Curiosity, Creativity, and STEM Can Solve Real World Problems

By Kyle Tianshi (@KTianshi)

SOURCE: Discovery Education

DESCRIPTION:

My passion for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) has been driven by curiosity, creativity, and a desire to improve the world we live in. I love that STEM provides a way to solve problems and improve lives – it’s the inspiration behind my latest invention, a portable Total Suspended Solids (TSS) device that detects invisible particles in water so that water quality and contamination levels can be measured.

I had the opportunity to take my invention to the next level during the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, a competition hosted by 3M and Discovery Education. I hope my experience helps encourage other students to pursue their own passion for STEM. I have learned from the best and now here’s my advice for building and sustaining any student’s curiosity in STEM:

Connect Students to STEM to Solve Real-World Problems

All around the world, we see that middle school students my age are demonstrating that we have the drive and passion to make a big impact on the world.  Allowing a student to see their ideas in the context of world events is important.  I was inspired to create my TSS device after discovering in a class about the water quality challenges so many countries face.

Current solutions used to detect microscopic particles, like microplastics, are expensive and time consuming. My portable design is powered by a Raspberry Pi and uses a laser to shine light into the water at a 90-degree angle to illuminate particles, view them under a microscope and capture images. Next, an image processing algorithm I developed converts the images into a histogram that shows particle size distribution.

My Young Scientist Challenge entry can detect particles as small as 0.1 microns and concentrations as low as 0.1 PPM in under ten seconds. The best part? My device was built for under sixty dollars using items purchased from Amazon.

By July 2021, California will adopt a standard methodology for defining microplastics in drinking water and setting health-based testing methods for water debris. I hope my invention will contribute to this initiative and lead to cleaner water for everyone.

My research is direct evidence of the impact STEM teaching and learning can have. My advice for teachers? Show students real-world problems and encourage them to think about how STEM can solve them. For example, I used to love watching Myth Busters in science class because of how they used STEM, and humor, to investigate really big problems. 

Thinking out-of-the box

In elementary school, one of my favorite books was What If? by Randall Munroe. I loved how the book used science and math to explore out-of-the-box and absurd “what if” scenarios. While I didn’t always understand the more technical concepts, it was fascinating to see investigative inquiry play out. Books like What If? kickstarted my passion for STEM, which continues to grow.

Whether it’s an article about the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines or NASA’s Perseverance, reading helps fuel my curiosity and interest in STEM. I also participate in many STEM extracurriculars at school.

I’ve been lucky enough to have teachers that incorporate these types of resources into lessons. Connecting with other people who are passionate, even through a cool article or outside of school activity, about STEM is a great way to learn and an excellent opportunity to collaborate.

I stay inspired by discussing my projects and ideas with peers and STEM experts, like my 3M mentor Dr. Jonah Shaver. I looked forward to sharing my progress with Dr. Shaver during a virtual meeting each week, while he showed me the fresh bread he just baked or the wild turkeys that seem to love hanging out in his backyard. My advice to teachers is to seek new ways to engage students in STEM.  Assign us interesting piece of digital content to view to spark our imagination or share an article that you think will engage us. It is really helpful!

Encourage pursuit of passions

My peers are sometimes intimidated by math and science. Teachers can help support students by encouraging us to all stay open minded and give STEM a try. While it’s easy to assume that scientific research requires a professional lab setting, complete with micropipettes and expensive microscopes, that’s not the case. For example, my 3M Young Scientist Challenge invention was built in my garage, using materials like LEGO bricks, cookie tins, and old tiramisu containers.

When working on a STEM assignment, activity or invention, encourage students to be bold and not to be afraid to ask for help. As long as a student is passionate about their work, others are more than willing to offer advice.

Another good piece of advice that educators can help with directly is to help student develop communications skills. A skill that’s helped me connect with STEM experts is cold emailing. Through cold emails, I’ve successfully reached out to professionals who helped shape my 3M Young Scientist Challenge design.

Infinite problems, infinite solutions

Participating in the 3M Young Scientist Challenge was an exciting and honestly unforgettable opportunity that will stay with me forever. I encourage teachers to look to STEM challenges as rewarding and fun ways for students to use their curiosity and creativity to think up their own solutions to the real-world issues they encounter.

Teachers should look for creative ways to connect students to STEM. I like the resources from Discovery Education, like those from the 3M Young Scientist Lab. The guidance and support of teachers and STEM experts goes a long way. Together, we can make a positive difference through STEM.

KEYWORDS: NYSE:DISCA, discovery education

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