If you aren’t already familiar with the innovative, young group that is the CocoNuts Robotics team we are glad to change that. If you are already familiar, stay tuned to learn what they have planned for the future. The first Northern Arizona robotics team of its kind, the CocoNuts were founded right here in Flagstaff at Coconino High School in 2007. Not only have they built exemplarary robots and received many prestigious awards, but are also heavily involved in the community.
Let's take a moment to celebrate these amazing young people that make up the CocoNuts and acknowledge their impact on our STEM community. Some past community outreach from the team includes but is not limited to: building a ¼ scale Lunar Rover for Flagstaff’s Lunar Legacy celebration, partnering with NAU and Lowell Observatory to host the Lunar Legacy Robotics Invitational on the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, volunteering at over two dozen FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) events, teaching workshops for teachers interested in starting FIRST Lego league teams, and recently leading activities for the computer science week at Killip Elementary School.
This season, the CocoNuts are focusing on supporting teams and our community in the following ways:
They haven't had a chance to compete with this year's robot (yet) but are hopeful for the chance in the upcoming year. Their 2021 competition season will include:
The award announcement that was read during the Regional Chairman award ceremony states:
“This team has done over 360 outreach events and reached more than 230,000 people in person. Their junkyard robot challenge provides an opportunity for people of all ages to experience a FIRST-like challenge, and their Lunar Rover is instantly recognizable. Their “FLL in a Nutshell” is a comprehensive guide and hands-on professional development for new coaches and their Chairman’s Guide has been downloaded more than 10,000 times. The Chairman’s Award for the Las Vegas Regional goes to team 2486 the CocoNuts from Flagstaff, AZ!”
To learn more about the award and their accomplishments check out the 2020 press release here.
STEM City would like to thank the CocoNuts team for everything you all do to uplift our STEM Community! We are so proud to share all of your achievements and efforts to support others.
Like most things this year, Computer Science Week at Killip Elementary looked a little different. Killip held a virtual computer science celebration during the week of December 7-12 in honor of Admiral Grace Hopper - Pioneer of Computer Science - who was born on December 9, 1906. The goal of the event was to increase student interest in computer science as well as expose the crucial role that computer science plays in everyday life. Guest speakers from W.L. Gore, High Country Humane Society, and even the Flagstaff Police Department presented virtual guest talks through Zoom to students and families showing how computer science is used in their jobs.
Killip collaborated with NAU assistant professor Morgan Vigil-Hayes, an accomplished computer science researcher with experience in creating classroom curriculum; she taught three exciting interactive sessions about “finding the internet”. One former AmeriCorps VISTA, Stefan, spoke about computer-generated randomness in relation to Pokemon games. Other community organizations who spoke during Computer Science Week include Jeff Jones from Coconino Community College, Graham Campbell and Ward Davis from the Flagstaff Coco-Op, multiple guests from FUSD, and Federica Cuomo from W.L. Gore, as well as Lauren Adoram-Kershner from the USGS. The Cyber Patriots and CocoNuts from Coconino High School participated by planning fun activities for students, including sandwich-making to learn about algorithms and games to learn about cyber safety. AmeriCorps STEM VISTAs participated by leading activities, such as a fingerprinting activity - that showed how computer softwares can match fingerprints to people - and a binary code bracelet-making session.
250 computer science “goodie bags” filled with brochures, computer science worksheets, and supplies to participate in activities were handed out in preparation for the event to students and families. In addition, attendees of Computer Science Week could stop by Killip on Tuesday night to pick up a family-size meal of chili and cornbread.
Hosting a virtual event had its challenges; It was difficult to advertise, to recruit guest speakers, to distribute supplies to each family, to fix sudden technical issues on Zoom, but in the end, I was reminded that technology is a force that binds people together. Computer Science Week hosted 18 different guest speakers and had a total attendance of 350 individuals, proving that even in a quarantine period, students are eager and willing to learn. During Computer Science Week, in which families could gather around a computer together with dinner and learn from guest speakers miles and miles away, you couldn’t help but see how crucial technology is to staying connected in today’s world.
If you missed out on last week’s activities, but would like to check out our recorded sessions, games, and computer science resources, visit https://sites.google.com/fusd1.org/lets-celebrate-cs.
Written by Christina Vu
For the past eight years STEM City has celebrated some of our brilliant community members through an annual STEM awards ceremony (aka the STEMmy's). In the spring we request nominations for candidates in the areas of community support, student achievement, and exemplary teaching. A panel reviews the submissions to determine the winner of each area and winners receive $500. Last June we awarded some awesome folx for their excellence in STEM. It has been about six months, are you curious as to what they are up to now? Well me too, lets find out:
Student nominee and winner Halie Nelson really blew our panel away with their scientific research on the Colorado River. Their research on the New Zealand mud snail has still not made a huge breakthrough in native fish but Haile does not plan to stop there. Since the awards in June Haile has graduated high school and finished their first semester in college. Thats amazing! Haile is in the Environmental Engineering program at Northern Arizona University, where she hopes to extend her education to graduate school, and eventually do science in the Colorado River. Additionally, she is planning to minor in Biology (if an engineering course load wasn't enough already) and hopefully take some cool fish classes. For those who forgot, Hailes favorite fish is the Humpback Chub, an endangered fish of the Colorado River threatened by proposed dams.
Hailes scientific work is motivated by her appreciation for living things and says that "conservation has influenced me as a person so much, it really made me look into my actions and how I can better take care of myself and the planet." Great work Haile!
Our community member nominee and winner Jeff Jones, a faculty member at the Coconino Community College, has long been an active member in the STEM Community. What stood out to us is the effort Jeff puts into making STEM accessible to more members of the community. For instance, he helped the 4th Street Community campus secure a grant to make a lab that includes 3-D printers, virtual reality, and raspberry pies (think small computers not desserts).
Currently Jeff is teaching remotely, although like many he misses in person interactions with students. That being said, Jeff is taking this opportunity to explore unique opportunities and innovations made possible in an online classroom. We owe him a big congratulations because he plans on retiring this May! It won't be the end of his STEM involvement, he just can't live without it. He will continue as a STEM board member at Killip Elementary School as they 'innovate and realize their new campus." He also plans to look for part time teaching and volunteer opportunities in the areas of STEM in Flagstaff. Thanks for all you do Jeff!
It's that time of year again when the leaves change from green to beautiful shades of red, orange and yellow. After the autumnal equinox, deciduous trees (trees that seasonally shed their leaves) begin to expose their many hidden pigments. Simply put, the plant stops its food making process (photosynthesis) that takes place during the spring and summer. The change in temperature and length of daylight signals the plant to become less metabolically active, no longer needing the green colored pigment chlorophyll that is necessary for plants to create oxygen and glucose.
As chlorophyll declines, other pigments in the plant material become more abundant. A pigment is a substance that appears a certain color to us depending on its molecular composition. This composition controls which wavelengths of light are absorbed and emitted (the color we see) from the leaf. The fall colors we see are biological pigments, or biochromes that include xanthophylls (yellows), carotenoids (oranges), and anthocyanins (reds).
Next time you peep the colorful leaves, don't forget to ask yourself which pigments are controlling the wavelengths of lights hitting your cornea. Happy Fall!
Hi there! My name is Matt Mecca and I’m the STEM Growth Associate at NAU’s Center for Science Teaching and Learning (CSTL). This is my first VISTA term. Before VISTA, I graduated from Temple University in the Class of 2020 with a BBA in Actuarial Science and a minor in Data Science. I knew well before graduation that I didn’t want to pursue a career in insurance, which drove me away from Actuarial Science. It’s my interest in Data Science and community support that drove me towards VISTA and the CSTL.
At the center, I’m building capacity by constructing a knowledge management site to centralize information. This centralization will improve internal operations by enabling data-driven analyses of projects, events, and other activities. For example, a team member could use the site to answer such questions as To how many different schools has the CSTL provided over 20 hours of professional development in the last 10 years? or What percentage of educators that interact with the CSTL teach in Coconino County? These are important questions for the center to critically understand how effectively it achieves its mission. Further, the knowledge management site will allow for simpler communication of the answers to these questions to external stakeholders. A team-member will be able to develop visualizations which tell a story about the CSTL’s work, a story which can be shared with community members, leaders, and donors. All of these constituents are necessary for the sustainability of the CSTL’s goal of “having a deep and lasting impact on science education and educators in Arizona and beyond through innovative STEM partnerships, programs, services, and scholarships.”
Another project I’m working on is FEWSion4Resilience, or F4R for short. This project is looking at the Food, Energy, and Water Systems (FEWS) in states and counties around the US, but especially in Flagstaff. Specifically, F4R aims to build a network of citizen scientists who collaborate to improve community resilience and expand communities’ capacities to manage critical supply chains. For example, the F4R project can analyze how a fire-flood in the Dry Lake Hills or an earthquake which cripples bridge infrastructure will affect the distribution of food, energy, and water through the Flagstaff region. I’m really excited about my involvement in this project, and I’m already learning about many of the pressing issues concerning FEWS in Flagstaff; for example, I’ve researched the distribution of water supply between surface and ground water, the push towards sustainable small farms, and water shortages in the Lower Colorado Basin. It’s important to note that the issues touched by F4R are global in scope, applicable to any community interested in improving resilience. The FEWSion website can be accessed at https://fewsion.us.
These are high-level overviews of my projects, and I’m excited to provide future updates about my work! There I’ll provide more details that describe my progress and impact, as well as more about the work the CSTL is involved in as a whole.
When I’m not working, I enjoy hiking and birding around the Flagstaff area, as well as cooking as much as I can. So far my favorite hike in the Flagstaff area is the Kachina Wilderness, but I love walking the Lower Oldham Trail behind Buffalo Park, and Fisher Point is a great spot as well. My favorite meal to cook? That’s easy: eggplant parm.
Last week I had the opportunity to meet with some of the members of the Students Advancing STEM Club, previously the Science Club, at the Coconino Community College. Their mission is to support STEM in the community and foster collaboration with CCC students. Members Heidi, studying environmental science and Andrea, studying chemistry and biology are currently working on an aquaponics programs with a focus on sustainability. As a student run club they create curriculum depending on their interests and facilitate STEM education. The advisor of the club, Melinda, teaches biology, physics, and math at CCC, in addition to being an active member of the STEM Community for years.
The club values community outreach and has been heavily involved. They have judged science fairs, created workshops for the Festival of Science, visited elementary classrooms for ecology demonstrations and provided engaging activities at STEM night at the SkyDome.
By sharing scientific knowledge with young students this club makes a huge impact! Do you remember the first time you looked into a microscope or discovered the age of a tree by looking at its rings? Science has the power to open up a whole new world and groups like this encourage it. By providing positive STEM role models to the community they create an inclusive environment working to close the opportunity gap in STEM education.
In the future they would like to create STEM kits with curriculum created by the students themselves. One idea that Melinda mentioned is for the group to develop and distribute kits (especially circuit based projects) to underserved communities. It is awesome to see spaces like this for students to explore interests, collaborate, and engage with young learners. We appreciate everything the Students Advancing STEM Club has done for the community and look forward to hearing about their upcoming work!
It moves, it beeps, it spins, and it emits sweet, metallic gurgles. The HOPI R2, part of The Force is With Our People at the Museum of Northern Arizona, is an incredible blending of art and technology. Duane Koyawena (Hopi/Tewa) and Joe Mastroianni worked together on this project, with Joe building the droid and Duane painting Hopi symbols on its exterior.
The exhibit’s deadline has been extended several times and will be up through October 25th. If you haven’t yet had a chance to see HOPI R2 and the rest of the incredible exhibit that merges regional Indigenous cultures with Star Wars themes, be sure to stop by. Note that due to COVID-19 the museum’s hours are reduced and you must purchase tickets in advance through their website.
Written by Sara Wilbur.
This week's featured Indigenous scientist is Aaron Yazzie. Aaron was born in Tuba City, Arizona, and was raised in Holbrook, Arizona, the seat of Navajo County.
Yazzie attended Stanford University, where he received a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 2008. In September of that year, he started working for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. There, he designs mechanical systems for robotic space research systems. He has contributed to the Mars Science Laboratory Rover missions, the Mars InSight Lander Mission, and the Mars 2020 Rover Mission, the latter of which is due to launch on July 30th, 2020. You can check out a 3D visualization of the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover here.
When he's not building parts for planetary research vessels, Yazzie enjoys reaching out to young people—particularly those from Indigenous communities—and encouraging them to consider futures in STEM. He is also a Sequoyah Fellow (lifetime member) of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, where he strives to increase Indigenous representation in STEM fields.
Yazzie took time out of his busy week to answer a few questions I had.
Sara Wilbur: When did you first start getting interested in STEM?
Aaron Yazzie: I’ve always been interested in being creative and building things. Those early interests are what got me on a path to engineering—the math and science came next.
SW: Tell me about your interest in robotics.
AY: I wish, growing up, there would have been more opportunities (or any opportunities) in robotics (e.g. clubs, competitions like FIRST Robotics, VEX Robotics, etc) in my hometown or school. But nothing like that existed. It wasn’t until I went to college that I built my first robot as part of a class. As a mechanical engineer, I designed and built mechanisms and structures. Then you add motors, electronics, and computer programming, and the field becomes even more challenging and exciting.
SW: What was the transition like for you from Holbrook, Arizona to Palo Alto, California, where you attended Stanford University?
AY: It wasn’t an easy transition. The quantity and pace of knowledge transfer was much higher than I had ever experienced in small town public school. Also I had a very full class schedule for my 4 years to a bachelor’s degree because I had no AP-type classes to transfer. I learned quickly how to be a better student and a better learner. I also learned how to seek help when I needed it. These harsh lessons I learned followed me to NASA, too, where I once again found myself in a fast-paced learning environment. I’ve gotten good at being a life-long learner. All the work put in over the years make an achievement like the Mars 2020 launch that much more rewarding.
SW: What aspect of your work are you most proud of?
AY: I’m proud that I get to help with advancement of knowledge, technology, and science for a living. I get paid to learn cool things and share it with the world! It’s a privilege. As a byproduct, this helps inspire many to pursue education and careers in STEM.
SW: I imagine you’ve inspired other Indigenous children to pursue STEM. Can you share any of those experiences?
AY: I try to engage with Indigenous students and communities as much as possible. Growing up, I didn’t see much representation of Indigenous Peoples at places like NASA, so it took me a long time to realize that someone like me could actually belong there. Now, I am consistently moved and motivated by the response from the Indigenous community in seeing one of their own represented on projects like Mars Curiosity and Mars 2020. I have been blessed with a platform to motivate students who are like me.
SW: Tell me about the Mars 2020 Rover Mission!
AY: The Mars 2020 Rover, named Perseverance, is heading to Mars in a matter of days (launch window opens on July 30, 2020). It has several goals for its mission: study the geology and climate of Mars, pave the path for Humans to one-day explore the planet, and determine if there is, or ever was, life on Mars. It will do this through a set of highly advanced science instruments aboard a car-sized rover with incredible technological capabilities. Also, coming along for the ride is a Mars helicopter named Ingenuity. This helicopter will be our first demonstration of flight on another planet.
One of the systems on Perseverance is a Sample Caching System that will drill and collect samples of Mars rocks and regolith [the layer of unconsolidated rocky material covering bedrock] for potential return to Earth in future missions. This is the system I worked on for the past four years. I built the drill bits that the rover will use to collect samples for study. There are three types of bits: a coring bit that will drill a cylindrical core sample of rock, a regolith bit that will collect loose rocky material (or regolith), and an abrading bit that will make flat, shallow abrasions in rocks so we can image beneath the top layer of weathered rock. These drill bits can be interchanged through a bit carousel; Perseverance has nine total bits to choose from.
If you want any additional information about the mission that I didn't cover, or are looking for cool pictures to use, there are a lot of good resources here: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/.
Considering she is still a junior scientist, Krystal Tsosie (Diné) has invested an incredible amount of time into her research interests and passions. Originally from Arizona, she received a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and two master's degrees (in bioethics and epidemiology) from Arizona State University. She is now pursuing her PhD in Genomics and Health Disparities at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Similar to last week's highlighted scientist, Dr. Náníbaaʼ Garrison, Tsosie works with Indigenous communities to maintain governance over their genetic material. She also co-leads a long-term study investigating pre-eclampsia—a pregnancy disorder characterized by high blood pressure and kidney and/or liver damage—in Ojibwe women, and hopes to identify genetic factors that may be contributing to high rates of pre-eclampsia in Indigenous communities.
Tsosie also co-facilitates the international Summer internship for INdigenous peoples in Genomics (SING) workshop. Through SING workshops held in the US, Canada, and New Zealand, participants can gather and discuss cultural and ethical concerns related to genomics (genomics is the study of all of a person's genes, including interactions of those genes with each other and with the person's environment).
Tsosie is inspiring in her advocacy for underrepresented groups in medicine and genetic research! You can follow her on Twitter and watch her TEDx talk on DNA and identity here.
Written by Sara Wilbur
If you like to go hiking in Arizona, you’ve most likely seen a jackrabbit quickly leap away at one point or another. Easily recognizable with their sizely ears, they aren't actually rabbits at all. Jackrabbits are hares, distinct from rabbits because they are born with hair and do not live in burrows.
Jackrabbits live in desert habitats with hot daytime temperatures. Their ears are an adaptation to deal with heat in the desert. The large thin ears have a network of blood vessels that control blood flow depending on the temperature. The warm blood from the body is circulated to the ears which can then shed the extra heat to the surrounding air. The opposite happens during chilly nights to conserve heat. The use of ears to control body temperature is surprising, but they also serve their obvious purpose as well.
The hairs themselves are herbivores, but are a food source for a number of other creatures. Their predators include coyotes, hawks, eagles, foxes, bobcats and humans. Hence, the large ears are used for self-preservation. They are able to hear predators before attempting to escape at speeds as fast as 40 mph.
In addition, they have other impressive adaptations that make them suitable for an arid environment. Their diet includes a variety of plants containing water and they are also coprophagous. Coprophagous means that they eat their own feces, consuming any droppings still containing moisture.
Jackrabbits are extraordinary; these gorgeous creatures are equipped with camouflaging fur, a hydrating diet, and radiating ears.
written by Kelly Randazzo