Nerd Girl Nation Watch All Episodes Here

Nerd Girl Nation is a web series that celebrates and inspires young women in STEM by offering authentic, exciting role models that showcase a wide range of career applications. Host Dr. Karen Panetta, Tufts University professor, NASA and IEEE Fellow, is joined by comedian Craig Low to discuss and dissect everything STEM from cyborgs to Snapchat with their Nerd Girls guests

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How Engineers Can Actually Help Save Elephants

How Engineers Can Actually Help Save Elephants

I received a call from a veterinary school asking me if I could help them with elephant conservation. Now, I adore elephants and understand the plight they are facing due to poaching and deforestation, but I was perplexed. 
How could an electrical and computer engineer help elephants? 
I thought about it and realized there are actually many ways to help. Engineers can make a huge impact on conservation efforts by applying technology and innovation skills, if we take the time to understand the problem and appreciate the many different perspectives surrounding the problem.
I proceeded to present and brainstorm elephant conservation ideas with anthropologists, veterinarians, a primatologist, and an Africology expert. I discussed using drones, imaging, sensors, tagging and tracking and using artificial intelligence to help veterinarians diagnose and track animal health. I also listened to their concerns, learned about their needs to collect specific types of data and the kind of research questions they were trying to answer. I refined my approaches based on what I learned and came up with guiding principles that promised any technology I developed would not harm, stress or impair the natural behavior of the elephants. Together, we embarked on a wonderful elephant conservation project that spanned several disciplines, institutions and non-profit organizations, which was all bound together by the successful advancements in engineering and technology.
The collaboration didn’t stop there. I was asked to teach a class on the “elephant imperative” with renowned author Dale Peterson, who happens to be the official biographer for Jane Goodall, the famous primatologist researching chimpanzees.  I jumped at the opportunity to co-teach with this famous man and found myself, for the first time in all my years as a professor, teaching technology to a class of liberal arts students. Bringing awareness to non-science and engineering students was not as challenging as I first anticipated. 
Today’s students are all digital natives, so they are already proficient using the technology, even if they don’t understand the details of how the underlying fundamentals of the technology works. These students used what I taught them and saw many other applications for the technology in their own research fields of interest, such as combating human trafficking, improving women’s health, and developing low-cost educational initiatives. We discussed artificial intelligence (AI) and clarified some of the public perceptions that AI is a magic box that can automatically know everything about everything. Instead, we discussed it as a system that must be intelligently trained, tested and validated. I got students to think about what data they would use to solve problems and explore, and what sources they would use to find the data. All these critical thinking tasks helped students formulate a strategy to help them embark on their own research and discovery journeys. It also helped them understand how to approach a problem as if they were developing their own intelligent system to solve it.
As my students and I developed our elephant health and tracking system, we asked, “Why not use the same kind of AI system architecture for other types of endangered animals too?”
This blew the doors wide open for a plethora of possibilities for AI and animal conservation. 
My next adventure in animal conservation came after I met Dr. Zarin Machanda. Dr. Machanda grew up with an aspiration to become an astronaut veterinarian. As a little girl, she saw space missions using chimpanzees for flight testing and wondered who was taking care of the special needs for chimpanzees that travel to space. I attended one of her talks and was in awe of her ability to stand up in front of a large audience and perform chimpanzee vocalizations, which she did with confidence and tremendous volume. I don’t know of any engineer that has ever had the opportunity to mimic an animal while presenting a technical talk.  It certainly kept the audience’s attention. 
Whether it be the dream of becoming an astronaut veterinarian like Dr. Machanda or a “Drone Girl” like Sally French who you can meet on our Nerd Girl Nation show, if you don’t see a job that inspires you, invent your own.
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When Karen Met Craig

When Karen Met Craig

It seems like only yesterday that I was boarding a plane for LA to begin filming of Season one of Nerd Girl Nation. I am so used to being on the other end of the interview, where I am answering the questions. Now, I was about to experience being on the other side as the interviewer. I was super excited about finally meeting the amazing women who were going to be our guests on the show and meeting my co-host Craig Low. I was a bit nervous because he was used to being on camera, ready with entertaining questions, nimble on his feet with witty responses and of course, outrageously funny.  Meanwhile, I am known to be, well, quite corny and oftentimes clueless about current pop culture. However, when it comes to technology and current world affairs, I am on top of it.

Craig has been in professional broadcasting since he was around 14 years old. He probably didn’t know what to think of me, but I know on set he probably thought my humor was me “trying to be funny”….I am sure he didn’t realize that this was just me, and not me trying to fit into any Hollywood persona, but just the real Karen. 

It is well-known by my students that I will resort to any antic, whether it be dancing, singing, throwing objects or telling a story with sound effects to help reinforce the topic I am teaching. I also have next to zero fashion sense for putting an outfit together, and  love all things shiny and glittery, whether they match or not.

I am also known as a “shoe ‘ho” for my exotic collection of shoes and boots. I have my R2D2 heels, my Prada Rocket Shoes with Flames, which both Beyoncé and Rihanna own as well, but as an engineer, rocket shoes make perfect sense for me! 

Craig appeared on the set looking perfect. Me, on the other hand, I was tired and homesick, since I had never been away from my little boy before. Thank goodness for the magic of make-up artists! 

After a few days of filming and exhaustion, I threw on my “hello pony” leggings and a T-shirt for one of our episodes. When Craig saw this, he made an abrupt U-turn to his dressing room change into something more relaxed to match me. I thought that was sweet of him. Later, my husband later saw previews of the show and said, “What on earth are you wearing? I didn’t even know you owned that outfit.”

Craig joked about not graduating from high school and here he was now surrounded by a bunch of Ph.Ds. This is when it hit me that he was experiencing another stereotype I need to break wide open. 

Just because people have higher levels of education doesn’t mean they have common sense, compassion or even the common decency to treat everyone around them with respect, regardless of where an individual comes from, or their education level. Of course, all of our Nerd Girl Nation Guests are exceptional human beings, but in general, there are plenty of PHDs out there that are well, jerks. I think Craig couldn’t understand why we wanted him here.  I saw Craig as an intelligent articulate guy that was going to help us show the world that women can be beautiful, brilliant, cool and changing the world without being “either or”. 

Craig’s comedian friends must’ve had a field day on him for taking a job on a show called “Nerd Girl Nation”. Even Craig had no idea that he would be surrounded by some of the coolest ladies on the planet innovating the latest technologies and impacting lives. I think he was astounded at just how “normal” and well-rounded we are, except for me of course, since some of my wardrobe choices were admittedly unforgivable!

After working with Craig and seeing how he put our guests at ease with his humor, while asking really insightful questions about their work, I thought our Nerd Girl Nation slogan would be “Cool Women, Making Technology Hot.” 
After we filmed season one, someone accidentally cited it the other way around to be; “Hot Women, Making Technology Cool.”  After all, anyone with a passion to follow their dreams and ready to make their own path is undeniably hot.

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If no one says it out loud, it isn’t really happening. #metoo

If no one says it out loud, it isn’t really happening. #metoo

Every day, we witness injustice and stories of numerous women who suffer at the hands of scumbags in the workplace, yet nothing is done. In my last #metoo blog post, I spoke about how people couldn’t believe this gross behavior really occurs, and thus, many are reluctant to do or say anything about it because it is so far from anything they have ever experienced.
However, there is the other side, where the managers, supervisors in companies, deans and administrative leaders in academic institutions ARE aware that it is happening and don’t want to deal with it. This is  because they are only thinking of themselves and how it will impact them from checking off that  box on their resume, so they can move on to the next position, all while maximizing their 401k.
After first protecting themselves, they then need to protect their institutions and companies. This is part of their job, so the existence of any wrongdoing under their watch and being truly accountable is like dividing by zero. You just don’t do it. Their safety approach is to support the predator and keep promoting them, or renewing the scumbag’s leadership position and making sure they are rewarded. This way, when someone makes a claim against them, it looks almost implausible that the accusations could be true. Simultaneously, the victim is provided a myriad of excuses for the other person’s bad behavior.
Her own abilities are diminished to help bring down her self-confidence. This also helps  make her question her own abilities and doubt the integrity of her perspective on what she has endured and make her ask herself, What did I do to make him think this was okay?”
The lame excuses in defense of a scumbag include; she has no sense of humor, he doesn’t mean anything by it, he’s just not as articulate as she is in communicating with her and therefore it’s ok for him to behave like a raging bully. The classic default is;   it is just a miscommunication or personality problem between her and the scumbag. Or my favorite, the person should be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, like in a real court cases, before any accusation is acted upon or taken seriously.
Her word means nothing. The scumbag’s word means more than the accuser because again, how would he have been promoted or maintained a power position for such a long time if any of it was true? The answer is that poor leaders, who have no backbone, allow it because it’s easier than dealing with it. It takes energy and could impact their own career. Definitely, not worth the risk.
The leaders that think they are actually “principled” hand these issues off to Human Resources, which never ends well for the victim. Now, the dance begins between the victim and those who say they are there to help. Unfortunately, it’s not a delicate dance. The victim is thrown into the mosh pit, while the accuser looks on vehemently denying ll wrong doing. The scum bag makes sure anything that can be done to make her life more miserable is done, and makes it all look like the decisions were made by a “committee” and never by himself.
One of the goals for the Human Resources team is to protect the company. Speaking ill about an employee of the company means the victim needs to go and go quickly before her toxic accusations gain any merit among her peers and start a movement demanding change.
How dare she not sacrifice herself to keep harmony and the perception that the work environment is a healthy, respectful one? She must be a troublemaker, have mental issues or just be covering up for her incompetence. Off with her head!
Have you ever witnessed someone doing wrong over and over and yet, there are always excuses made for them? This is because the ones making the excuses for the scumbags believe that the accused is someone with credentials that will be good to have in their pocket when the time comes that they need the scumbag’s support. They value the scumbag more than the victim.  The victim is on her way down and/or out and of little or no value after making such claims. Even employment lawyers will tell you that when a woman wins a claim, she loses. She needs to be ready to move on and moving on isn’t easy because other companies are afraid she is serial complainer that will cost them too.
I can’t tell you how many interviews questions I get from reporters asking me why there are so few female leaders in high tech and why so many women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics just vanish from the high tech workforce. It is because companies and academic institutions are not hearing women, even when women are in their face begging for action. Interviewers are even more shocked that these issues are occurring in high tech industries and academia where everyone is so highly educated as if educated people should know better.  Guess what? News flash, having a PhD doesn’t make a person a decent human being.
There is that saying that if you eat something while no one is watching, the food has zero calories. Well, in the #metoo era this is the equivalent of saying, if no one says bad things are happening to women in the workplace out loud, it really isn’t happening. It doesn’t matter how articulate, honest or the volume she uses to tell her story, no one is tuned into her frequency. They only hear the victim like an annoying mosquito, buzzing around their heads, ready to ruin their picnic, suck their blood and spread disease.
Quick, get out the pest zappHER!
Next time in my blog:  Can you hear me now?
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Beyond Branding: How Laser Cutters are Enhancing and Exciting a Generation of Makers

Beyond Branding: How Laser Cutters are Enhancing and Exciting a Generation of Makers

Sponsored Content – Epilog Laser Company
From the lab to the classroom, the manufacturing floor to the makerspace, laser cutting/engraving systems are quickly becoming one of the most in-demand tools central to the creative process. 
Of course they can do cool stuff like etch your iPad. Or necessary stuff like mark parts and tools with serial numbers or data matrix codes. But far beyond the commercial and cosmetic applications of lasers, they are rapidly becoming one of the most prominent tools on the STEAM scene and in the ever growing maker movement.
While sleek and stylish 3D printers make additive manufacturing seem like a no-brainer, in actuality, subtractive manufacturing using a laser cutter can often be a much faster and less expensive option. 
Lasers cut all kinds of inexpensive and readily available substrates like wood, cardstock, acrylic, corrugated cardboard, task board, and so much more. Not only are they versatile in terms of material compatibility, lasers are fast. Like, incredibly fast. Even when you factor in assembly time, laser cutting precise parts and pieces for prototypes or models is both speedy and inexpensive.
3D and Architectural Models:
Whether your creation is a home, downtown development, bridge, or railway, laser cutters offer tremendous advantages for this type of three-dimensional fabrication. Utilizing vector-based graphic design software, such as AutoCAD or Illustrator, engineers can design models to nearly any scale. Models made from laser cut pieces can show depth, contrast, and a more accurate representation of a full-scale project.
Art/Décor:
Wall art, lamps, and individual statement pieces can all come to life with a laser cutter. Wood, cork, and even plastic are fantastic substrates that allow artists to create stunning installations that are not only functional, but convey their personal style and vision as well.
Prototyping:
Laser cutters have long been used to quickly create prototypes for future products and pieces. Robotics clubs and organizations, for example, regularly use this type of equipment to cut parts, components and gears for test robots that, when in their final stage, will be featured in competitions.
Lasers allow operators to take “on-paper” ideas and turn them into the physical pieces from which they will build their design, whatever it may be. Their versatility and ease of use allow designers, makers and engineers of all skill levels to further illuminate even the brightest of designs and concepts. 
About Epilog Laser Company
For over 30 years Epilog has been designing and manufacturing industry leading CO2 and fiber laser engraving, cutting, and marking systems. 
As we’ve grown we’ve seen our lasers used in a variety of markets, from award creation to guitar customization, from cabinetry design to medical device marking and beyond. The combination of industrial-quality engraving speeds and an affordable price have allowed everyone from makers to engineers to artists to incorporate lasers and find real success.
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