SciTech Now Episode 537

In this episode of SciTech Now, the next generation of engineers and scientists, using data to create poetry, inside the world’s largest flu vaccine factory and fostering engineering skills.



Coming up, the next generation of engineers and scientists.

Because of Girl Scouts, I am interested in STEM.

I want to be a robotic cardiologist when I grow up.

Using data to create poetry.

So it's randomly selecting lines from five different data sets.

We go inside the world's largest flu-vaccine factory.

Every day, everything that these people do, they're saving lives.

Fostering engineering skills.

Our team was tasked with designing a wearable robotic suit.

It's all ahead.

Funding for this program is made possible by...


I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Welcome to our weekly program bringing you the latest breakthroughs in science, technology and innovation.

Let's get started.

According to a Georgetown University study, an estimated 2.4 million STEM jobs went unfilled in 2018.

Only 29 percent of women make up the STEM workforce, and the number is steadily declining.

What can be done to spark the interest of the next generation of young women?

Raytheon has joined forces with the Girl Scouts of the USA to encourage young women to become the future leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

So who can reiterate what a variable is?

The Think Like a Programmer Journey was developed by GSUSA, and the one we're doing today is for cadets through ambassadors, so girls in middle school and high school, and they're learning about coding, and on top of that, they're learning about leadership skills and how they can apply those concepts of coding and computational thinking to their everyday life.

What you're going to do is write each of its characteristics.

Well, the field that I would like to get into is pediatrics or forensic science.

I've been to a bunch of programs here for STEM, such as Breaking the Code, the first STEM academy, and has all just all come together, and it has helped me find my path.

What we've mostly been doing today is learning how to follow a pattern or an algorithm or a code that has been given to us.

Raytheon wanted to help support GSUSA with this Think Like a Programmer Journey to inspire girls to go into programming, to help develop and hone those skills on top of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience that every girl in every grade around the country experiences as a part of her membership in Girl Scouts.

[ Indistinct conversation ]

Girls need to be motivated to be in STEM.

I think we don't believe in ourselves because a lot of people around us tell us that we can't do this, or we can't do that, especially involving science, technology, engineering and math.

Okay, what about yours?

So having programs like this program, it helps to motivate girls to want to do this and to be interested in it.

So the Think Like a Programmer Journey is now available for grades K through 12 because at that age, girls begin to lose interest.

According to data, they begin to lose interest in STEM fields, and it's really important for girls at this age to have that spark reignited because it's so important that girls are getting involved potentially in careers in STEM, whether it's programming, whether it's engineering.

So that's kind of what we're going to be doing.

We're going to be making robots today.

Girl Scouts is very important because Girl Scouts helps girls find confidence in themselves and be comfortable in their own skin.

They give you a lot of job opportunities just like... such as this one.

Because of Girl Scouts, I am interested in STEM.

I want to be a robotic cardiologist when I grow up, so that's all about programming and STEM, so thanks to the Girl Scouts, I am interested, and I am motivated to be something that a lot of girls may not think that they can be.

Here to talk about this collaboration is Nora Tgavalekos, chief software engineer for corporate engineering at Raytheon.

So what's the interest here where Raytheon, defense contractor, cybersecurity firm, Girl Scouts?

Right, so we're partnering because we recognize there's a gender gap in STEM career fields, so we're helping girls in grades 6 through 12 pursue careers in cybersecurity, robotics and artificial intelligence.


We're doing this through the Think Like a Programmer Journey.

We're partnering together, giving girls opportunities to work on projects, grow their leadership skills as well as, most importantly, to grow the confidence that they can pursue these careers and be leaders in this field.

Oh, look, somebody's going to say, 'Look, there are STEM programs that are for both genders.

They're in schools.'

What's the difference?

Is there a noticeable difference in when girls get this in this environment?

Right, so we focus on... A lot of the leadership that we're using to create these programs are through female leaders, and by seeing female leaders, they'll gain the confidence that, 'Yes, we can be here someday.

We can gain this confidence.'

They're showing them how to break down projects.

They're showing them how to lead projects.

They're showing them how to work as teams, and those are all important skills, in addition to the STEM skills that they're learning, to be able to pursue these career fields.

Were you a Girl Scout?


Yes, I...

How do you think it helped you in the longer arc of your career?

Oh, it was... working as a team, working on projects, that... Setting goals for myself and being able to fulfill those goals, you get that level of confidence, and you know, 'Okay, take on a new challenge.

I can accomplish this.

I did something before.

I can accomplish this, as well.'

And you've got daughters now.

What about this... Can you imagine having this kind of a program when you were their age?

Oh, I keep saying, 'I wish I had these opportunities as a kid.'

I'm working with my daughters' troop, for example, on... and getting their computer science badge.

This...The tools that we have available today, compared to when I was growing up, they just weren't there then.

Now we have the tools, and we have the technology to be able to help girls and boys learn these skills at a much earlier age, creating a pipeline, a STEM pipeline, of folks that...of kids that can be innovative in the future.

Well, why is that pipeline... Why is it so important to try to get more girls into these professions?

Well, I...we...I... We believe that diversity, having a diverse team, can lead to better innovations, and so by having more girls in the pipeline, you're going to have more innovations.

You're going to have more exciting solutions to the challenges of the future.

Well, let's say girls go through this program, Think Like a Programmer.

What's next for them?

So once they complete the Journey, the Think Like a Programmer Journey, we also recognize that, as you mentioned earlier, cybersecurity professionals, for example, there's a gap of about 2 million this year alone, so there's a lot of opportunities for girls in the future, so we've got a... We're also working with the Girl Scouts on the national Cyber Challenge, where girls get an opportunity to work on scenario-based projects in areas like cryptography, forensics, reverse engineering, social engineering, work as a team and see other female role models helping them solve problems that will give them the skills, the confidence and the leadership to be able to solve these in the future.

The Girl Scouts also have a national Cyber Challenge?


This national Cyber Challenge, working together, being deployed in October of 2019, they'll be working with the female leaders across the company.

It's being deployed across 10 Girl Scout Councils across the country, and we'll be working closely with them on defining the projects and the...

Well, what's kind of your idea of success 5 years out, 10 years out?

Let's say this program is running.

How do you... How will you look back on this and figure out whether this worked or not?

So we know that girls in grades 6 through 12 often find math too hard, and oftentimes they drop out of the advanced and more difficult math and science classes.

I think success starts 5, 10 years out, seeing that girls are actually staying and taking and pursuing those courses in middle school and high school.

That gives them more opportunities in the future to pursue STEM career fields.

They're taking these courses.

They're learning about it.

They're not being intimidated by it, and they'll be more likely to take on these careers in the future.

All right.

Nora Tgavalekos from Raytheon, thanks so much.

Thank you very much.

♪♪ ♪♪

Each day, a vast amount of data is collected in the city around you.

Artist Naho Matsuda is using that data to create poetry.

Her public art installation in Austin, Texas, 'Every Thing Every Time,' transforms this static information into tactile and thought-provoking art.

'Every Thing Every Time' is a public art installation.

It's a big mechanical display, a split-flap screen, and it shows poetry that's driven from data.

It has plastic flaps, so it's letters rotating, and it's slowly spelling a poem, so I wanted to use a mechanical display to connect with the digital content that I'm displaying on the display.

First, I looked at all kind of available life data, and I found a lot on the Austin governmental website.

From there, I got kind of weather data or water quality, air quality, traffic noise, and then I kind of did a digital workaround in Austin and looked at all the sights in Austin, like the history of Austin, the biggest employers in Austin, and tried to pull as many timetable sketches of those places and institutions to reflect that in the data set, as well.

I've collected all the different data points, and I think it's around 200 data points coming together, and then for each data points, there's different statuses.

So, for example, the pet is either lost or not lost, or the moonlight towers are now off.

So for each of those scenarios, I wrote a line of what it would say.

So for the moonlight towers, it would say, 'The moonlight towers are off,' or, 'The light is off.'

From these around 250 data points, depending on if it's value-based or if it's on or off, there's maybe between five and 10 different sentences, and then it's pulling from all the sentences whatever is happening at the moment.

So it's randomly selecting lines from five different set data sets.

Austin's data itself is kind of writing their own stories.

What I did in the installation is extracting data and putting it back into very simple sentences.

I think having that on a mechanical screen, you encounter the data very differently.

I'm hoping that people look at the poems and the way they're written and wonder about where the data come from and how they're involved in that data, if they're part of the data set and maybe wonder about the ownership and how the data is collected or who's collecting it for what purpose.

If the poetry kind of reads, 'Somebody is taking picture,' it kind of raises the question, 'Who is this?' and 'Where does that data come from?'

Yeah, I think that's what I kind of wanted to provoke a little bit with the piece, too.

I think it can look very playful, but it can be also a bit uncanny and a bit creepy, thinking about where does all the data come from, and who knows about all of those things, or why do people want to know about all these things?

♪♪ ♪♪

'Small Satellites Yield Big Discoveries'... ♪♪ presented by Science@NASA.

Remember the old adage, 'Big things come in small packages'? NASA has updated it in the form of CubeSats.

Imagine a real working satellite that's so small, you can hold it in your hands.

Just 4 inches, or 10 centimeters, across, these cubes can be expanded incrementally depending on their specific mission objectives.

Originally developed in 1999 by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Stanford University for education purposes, NASA has since used them for new science missions and to test new electronics, sensors and software that might be included on larger missions.

Mike Seablom, chief technologist for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, says the ability to test new technology at a fraction of the cost of a larger satellite makes them invaluable.

It really opens your eyes to many possibilities, just as eye-opening as the way CubeSats are quickly unlocking new scientific data.

For example, while conventional satellites have long observed clouds and have provided estimates of the liquid precipitation they hold, they have never observed the smaller ice particles that create enormous rain clouds.

The CubeSat known as IceCube contained a new submillimeter- wavelength radiometer that could make a space-based measurement of the small frozen crystals that make up ice clouds.

After being deployed from the International Space Station in May 2017, IceCube created a global map of ice clouds around the planet.

Someday, this technique may help improve long-range weather models and forecasts.

A long way from Earth, MarCO A and B traveled to Mars and are the only CubeSats so far to leave Earth's orbit.

When the InSight mission was launched in May of 2018, the MarCO A and MarCO B CubeSats also began their 7-month journey to Mars.

Now InSight has successfully landed on the Red Planet.

One of MarCO's roles was to help relay communications during InSight's landing process.

Landing data was transmitted to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, where its radio stored and forwarded results to Earth after a delay.

MarCO A and B acted as a bent-pipe signal relay during this critical stage of the mission to allow communication from Mars to Earth to happen in almost real time.

According to Charles Norton, special advisor for small spacecraft missions in NASA's Science Mission Directorate, another advantage of these compact cubes is they allow for very focused scientific inquiries to take place.

The Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer CubeSat, or MinXSS, for example, is a student project using a commercial laboratory detector in space.

MinXSS measures the soft x-ray solar spectrum in the gap of energy coverage between two other missions -- RHESSI and IRIS.

This gap region in the solar spectrum is important in the excitation of the Earth's ionosphere and of particular interest for observations of solar flares and active regions.

Or consider a discovery as monumental as the origin of the Universe itself.

One longstanding mystery for astrophysicists is where one-third of the baryonic, or ordinary, matter that existed during the early formation of the Universe might be found today.

Scientists expect it lies in the very hot halos of gas that surround galaxies.

HaloSat is a CubeSat that will examine X-rays from oxygen atoms surrounding our Milky Way to determine how much missing matter may lie in the halo of our galaxy.

While small in size, CubeSats have potential to make big scientific and technological impacts on Earth and our solar system and deep into the Universe.

♪♪ For more about other science missions both big and small, visit

Do you know where your flu vaccine came from?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with health organizations around the world, determine what flu viruses the vaccines will protect against, but all of that information is sent to North Carolina, where the world's largest cell-culture-based flu-vaccine factory is located.

We go inside.

It is a privilege to know that what we do here affects the lives of millions of people across the globe.

That's what motivates us to do what we do.

I personally have endured a loss related to influenza.

I know a 8-year-old that no longer has their dad.

So it's something that is near and dear to my heart, and it's something that gives us purpose and meaning in every single thing that we do and the decisions we take every day.

[ Indistinct conversation ]

We're taking antigenic material, so what that means is your body is going to react to that, and it's going to form antibodies that are going to then neutralize anything that you come in contact with.

So the intent is, we're going to give you this virus strain, or this part of this virus, that you're going to then... Your body is going to say, 'Ah, I get it.

You're...That's something I want to attack and I want to get rid of.

It's foreign,' so that when you get exposed to the virus, your body is already ready to fight it.

You find a strong sense of service and of pride in helping people mixed with cutting-edge science at the Seqirus vaccine production facility in Holly Springs.

Every day, everything that these people do, they're saving lives because they're generating data that's going to ultimately let a vaccine go, that somebody is going to get in their arm, and they're not going to get the flu, and they're not going to die from the flu because of that.

The Holly Springs site is the largest cell culture manufacturing facility in the world for influenza vaccines.

It's a next-generation technology.

You grow those cells in a controlled, state-of-the-art, highly automated environment.

You infect the cells.

The virus grows in the cells.

It's a mammalian.

We're mammalian, so it mimics what... the mechanisms that happen in the natural environment, and then we're able to produce the virus, and so it's an alternative mechanism.

It's a cleaner process.

It's a more controlled process that uses kind of the standard bearing of biotechnology that you see out in the world today.

Every day is flu season.

It's just a matter of what virus we're looking at and what country we're trying to protect.

The viruses are constantly adapting.

Our science, our scientists, our engineers, our laboratory folks are constantly on the front line dealing with new viruses.

Six hundred employees, 40 million doses of vaccine produced.

The plant is expanding.

The vaccines are sent around the world.

So we can grow the cells under very specific conditions, aeration, agitation, mixing, pH, all those sorts of environmental conditions, and we can actually have quite good control over the growth of these cells in preparation for infection with the virus.

Influenza vaccines used to be grown in eggs.

The vaccines produced here don't use eggs.

The virus is grown in a cell culture.

We actually grow these cells in this controlled culture environment, and then we infect them with a virus of interest that is going to be used in the vaccine that's been recommended by the World Health Organization, and that's where the actual virus replication occurs, is in a reactor just like this.

And then we have to take that.

Once we've kind of grown it up, we have to take all those cells, and there's a lot of stuff in there that it's just part of the cell and the virus that we don't really want anymore, and so we want to get rid of all of that part.

We go through it, and we purify, and we purify all of that out, and then we make sure that the material is noninfectious.

Very important point -- you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine because we have made sure that we've inactivated the virus, and we test that with every batch to make sure that it is inactivated.

We have very strict standards that we have to meet, and we have to agree on those standards with the governments.

And anywhere that we sell it, any government that we want to sell to, we have to make sure that we meet their standards.

The vaccines are designed to protect against four different strains of influenza.

World Health Organization gathers flu data from scientists around the world.

It also consults with vaccine manufacturers to determine the makeup of the vaccine.

It's not something to take lightly, and it's also something that, with the flu shot, can be completely preventable and avoidable.

It's the purpose, right?

It's what we do.

It's the benefit of vaccines that... where we're protecting health, and that is incredible responsibility and one that we really take to heart.

♪♪ ♪♪

Students at Rice University in Houston, Texas, are honing in on their skills as engineers through a program that enables them to prototype their ideas.

Here is the story.


So our team was tasked with designing a wearable robotic suit.

Our project is a handwashing station for use in rural Malawi.

The Houston Zoo asked us to build an enrichment device for the giant anteaters.

So the class is an introduction to engineering design.

Each of the teams is working on a client-based project, so there's an individual or a group in the community, such as the Houston Zoo or NASA, that have a particular problem that they need solved.

♪♪ So I think that you're going to need something besides passive gravity to get this to seal back up.


So the question is, what could you use to do that?

So the students began prototyping only about a week ago.

By starting with these really kind of easy-to-work-with materials, the students can go fast and test many ideas, figure out which one works, and then they move on to the higher-fidelity materials.

Over 50 percent of all diseases contracted in Malawi are waterborne illnesses that could be prevented by having a handwashing regularly, and so our project aims to create a station that kind of makes up for the physical lack of equipment that rural Malawi has.

Well, right now, we're working on a prototype for the giant anteaters.

They live in their enclosure, and there's not too much for them to do all day, so we've built a die that has a bunch of different holes in it that we can put food in.

So as humans begin to do further exploration in space, they're going to be spending a long time with robots, so we're designing a suit in order to test these human-robot interactions.

During the second half of the semester, they actually prototype their solutions, build, test and iterate so that by the end of the semester, they should have a working design that meets the goals that were set at the beginning of the semester.


What's the significance of today?

So I was on the team called 10tation Station to create a handwashing station for use in rural Malawi.

Today was our final prototype evaluation.

We present the final prototype that we've created to our professors.

We show kind of how it works, all the different materials we've used.

I love that it gives me the chance to, like, it sounds so cliché, but to, like, 'think like an engineer.'

Can you talk a little bit more about how the drain... Did you all end up making modification to the drain?


This is the bottom of the pin that has the rubber stopper attached to it, and this is a three-quarters hose clamp.

It's stainless steel so that it won't rust, and we have it tightened to a point where the pin can only lift a very small amount so that when the...

Oh, okay.

So when I pull this...

...rubber stopper opens, only a small amount of water comes through.

Got it.

[ Indistinct conversation ]

Hey, team.


All right, guys.

All right.

We were assigned to make an enrichment device for the anteaters at the Houston Zoo.

They want to have something that makes the anteaters more active.

The zoo keeper will put a certain amount of food in and then can rotate the device in order to fill up the other tubes.

After that, when the device is given to the anteater, the anteater can manipulate it by turning it or climbing on top of it in order to find which of the tubes have food and to eat out of it in that manner.

And everything is clear so that the zoo visitors are able to see the anteaters actually sticking their tongues down the tubes.

Like, the one that we tested it on used it even longer than we anticipated.

So, good morning.

We are Team Not Bot.

Our project design objective was to create a wearable robotics suit that will be used in place of an actual humanoid robot for use in human-robot interactions.

The major success that we've kind of evaluated is that we were able to build a suit that fully conceals the upper body and hides the fact that it's actually a human.

What's next for your prototype?

So we're hoping next semester that we'll be able to build the lower half and have a complete full-body suit to give to NASA, which would be really cool.

[ Chuckles ]

What would you say is your biggest takeaway from this whole semester?

How important it is to care about the work you're doing.

Like, there was a day we were in here from 10:30 a.m.

to 11:00 p.m.

The time just kind of slips by because you're really engaged, and, like, you're actively creating this.

Like, this wouldn't exist without you, so it's just been a fantastic opportunity to see this engineering actually in action and say, like, 'Oh, this is work that I mesh well with.

Like, I can do this for the rest of my life.'

And that wraps it up for this time.

For more on science, technology and innovation, visit our website, check us out on Facebook and Instagram, and join the conversation on Twitter.

You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Until then, I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Thanks for watching.

Funding for this program is made possible by... ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪