 10, because most babies have at least blue hands and feet when they are born (hey, life ain’t easy and not everyone is the best at everything). A score of 7 or higher is normal. Lower than 7 merits immediate medical attention such as potentially oxygen, clearing out the airway, or physical stimulation to get the heart beating faster as the U.S. National Library of Medicine describes. Time may be all that the baby needs, since low scores at 1 minute frequently become normal at 5 minutes. Sometimes a doctor, nurse, or midwife may check an Apgar score 10 minutes after birth if any questions remain.

Of course, an Apgar score is only an immediate assessment and usually does not forecast either good or bad health in the future. So putting your good Apgar score on your resume will impress no one. A high Apgar score doesn’t necessarily mean that everything will be beer and Skittles from thereon. Similarly babies with low initial Apgar scores can go on to have very healthy lives.

While it may seem routine now, using a standardized way to check a baby’s health was not standard practice before Dr. Apgar invented the score. Newborn care was a lot more haphazard, making survival among infants, especially those born prematurely, more challenging.

It was an accomplishment for Dr. Apgar even to get to a position to make such an important invention. Back when she graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1929 and then from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1933, the “Apgar” score for the medical careers of women and minorities was very, very low. Very few were even allowed into medical school, let alone progress in their careers afterwards. But Dr. Apgar was a persistent pioneer, eventually becoming the first woman to achieve the rank of full professor at her medical alma mater in 1949. Things aren’t smooth sailing for women and minorities today in medical and academic careers. But you can thank Dr. Apgar for at least making some initial inroads.

Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article.

The new Sally Ride stamp ensures astronaut will be a role model for generations

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sally ride stamp

by: Lynn Sherr

Sally Ride soared into history 35 years ago as the first American woman in space. This week, six years after her death made her eligible for recognition, the United States Postal Service is commemorating her extraordinary achievement with a postage stamp.

It’s an iconic honor, a time-hallowed tribute to a genuine hero who joins superstars from George Washington to John Lennon in the American stampbook.

True, an envelope bearing the image of Sally in space gear will take longer to get across town than it took her to orbit Earth.

But this bold young woman whose grin once lit up the skies — the jaunty astrophysicist who broke the ultimate glass ceiling and convinced millions that they, too, could do anything — remains a valuable role model for today’s emerging leaders. Her beaming face on a tiny rectangle of colored paper represents the perfect intersection between the daring achievements of the recent past and the lofty goals of the #MeToo revolution.

Ride was born in 1951, when outer space was science fiction and women’s rights were almost nonexistent. She fully appreciated that her selection as one of NASA’s first six female astronauts was due largely to the women’s movement, which had liberated more than one men’s club. In 1982, when she was chosen as the first woman to fly, she mused, publicly, “maybe it’s too bad that our society isn’t further along and that this is such a big deal.”

That she did not reveal she was a lesbian until her obituary was published, or rightfully felt she could not reveal it without risking her career, shows just how much further we had to travel.

I met Sally in 1981 when, as a reporter for ABC News, I interviewed her for a story on the upcoming space shuttle and its new breed of astronauts. Her unflappable manner and unreserved feminism were refreshing, and we quickly became friends. Just before the June 1983 launch, she confessed, candidly, that yes, she did feel under pressure:  “not to mess up.”

Sally never elaborated — she rarely did — but I knew what she meant.  She didn’t want to mess up for space exploration, because she cared about its goals; she didn’t want to mess up for NASA, because she deeply respected its mission; she didn’t want to mess up for her crew, because she was a team player; but mostly, she didn’t want to mess up for other women, because she knew she was their representative on that first, critical flight.

She understood that you can’t be one if you can’t see one.

Sally proved that you don’t need the right plumbing to have the right stuff. Throughout her life — another shuttle mission, several years managing and investigating NASA,  teaching physics, creating a company to entice youngsters to the sciences that so entranced her — she learned how to succeed in a world often set against her. With wry wit.

Continue onto USA Today to read the complete article.

Karlie Kloss and Teach for America team up to help 1,000 girls learn to code

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Karlie Kloss’ passion for coding hasn’t faded. And to prove it, the 25-year-old model and entrepreneur is taking her nonprofit coding program to the next level.

After taking a coding class herself, Kloss launched Kode With Klossy in 2015 in the hopes of making coding lessons more accessible to young girls and inspiring them to pursue careers in the tech industry. Now, the program is expanding its reach by launching 50 coding summer camps in 25 cities across America.

As a result, Kode With Klossy will be able to serve 1,000 girls this year between the ages of 13 and 18. The nonprofit is also partnering with Teach For America in a new initiative to train educators, so they can bring coding curricula back to their own communities.

“I initially took a coding class because I wanted to understand what this language I kept hearing about was,” Kloss said, explaining that she didn’t originally set out to start a nonprofit.

But after realizing what a powerful role coding plays in creating technologies that can transform society, she knew it was something she wanted to expose others to.

“I realized coding is amazing and thought, ‘How did I not have access to these skills sooner?'” she said.

“I wanted to offer that experience and that kind of learning to other girls who also might not have access to it,” she added, “because it’s going to continue to be relevant in the world that we live in.”

A day in the life of a Koder

The 1,000 girls that will get the opportunity to attend Karlie’s coding camps this summer will ultimately learn how to build a mobile app or website by the end of the two-week program.

Kode With Klossy currently teaches different “tracks,” including back-end and front-end development, allowing kids to learn the fundamentals of programming languages such as HTML, CSS, Ruby, and Javascript.

“This year we’ve also got a really exciting new track on Swift, so the girls at our camps not only learn the ABCs of code, but real-world examples of tech that touches our lives today,” Kloss said. “They’re learning what a loop is or how to interpolate using concepts or ideas that touch their lives, like Instagram, Twitter, or Postmates.”

Continue onto Mashable to read the complete article.

Power Up: Computing Student Publishes Hand-Drawn Game on Google Play

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Prior to taking the game modification development course taught by University Lecturer D.J. Kehoe last spring, computer science major Angela Vitaletti ’18 had never developed or programmed a videogame before.

“I would always bite off more than I could chew, and never finish,” said Vitaletti, who is from Middlesex and transferred to NJIT from Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania. “I took game mod as a way to motivate myself because it has real deadlines and projects that D.J. helps make achievable.”

To guide the learning process and create a culture of accountability, Vitaletti worked side-by-side with Kehoe to determine her individual project deliverables.

“We feel that this approach is a good analogue for working in industry and gives students a sense of ownership of the work that they do,” said Kehoe, who graduated from NJIT in 2009 with an M.S. in computer science. “It’s nice to give students portfolio-building projects that they can feel proud to show off.”

Upon completion of the course, not only was Vitaletti armed with work samples for her portfolio, she managed to publish a game on Google Play.

It’s called Doodle Doo, a digitally hand-drawn mobile game that puts players’ short-term memory to the test. The scribbles that live inside students’ notebooks inspired the concept. Offering four levels of difficulty, Doodle Doo personifies the youthful joy and reckless fun of high school, where wacky hijinks and tomfoolery abound.

Level one requires you to memorize which students hurled paper balls behind a teacher’s back before the pesky pupils scatter back to their seats, while level four transports you to a gymnasium during a power outage. When the lights come on, you must remember and identify what has disappeared from the space.

“The scenarios are ridiculous, but a lot of fun,” said Vitaletti, who drew the entire game by hand, down to the font. And while she’s ear-to-ear smiles now, the journey to complete Doodle Doo was often challenging.

“I spent nearly every single day developing the game,” she recalled. “I would spend hours trying to work out what seemed like a simple problem. There were a lot of times I wanted to give up. But I didn’t. I kept going.”

This display of perseverance, along with salable skills, project management experience and a strong work ethic, is exactly what Kehoe wants the students to take away from the course.

“The game development projects are substantial and daunting,” he admitted. “But after getting through them, our students can face a large project and complete it.”

Continue onto the New Jersey Institute of Technology Newsroom to read the complete article.

Katsuko Saruhashi turned radioactive fallout into a scientific legacy

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Today’s Google Doodle celebrates Japanese geochemist Katsuko Saruhashi, whose research helped reveal the insidious spread of radioactive fallout from the US nuclear testing ground in the Pacific. If she were still alive, today would have been her 98th birthday.

In 1957, Saruhashi became the first woman to receive a PhD in chemistry in Japan. Her work focused on measuring the molecules in seawater, like carbon dioxide, oxygen, and also radioactive molecules like cesium-137. Just 12 years before she received her PhD, the United States dropped atomic bombs that devastated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the US continued to unleash a torrent of radioactive fallout in the Pacific as it tested bigger and bigger bombs. By 1958, the US had exploded 67 nuclear devices around the Marshall Islands — leaving a long legacy of contamination behind.

Saruhashi worked at the Central Meteorological Observatory in Tokyo to develop more sensitive methods of measuring radioactive fallout. It was a challenging task, says Toshihiro Higuchi, a historian at Georgetown University and expert on Cold War science. “The amount of fallout that we are talking about is really tiny, and then we are talking about the vast ocean,” he says.

Saruhashi and her colleagues discovered that fallout didn’t disperse evenly in the ocean. The concentrations of radioactive cesium near Japan, for example, were much higher than the concentrations along the West Coast of the US. The team proposed that the high levels were because Japan is downstream of the Pacific nuclear testing ground. But others suspected that the measurements might be off, Higuchi says. “There was a controversy over her argument that the radioactive fallout in seawater was more than what they used to think.”

To settle the dispute, the US Atomic Energy Commission funded a lab swap. Saruhashi took a six-month leave of absence from her work at the Central Meteorological Observatory in Japan and visited Scripps Institute of Oceanography. There, she and oceanographer Ted Folsom compared their methods and discovered that Saruhashi’s technique was spot-on: the two teams’ methods produced almost identical results.

Saruhashi worked to support female scientists, and in 1958 she co-founded the Society of Japanese Women Scientists, which pushed for nuclear disarmament and peace. “She was very conscious of the social responsibility of scientists in general,” Higuchi says. Saruhashi died in 2007. But she left behind a legacy of scientific research, including an award called the Saruhashi Prize for top natural scientists who are women. “She was a trailblazer,” Higuchi says.

Read the complete article on The Verge