By Leslie Noir Carr, NGY Cyberjournalist
I was delighted to be invited by Dr. Ronnie Lowenstein to serve as a Global NetGeneration of Youth Cyberjournalist and attend an annual TC Williams High School “Noche de Ciencias,” more commonly known as “Night of Science.” Upon entering the Alexandria, Virginia High School, I was immediately welcomed by students, who then ushered me to the dining area where a variety of booths circled the inside of the room.
The first booth I stopped at was “Girls of Energy.” Ms. Amanda Quiñones and Mrs. Melinda Higgins from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Diversity and Economic Impact greeted attendees, spotlighted the website of the national Girls of Energy Project being launched under the leadership of Dr. Dot Harris, and provided a hands on demonstration of a ‘cell phone microscope,’ an invention created by one of their co-workers, Dr. Rebecca Erikson, a U.S. Department of Energy Senior Staff Scientist from Pacific Northwest Laboratory.
I learned so much, including that the Pacific Northwest Lab is one of 17 national laboratories operated by the Department of Energy; it focuses on research in energy, national security and environment. Dr. Erikson’s work is dedicated to developing new technologies that can promote public safety. Her invention, a tiny cell phone microscope was originally engineered as a solution for first responders investigating whether suspicious white powder falling out of an envelop was a hoax or a threat: Was it harmless talcum powder or chalk dust, or the dangerous anthrax powder often used in biological warfare.
As described by Dr. Erikson in the video ‘Solving Problems with Love of Science, “ see https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0prGb38Z8AY, the cell phone microscope is created with an inexpensive glass sphere as a lens that can magnify objects 100-500x their size; the lens is put into a clip designed and printed on a 3D Printer. Using this invention with cell phones or tablets multiplies its applications beyond original use for first responders.
Interviewing Ms. Amanda Quiñones and Mrs. Melinda Higgins provided me with additional insight into the nature of invention, and the commitment of the US Department of Energy to engaging a diverse population in STEM Education to ensure our nation has the next generation of inventors and scientists.
- Mrs. Melinda Higgins pointed out: “One of the cool things [about the cell phone microscope is that its invention reflects the integration of the four disciplines: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. You can talk about the physics of how the converging lens works, and how it reflects light. In terms of technology, the device is an example of innovative technology… It takes the camera of your phone and turns it into a microscope. The engineering part is that scientists had to problem solve to devise a low cost, accessible and easy to use device that was adaptable to fit on most cell phones. The math part addresses the images that you photograph! Math isn’t always about numbers, but also about shapes and patterns.”
- Ms Amanda Quinones highlighted that “It’s important for young girls to look at the female scientists as role models.”
After talking to both of these influential women, I walked over to another demonstration area staffed by the “Department of Energy.” This area spotlighted a mini supercomputer, that had 9 different systems communicating with each other to determine where the items on the screen moved.
Click image below to view photos of event.