Go WEST, Young Woman

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Courtesy of Judy Lee

NYU Tandon School of Engineering is taking big steps in order to shatter the gender divide in STEM fields. On July 20, the next generation of women engineers came together at WEST Fest (the acronym stands for Women in Engineering, Science, and Technology), an annual networking event for incoming first-year students and high schoolers participating in summer STEM programs. Attendees engaged with an all-star panel, met peers with similar interests and talents, and spoke with representatives from many of NYU Tandon’s clubs and organizations.

While some students might be reluctant to go to school during the summer, dozens of young women gladly took a break from their usual summer activities for an exciting evening and the opportunity to explore their campus before their peers. With many of the girls coming from high schools lacking academically challenging STEM programs, finding so many young people with similar interests felt refreshing to many.

Melinda Parham, Assistant Dean for First-year Students & Academic Initiatives, encouraged students to find their voices and investigate all the options available to them. Although she spoke of long-term goals, the young women then had the opportunity to immediately see their extracurricular options during a resource fair framed as a bingo game. Through this activity, students collaborated with their future classmates in an effort to discover the advantages of choosing NYU Tandon.

During the latter part of the event, participants enjoyed a question and answer session with a panel of female faculty members, as well as a current student. Julie Netto, Senior Assistant Director at Wasserman Career Center, spoke of the WoMentorship Program, in which freshmen are partnered with upperclassmen in order to engage in social activities, academic opportunities, and career and professional development. Additionally, Chandrika Khanduri, a rising computer science senior and Orientation Leader, provided a student perspective. She shared some insight on finding research opportunities at NYU Tandon and encouraged incoming students to acquaint themselves with professors early on, in order to take advantage of valuable research experiences.

With many incoming first-year students in attendance, an excited energy could be felt throughout the room. Sabreena “Angie” Beck, one of the enthusiastic students, will be studying computer and electrical engineering. When asked what she thought of the event she said, “I think it was very helpful…I love how there are so many opportunities, so many networks, so many labs, and so many projects you can join.” Beck hopes to work in the medical engineering field, particularly with chip technology, and thinks NYU Tandon is the perfect place to do that. “I love how they are so excited about getting women into engineering and encouraging us to be the best we can be,” she added. “I like the challenge of being one of the few women in engineering. I feel like there are a lot of women ready to break rules and get big jobs and I hope to be part of that movement.”

Link to published article.

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Bright Lights, Big Games

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Courtesy of author

While a must-see destination for tourists, its flashing bright lights, cacophony of traffic, and crowded sidewalks are enough to keep most New Yorkers far away from Times Square. However, a group of students from NYU MAGNET (Media and Games Network), in collaboration with Times Square Arts, drew natives and visitors alike to the heart of the hubbub with a series of enticing games.

Set in the Broadway Plazas from July 14-16, PlayTimesSquared was a festival of physical and social games created by students who took a special course aptly named “Creating Games for Times Square.” Students developed around 30 game iterations during the course. The final eight games selected for implementation fulfilled a number of requirements set forth by the Times Square Alliance.

The unique setting of the games presented the students with unusual challenges. “We had to craft something that fits in a very specific location. We had to make something that catered to a huge crowd and drew people in, all within a limited space,” said Jesse Johnson, an Integrated Digital Media (IDM) graduate student. Students had to make sure they would be able to engage the public — a group largely comprised of people speaking a variety of languages. The games thus had to be both easy to understand and inviting in order to get strangers to play with each other in one of the busiest places on earth.

The students aimed to keep the games as simple as possible while still making them fun and meaningful. For most groups, this meant using nonverbal communication forms.Sumanth Srinivasan, an electrical engineering graduate student, described the Symphonic Picnic game, in which players sit in an artificial picnic environment and manipulate interactive music-playing mushrooms. “Some of the games are very physical and some of them are more passive and abstract. Despite the abstraction, it is more visual, you get to communicate and make your own game out of it,” Srinivasan said.

The creative engineering required to produce this public art project was a unique experience. IDM graduate student Mattie Brice said, “We have definitely learned a lot of lessons about what attracts people, what the mindset of someone who is walking through Times Square is, and what people actually want to do in Times Square as opposed to anywhere else. It has been an interesting journey using our studies to figure out how to integrate technology or games into that.”

Link to published story.

STEMNow Kicks Off with Flair

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Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau: Hollenshead

Summer is in full swing, and NYU Tandon School of Engineering’s Center for K12 STEM Education is making sure New York City kids avoid the dreaded summer slump. Through a number of free programs, nearly 100 NYU Tandon faculty, students, and alumni are inspiring excitement about STEM education in students and teachers alike.

On July 13, more than 300 children and instructors attended the 2016 STEMNow Kick-off Luncheon to listen to encouraging welcome speeches made by NYU Tandon Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan,Borough President of Brooklyn Eric Adams, and New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Although the speakers shared concern over the future of society, they commended participants for their involvement in STEM education which they believe is a key component to a better and smarter world. Dean Sreenivasan addressed the crowd, who was thrilled to be participating in the programs. “I am so glad to see so many participants who are here to find new and exciting ways to challenge themselves as they pursue educations and careers in STEM fields,” he said. “The teachers here are committed to learning the most interesting means of teaching STEM in the classroom so that the next generation of STEM thinkers, leaders, and doers is prepared to create and work with technology in service to society.”

The importance of STEM education was echoed by Chancellor Fariña, who vigorously supports STEMNow programs. She praised NYU Tandon’s efforts to further STEM education and knowledge and made a strong call to action for students, parents, and teachers alike to more fully immerse themselves in STEM. She no longer wants STEM to be optional in schools, but rather to be a core part of the course curriculum. She believes, as she explained, “STEM is about critical thinking and problem solving. The world changes day by day and if we don’t change the way we think and what we do, we are not going to be prepared.”

Borough President Adams proved to be an uplifting and inspiring speaker. He exhorted the students in attendance: “Be bold. Be unafraid. Be true. Be you. Most importantly, realize that you can create technology that will change the entire globe. This is a great time and a great moment and a great opportunity that is taking place. Seize the moment and what you have available to make this globe go in the right direction.”

Opportunities abound with STEMNow programs, and as Chancellor Fariña pointed out during her speech, NYU’s programming is doing an admirable job of bringing STEM education to minorities, children with special needs, and those who are financially disadvantaged. Some programs, such as GenCyber, introduce STEM fields with gender imbalances, such as cybersecurity, to young women. Angelica Zverovich and Joyce Feng, 11th and 12th graders respectively, are participants in that program. They have been thoroughly enjoying the experience and eagerly explained how they recently learned hacking techniques and coding. “We have learned how to use Python, Javascript, and HTML,” they said. “Those are really cool, the syntax is really simple and the languages are very similar so they are very easy to learn. We have also learned encryption and decryption and today we learned how to encrypt messages inside photos and images.”

In closing, Dean Sreenivasan reminded everyone of the words of one alum, James Truslow Adams, who coined the phrase “the American Dream.” “He spoke of a dream that allowed each person, male or female, to achieve their utmost, regardless of social standing and wealth,” Sreenivasan said. “We should all aspire to such goals.”

Link to published article.

Mechatronics Education Workshop Projects Promising Future for Tandon Mechatronics and Robotics Degree Program

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Courtesy of author

When Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Vikram Kapila received an inverted pendulum from Quanser — a manufacturer of advanced systems for real-time control hardware — his first thought was to conduct research with it in order to test control theories. Little did he know that his research would lead him to grant proposals, which in turn would lead to the creation of a new major at NYU Tandon and to the international collaboration of universities to discuss the future of mechatronics education as a higher education degree. Today, he is confident that the new Mechatronics and Robotics degree at NYU Tandon will take off and grow successfully.

At the Mechatronics Education Workshop: Designing and Building Effective Programs, hosted by both Professor Kapila and Dr. Tom Lee, Chief Education Officer at Quanser and adjunct professor in Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo, representatives from a number of universities and colleges from the United States and Canada gathered to start a cohesive dialogue regarding the present and future of the field. They discussed challenges and goals as well as methods of collaboration between institutions and industry professionals.

According to Professor Kapila, mechatronics education has been around for about twenty years. Whereas mechatronics education in countries such as Canada, Australia, Germany, and Japan is very advanced, there are few centers of mechatronics study in the US. Professor Kapila hopes to change that and believes NYU Tandon is already a national leader. “There is no doubt in my mind that we are unique,” he says.

While many of the few mechatronics programs in America borrow courses from other engineering fields in order to create full curriculums, Professor Kapila asserts that NYU Tandon’s program is very specific and well-defined with a number of custom courses in order to truly engage students. Furthermore, the program makes a more significant impact for students because it is interdisciplinary in the way that it combines mechatronics and robotics, unlike other universities which treat them as different studies. “Mechatronics is of a very hands-on nature and requires not just theory, but also simulation, hardware, and software. The entire integration experience, its affordances and limitations, are necessary,” says Professor Kapila.

Student engagement in projects and research can be complicated because it tends to be expensive and can be very demanding on faculty and the institution. However, the workshop allowed other universities with older programs to showcase their findings — both positive and negative. The University of Waterloo shared the incredible return on investment for its graduates who have moved on to create highly successful companies.

As a next step, Professor Kapila would like to host a secondary meeting with more industry professionals. He would like to invite at least half a dozen more companies as well as professional societies such as IEEE and ASME in order for them to engage, contribute advice, and enhance the field.

NYU Tandon’s Master of Science Mechatronics and Robotics degree was developed over the past two years and received state approval in 2015. Out of over 90 applications, approximately 50 students were accepted and the first cohort of enrolled students is expected to start in September of 2016.

Link to published article.

The Father of Polymer Science

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Courtesy of Poly Archives

He was … one of the grandfathers of polymer chemistry, and he started the first polymer graduate work in America. There was no such thing at the time…
~ Professor Herbert Morawetz on Dr. Herman Mark

This Father’s Day, NYU Tandon School of Engineering is commemorating one our institution’s greatest father figures, Herman F. Mark, founding director of the Polymer Research Institute and a groundbreaking figure in the study of polymers.

As an Austrian and the son of a Jewish man, Mark was forced to flee Germany in 1938 in order to escape Hitler’s impending takeover. His lengthy journey eventually took him to the United States, where he accepted a position in 1942 as an adjunct professor of chemistry at what was then known as the Polytechnic Institute.

Having studied and taught chemistry at the University of Vienna, as well as having worked on the molecular structures of fibers at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Germany, Mark was well-prepared for the role. It was here in Brooklyn, however, that he was able to implement a revolutionary new curriculum on polymer chemistry and subsequently, in 1946, found the Polymer Research Institute.

The study of synthetic polymers was at its infant stage in America when Mark formed the Institute. As late as the early 20th century, many of the world’s most prominent chemists resisted the concept of macromolecules. Today, thanks to Mark’s research and influence, scientists have a vast understanding of polymers. (These are extremely important substances made of giant molecules formed by uniting simple molecules, or monomers, by covalent bonds.) Polymers have high molecular weights, which give them useful characteristics such as high viscosity, elasticity, and great strength. It is through the study of polymers that innovative fibers such as polyester, spandex, and Kevlar were later developed. The Institute became world-renowned, drawing students and postdoctoral fellows from around the globe. In addition to creating the Institute, Mark also founded the first American polymer journal, the Journal of Polymer Science, in 1946.

Deeply involved in the lives of his colleagues and students, he possessed an exceptionally amicable personality. Notable chemist Harry C. Wechsler once wrote of him, “A loose but vibrant polymer community was being forged at Brooklyn Poly, a ‘family’ of polymer scientists of diverse history and from many lands. At its head, or more accurately pulsing at its heart, was, of course, Herman Mark, the Geheimrat.” (The nickname referred to a high-ranking court official and implied pomposity, and peers attached it to the warm and decidedly unpompous Mark ironically and affectionately.)

Mark died in 1992 with a number of accolades to his name, including the National Medal of Science and the Wolf Prize in Chemistry.

His contribution to science lives on, and in 2003, the Polymer Research Institute was designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society.

Link to published article.

Enticing the Next Generation of Engineers at the World Science Festival

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Courtesy of author

The Kimmel Center at New York University’s Washington Square campus was packed last Sunday — not with the usual masses of college students, but with hundreds of excited young children and their parents. They were there to participate in the World Science Festival’s “Street Science” program. People of all ages showed up to learn more about STEM fields through a variety of demonstrations and interactive exhibits.

Representing NYU Tandon School of Engineering was John Buckley, a rising junior studying computer engineering. Sitting at a table covered almost entirely by a track course and containers full of legos, he demonstrated how some simple coding could make a robot traverse the course by moving forward, making turns, and going up and down hills. It was a very basic example of what robots could do, meant to entice young kids into participating in the field of computer engineering.

Buckley is also a Teaching Assistant for the Introduction to Engineering and Design course, a general engineering course offered to students at NYU Tandon. The robot he was using in his demonstration, a Lego Mindstorm EV3, is the same as what students would use in the class.

The basic course created on the table was much simpler than what Tandon students normally work on, but the elements of it were the same. Buckley says, “The scenario is set up for kids to interact with the robots…that means hands-on building, Legos for them to mess around with, and sensors and settings for them to play with. They will get to see how the robots foresee changes which will get them to think about how robots and sensors interact with the rest of the world.”

While some kids were fascinated by using ever-popular Legos, others jumped at the chance to try to make their own robot. Prakham Kumar, age 9, says he likes robots because, “They think like humans but they are more advanced…they have more knowledge than a human being. They do tasks humans can’t and they are even smarter than their creators.The most impressive part is you can make them out of almost anything.” Prakham hopes to one day go to college to study robotics and although he is interested in the many uses of robots, he hopes to create one that is capable of “building a whole block of houses.” His father, Senthil Kumar, eagerly explained that his son has always been fascinated by robots and has even built one before at another workshop.

NYU Tandon School of Engineering is committed to creating opportunities and pathways for young people to pursue an education in science and engineering. To learn more about our projects and initiatives, visit the Center for K12 STEM Education.

Link to published article.