USA Science & Engineering Festival

EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment , Nifty Fifty , Science Education , STEM , USA Science & Engineering Festival

By Ken Olden, Ph.D.

 

EPA "Nifty Fifty" scientist Dr. Kenneth Olden

EPA “Nifty Fifty” scientist Dr. Kenneth Olden

Is there something in this world that you would like to see changed? Disease, hunger, health care—I believe we all have things we want to change. That desire for change is how I got to the position that I am in today.

I grew up on a farm along the Appalachian Mountains in rural Tennessee, among the worst poverty in the United States. We were poor, hungry, and I didn’t like the environment in which we lived. I looked around my community and I knew that if we wanted something to change, one of us would need to break out and become a leader. So I thought, why not me?

I decided then that I needed to work hard, go to college, and keep going until I acquired the education to become part of the leadership class. I shined shoes before and after school for 15 cents a pair—that’s how I paid for my first year of college.

I started at Knoxville College in 1956 and earned a B.S. in Biology. Then I earned a M.S. in Genetics from the University of Michigan. After that, I earned my Ph.D. in Cell Biology and Biochemistry from Temple University in 1970.

I made history when I became the first African American to direct one of the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Today, as the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, I have a platform from EPA, one of the nation’s top environmental and health organizations, for addressing the issues and problems I’ve wanted to see changed since I was a kid.

Picture of Capital City Public Charter School

Capital City Public Charter School, Washington, DC.

Recently, I had the opportunity to share these experiences with students at the Capital City Public Charter School. I was asked to speak at the school as part of the USA Science & Engineering Festival’s “Nifty Fifty (times 4)” program. The program is linking 200 noted science and engineering professionals with middle schools across the Washington, DC area. My fellow “Niftys” and I are sharing stories about our science and career paths throughout the current school year.

I asked the students if there was anything in the world they would like to see changed. One student wanted to change how people perceive hip-hop. Another wanted equality for women in the workforce. Every student agreed that there was something they wanted to see changed.

My question back to them was: “Why not you?”

You have your lifetime ahead of you to make a difference. Everything that has been discovered to date—it’s all just the beginning! There are just as many possibilities for discovery now as there was when I was in middle school. You can make those discoveries and you can make a difference.

I didn’t like seeing health disparity or people living in unhealthy environments when I was their age, and I wanted to change things. I set out in 1956 to make a difference and at 76, I can say I have lived a good life—I have had the opportunity to make a difference. Now it’s their turn.

About the Author: The Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, Dr. Ken Olden has published extensively in peer-reviewed literature, chaired or co-chaired numerous national and international meetings, and has been an invited speaker at more than 200 symposia.

Dr. Olden has won a long list of honors and awards including the Presidential Distinguished Executive Rank Award, the Presidential Meritorious Executive Rank Award for sustained extraordinary accomplishments, the Toxicology Forum’s Distinguished Fellow Award, the HHS Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award, the American College of Toxicology’s First Distinguished Service Award, and the National Minority Health Leadership Award. From 1991-2005, he served as the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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You Can Make A Difference: How I Became a “Nifty Fifty”

By Ken Olden, Ph.D.

 

EPA "Nifty Fifty" scientist Dr. Kenneth Olden

EPA “Nifty Fifty” scientist Dr. Kenneth Olden

Is there something in this world that you would like to see changed? Disease, hunger, health care—I believe we all have things we want to change. That desire for change is how I got to the position that I am in today.

I grew up on a farm along the Appalachian Mountains in rural Tennessee, among the worst poverty in the United States. We were poor, hungry, and I didn’t like the environment in which we lived. I looked around my community and I knew that if we wanted something to change, one of us would need to break out and become a leader. So I thought, why not me?

I decided then that I needed to work hard, go to college, and keep going until I acquired the education to become part of the leadership class. I shined shoes before and after school for 15 cents a pair—that’s how I paid for my first year of college.

I started at Knoxville College in 1956 and earned a B.S. in Biology. Then I earned a M.S. in Genetics from the University of Michigan. After that, I earned my Ph.D. in Cell Biology and Biochemistry from Temple University in 1970.

I made history when I became the first African American to direct one of the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Today, as the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, I have a platform from EPA, one of the nation’s top environmental and health organizations, for addressing the issues and problems I’ve wanted to see changed since I was a kid.

Picture of Capital City Public Charter School

Capital City Public Charter School, Washington, DC.

Recently, I had the opportunity to share these experiences with students at the Capital City Public Charter School. I was asked to speak at the school as part of the USA Science & Engineering Festival’s “Nifty Fifty (times 4)” program. The program is linking 200 noted science and engineering professionals with middle schools across the Washington, DC area. My fellow “Niftys” and I are sharing stories about our science and career paths throughout the current school year.

I asked the students if there was anything in the world they would like to see changed. One student wanted to change how people perceive hip-hop. Another wanted equality for women in the workforce. Every student agreed that there was something they wanted to see changed.

My question back to them was: “Why not you?”

You have your lifetime ahead of you to make a difference. Everything that has been discovered to date—it’s all just the beginning! There are just as many possibilities for discovery now as there was when I was in middle school. You can make those discoveries and you can make a difference.

I didn’t like seeing health disparity or people living in unhealthy environments when I was their age, and I wanted to change things. I set out in 1956 to make a difference and at 76, I can say I have lived a good life—I have had the opportunity to make a difference. Now it’s their turn.

About the Author: The Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, Dr. Ken Olden has published extensively in peer-reviewed literature, chaired or co-chaired numerous national and international meetings, and has been an invited speaker at more than 200 symposia.

Dr. Olden has won a long list of honors and awards including the Presidential Distinguished Executive Rank Award, the Presidential Meritorious Executive Rank Award for sustained extraordinary accomplishments, the Toxicology Forum’s Distinguished Fellow Award, the HHS Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award, the American College of Toxicology’s First Distinguished Service Award, and the National Minority Health Leadership Award. From 1991-2005, he served as the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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EPA’s P3 Student Design Competition: Sowing the Seeds of a Sustainable Future

 

Reposted from EPA Connect, the official blog of EPA’s leadership.

 

“The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.”  -PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

 

By Lek Kadeli

KadeliEach spring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides the nation with a glimpse of America’s winning future through our P3 student design competition for sustainability.

“P3” stands for People, Prosperity and the Planet. Working in teams, students and their academic advisors devise innovative solutions to meet environmental challenges in ways that benefit people, promote prosperity, and protect the planet. Through that work, the competition engages the greater academic community and the next generation of environmental scientists and engineers in the principles of sustainability.

The competition is a two-phase process. In Phase I, teams submit design proposals for a chance to receive grants of up to $15,000 to research and test original sustainability projects. In addition to research funds, winning teams earn the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC to publically showcase their designs and prototypes at the National Sustainable Design Expo.

During the Expo, teams also showcase their work to a panel of judges for a chance to enter Phase II of the competition—which includes up to $90,000 in additional grant money to help bring their designs and products to the marketplace. Successful P3 projects ultimately benefit the economy and create jobs in our communities.

President Obama said in this year’s State of the Union address “that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.” This program exemplifies that spirit of innovation.

WeLoveP3Over the past 10 years, EPA has awarded more than 550 grants to university and college student teams across the nation. A number of teams have leveraged their winning ideas into thriving small businesses and nonprofit organizations, sparking job growth as they advance sustainability and public health. For example:

  • An inter-collegiate team made up of students from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and two Chinese universities launched the nonprofit organization One Earth Design (OED) based on their winning project: a solar-powered device that cooks, provides heat, and generates electricity.
  • A team from the University of Massachusetts designed a process for producing a nontoxic flame retardant from cashew oil. The end result provides the benefit of suppressing flames that is as effective as the more toxic synthetic retardants in use today.
  • Students from the University of Arizona designed an irrigation system for small farmers that also serves as a fish farm. Rows of irrigation ditches filled with fish provide a local source of fertilizer that boosts crop yields while yielding additional sources of food and profit.
  • Western Washington University students partnered with local dairy farmers for their project using cow manure as a source of fuel-grade methane for running vehicles.
  • Re-design methods developed by a team of University of Tennessee students have helped transform depression-era housing into buildings that meet both energy efficient, green building standards and strict historical preservation codes.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) program. Both the P3 public displays and the National Sustainable Design Expo will be held in conjunction with the USA Science & Engineering Festival at the Washington Convention Center, April 26-27. Now in its third year, the USA Science & Engineering Festival is the largest science festival in the United States.

About the Author: Lek Kadeli is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Education Outreach: Fun for All!

By Maureen Gwinn, Ph.D., DABT

Since 2007, the Girl Scouts Council Nation’s Capital Chapter has organized a Girl Scout Science Day to give local Girl Scouts an opportunity to learn more about science in a fun and friendly environment. 

I first became involved as a friend of the troop leader in charge of the event.  She and I would work on ideas, adapt experimental protocols and talk our science friends into volunteering at the event. 

EPA's Maureen Gwinn: "I enjoy every opportunity I have to encourage kids to have fun with science."

From the beginning, experiments have been led by Cadette or Senior Girl Scouts with the assistance of volunteers, including troop ‘moms’ and ‘dads’ and area scientists. We have hands-on experiments that address concepts of chemistry, microbiology, genetics, and toxicology.  We have had discussions related to what goes into your personal hygiene products, why DNA is unique to each of us, and how forensic science can help to solve a crime.

The Cadette and Senior Girl Scouts running the experiments at a recent event were the 4th graders who participated five years ago.  It has been a pleasure to see these girls not only learn the scientific concepts well enough to teach them to the new Brownie and Junior Girl Scouts, but to watch them take on more responsibility for the event itself.  Through my involvement in this event, I have been privileged to watch those young, giggly ten-year-old girls turn into responsible young ladies – that still giggle, but do so while teaching or setting up for the next group of girls. 

This event inspired me to volunteer in education outreach at other events, including the Society of Toxicology Annual meeting, EPA’s Earth Day celebrations, and the USA Science & Engineering Festival

Volunteering in education outreach was not something I had considered in the past, but after participating in the Girl Scout Science Day for the past five years, I enjoy every opportunity I have to encourage kids to have fun with science, to ask questions about how things work, and to work together to solve scientific problems. 

The Society of Toxicology Education Committee has ways to help support these types of opportunities, and for K-12 in particular we are putting together a website of ideas, experiments, and how-to’s to get you started in the new year. 

Are you interested in getting involved in education outreach, but don’t know where to start? Or are you already involved and have some tips or favorite resources to share? Please post your questions or suggestions in the comments section below so we can join forces.

The impact these events have on the kids is worth the effort. 

About the Author:  Maureen Gwinn is a biologist in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment and works as an Associate National Program Director for Sustainable and Healthy Communities.  She is currently serving in her final year as the K-12 Subcommittee Chair for the Society of Toxicology and is always looking for ideas for scientific outreach.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Celebrating Science and Engineering

By Aaron Ferster

I knew my mistake as soon as the kid’s cheeks puffed out and streams of water started arching out of the corners of his mouth like a fountain.

“Blow; don’t suck in” were my clear instructions. But just as I jump to the right every time an approaching cyclist calls out “bicycle right!” as I walk along a bike trail, sometimes the mind executes the opposite of a command. 

The unfortunate mishap occurred while engaging visitors in the “Lung Capacity Challenge” at EPA’s exhibit booth at the last USA Science & Engineering Festival. It shows lung capacity by having people blow into a tube. As their breath bubbles into a holding chamber placed upside-down in a small tub of water, it displaces an equal volume of water—causing the chamber to rise and showing how much air has come out of the participant’s lungs.

Patrick tries the Lung Capacity Challenge.

The Lung Capacity Challenge

Illustrating how researchers measure lung capacity is a great gateway into sharing how EPA scientists use such tools to compare lung function and take other, albeit more sophisticated, actions to better understand the connections between human health and clean air.

The only problem is that if someone sucks on the tube instead of blows, they create a siphon, getting a mouth full of water instead of lung capacity data. (Luckily, we’ve discovered the secret to avoiding this mess: never utter the word “suck” in your instructions; bike commuters, please take note.)

It’s all part of the fun at the USA Science & Engineering Festival, a celebration that brings hundreds of organizations together to share their research and technology.

This year’s Festival is this weekend, and I’m happy to say EPA will once again be part of the action.

In addition to our world-famous Lung Capacity Challenge, our scientists and other volunteers will be featuring demonstrations such as:

  • Fun with Chemical Reactions (aka “baggie science”) where visitors can see what happens and learn important scientific concepts as they mix up a batch of chemicals in their own baggie.
  • Making the Invisible Visible where visitors learn how scientists use instruments to “see” what’s in the air we breathe.
  • One Fish, Two Fish, Safe Fish, New Fish  invites visitors to go fishing and learn about the science of fish consumption advisories, habitat degradation, environmental sampling in wetlands, and other important aquatic and clean water issues.

For visitor and travel information, go to: www.usasciencefestival.org/#. Be sure to come by booth #1745. And remember: blow!

About the author: Aaron Ferster is the senior science writer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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