July 08, 2011

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Smells Like Teen Innovation

In It Ain’t Rocket Science, a new show we created as part of our Connect a Million Minds initiative, technology reporter Adam Balkin kicks off the first segment with some sobering statistics on the US’ lagging student performance in math and science:

“Among the world’s thirty-four developed nations, the US ranks 17th in science and 25th in math.”

Statistics like these, which are from the latest PISA (Programme for International Assessment) study, are enough to propel most folks into a big pity party.  Hop right on into those sweatpants and grab the Doritos.  There’s no hope.  We stink.  Game over.

Or, you could ditch the downward spiral and scout out some good news.   Something that keeps me hopeful is the fact that I keep coming across stories about youth innovators.  These stories remind me that there are kids who not only value math and science, but that are applying these subjects in world-changing ways:

Taylor Wilson: This seventeen-year-old recipient of the Intel ISEF Young Scientist Award invented a machine that detects the existence of nuclear weapons in cargo containers.  The ability to automate nuclear weapon detection is a huge win, given that there are thirty-five million containers of cargo going through US ports each year, and they are manually checked by hand. [Via Gizmodo and PBS]

Green Bay Southwest High School InvenTeam: These sixteen high school students, who are part of the Lemelson-MIT Inventeam initiative, are developing a device that generates electricity by leveraging the kinetic energy of flowing water.  The device’s portability and its ease of use make it a great solution for “lighting up” remote areas of the world. [Via Project Lead the Way]

Mikayla and Shannon Diesch: Sisters Mikayla and Shannon — sixteen and fourteen, respectively –have developed a nutrition bar that meets NASA’s standards for space flight food.  Made mainly from oats, cashews and cranberries, the “Stem bar” was taken into space aboard Endeavor as a nutritional supplement for the flight crew.  [Via CNN]

Chelsea Partridge: This eighteen-year-old, a self-proclaimed “space geek” who interned with NASA this summer, created a fixture that detects poisonous gas in space shuttles and helps astronauts breathe clean oxygen.  That fixture is currently rocketing along on the Atlantis. [Via First Coast News]

Even though it seems like the future’s so bleak that you gotta take the shades off and turn on the flashlight, there are some bright spots — like these young inventors — in the mix.  How can you help inspire the next generation of innovators?  Take the Connect a Million Minds Pledge to connect the young people in your life to after-school science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) opportunities.

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