STEM & GEMS: Insects and plants fascinate “bug nerd” Lauren Williamson

lauren photo in CBCEditor’s Note: As part of our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) program we conduct interviews with women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. This week, we’re featuring Lauren Williamson, Entomologist in the Cockrell Butterfly Center

HMNS: How old were you when you first became interested in science?
Williamson: Ever since I can remember! I was always catching bugs, playing with animals, and looking at flowers, plants, etc.

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Williamson: I had a biology teacher in junior high that told me about entomology and told me that I should look into that field for a career since I had such an interest in insects.

HMNS: What was your favorite science project when you were in school?
Williamson: An insect collection, of course!

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science, technology, engineering, or math?
Williamson: My title is “entomologist”, aka “bug nerd.” My job revolves around importing exotic butterflies to display in our Butterfly Center. Not only do I need to know a lot about insects, but I also need to know about government regulations, computer applications, and accounting. We also do a lot of outreach programs, so it’s a necessity to be comfortable presenting to large groups.

To get a degree in entomology you have to take extensive coursework in biology, chemistry, physiology, and math.

HMNS: What’s the best part of your job?
Williamson: I play with butterflies all day — need I say more? Not to say that my job doesn’t involve a lot of hard work, because it does, but the fun parts of my job make it all worth it!

HMNS: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Williamson: I love to play with my animals (three dogs: Merle, Hank, and Molly; and a bird: Carlos), go on insect collecting trips, camping, crafts, going to museums and seeing movies with my husband.

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career?
Williamson:
Make sure you study, study, study! Ask a lot of questions and learn all of the material as much as possible. Every year adds more information to the knowledge base you already have, so it only gets harder.

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS?
Williamson: This is a great way to experience some of the wonderful career paths you can take with a firm knowledge of science, engineering, technology, and math. These subjects are the foundation of our everyday lives, whether you realize it or not! There will always be a demand for employees in these ever-growing and changing fields so it is important to get in an interest in them as soon as possible.

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STEM & GEMS, Part III: Air Liquide’s Megan Morrison has always wanted to defy the laws of physics

Editor’s Note: In anticipation of our upcoming GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event on Feb. 8, we interviewed several women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. So far, we’ve interviewed Air Liquide’s Victoria Rockwell and HMNS’ Celeste Poorte.This week, we’re featuring Megan Morrison, a Biological Engineer at Air Liquide.

HMNS: How old were you when you first became interested in science, technology, engineering, and/or math?
Morrison: A child doesn’t have to ask questions about calculus or chemical equations to show interest in STEM topics. It may seem like a silly question to ask, “How hard would I have to jump in the air to never come back down?” but kids are really asking what their escape velocity is –— which is something some engineers and rocket scientists have to think about every day.

I believe I first demonstrated interest when I said my first word. As a child, I was very interested in things that seemed to defy the laws of physics. My first word was “balloon.”

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Morrison: My middle school math teacher Mr. Fischer coached our MATHCOUNTS team. He inspired our team so much that we practiced before school every day, during lunch, during free period, and after school on Wednesdays. He showed us that hard work paid off, how to understand the strengths and weaknesses of everyone on your team, and how to utilize that understanding to achieve great things.

HMNS:  What was your favorite science project when you were in school?
Morrison: My favorite project is a bit biased, because it also got me a pet on the weekends. In 7th grade, we raised two rats — which, being 7th graders at the end of the 90s, we named Jay and Silent Bob. We fed one water and oatmeal, and gave the other not only water and oatmeal, but whole milk, fruits, and vegetables. We watched as one grew much more quickly than the other for a few weeks while learning about nutrition and cellular respiration, or how the body uses food to grow and make energy. Don’t worry, after a few weeks, we fed both of them equally and they led full rat lives.

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science, technology, engineering, or math?
Morrison: I work as a biological engineer in Air Liquide’s ALLEX program. This two-year program sends recent college graduates all over the country (and sends some around the world) to experience different jobs in different work environments so that they can be better workers when they graduate from the program.

My company separates the air into basic components and sells purified oxygen, nitrogen, and other gases. Some of these gases are so cold that they are even sold in liquid form. My company has to understand the scientific properties of the substances they sell to be able to manufacture them safely. We use engineering and technology to design the most efficient equipment, and we use math in everything.

HMNS:  What’s the best part of your job?
Morrison: I am currently working in the cosmetics manufacturing section of business development. So, the best part about my job is that I get to apply scientific concepts to things like the chemical and physical properties of beauty products.

HMNS:  What do you like to do in your spare time?
Morrison: In my spare time, I like to see plays and musicals, golf, and volunteer in my community.

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career?
Morrison: My advice is to get started early. Join math and science teams at school. Do experiments at home. Watch documentaries, ask questions, and use all of the resources you have to get the answers. The most successful people in STEM careers enjoy STEM concepts at home too.

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science)?
Morrison: For society and technology to progress, we must have the best workers in the work force, regardless of their gender. I think it is important to show underrepresented demographics what STEM fields have to offer so that they can lead fulfilling lives and make the world a better place.

Know a girl who’s interested in math and science? Come to GEMS (Girls Exploring Math & Science) on Sat., Feb. 8 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Museum will be filled with hands-on science and math for everyone to experience. Local professionals will be at the Museum to answer questions about their careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

The event is free with paid admission to the Museum. Click here for $7 admission to all permanent exhibit halls on Sat., Feb. 8.

Who run the (math and science) world? GIRLS! Join HMNS Feb. 16 for Girls Exploring Math and Science 2013

Remember when Beyoncé asked, “Who run the world?” We totally think she was on to something.

Join HMNS on February 16 for GEMS 2013, an entire day dedicated to the answer to that question — Girls Exploring Math and Science.

Join us Feb. 16 for GEMS: Girls Exploring Math and ScienceIn partnership with the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council, HMNS will host an open house with local professionals on-hand to answer questions and discuss their careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. We’ll also have a variety of STEM-related activities and games, as well as informational booths on topics ranging from Mars rovers to human organs to optical illusions to the science behind skin care.

GEMS is open to girls of all ages as well as friends and family, so bring the whole crew!

What: Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS)
When: Saturday, Feb. 16; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: HMNS Main Campus, 5555 Hermann Park Dr.
Cost: FREE with museum admission! (Click here for a coupon for discounted general admission!)

Student booths have just been accepted for GEMS 2013. Contact educationquestions@hmns.org for more info or to learn how you can participate.

GEMS is generously supported by Air Liquide and KBR.

Energy Endeavors Part I: Teachers trek Texas in a week-long energy quest

I’ve always enjoyed traveling. It’s not something I’ve gotten to do as much as I’d like, but I’m working on it. I have fond memories of traveling with my family to places like Washington DC and Williamsburg, with my high school to Spain and Boston, and in college to Florida, Colorado, and England. I enjoy wandering along the back pathways, eating local food and seeing the sights.

Like most people, when I travel I tend to venture far from where I live at the expense of a lot of local destinations. Texas is rich in destinations that deal with energy: The Bureau of Economic Geology in Houston stores core samples from wells around the world.  Schlumberger runs a test rig down in Sugar Land to train their engineers. And there are many, many more.

What better way to go see some of these sights than with a group of interested (and interesting) people? So we created a week-long teacher workshop to visit different energy destinations throughout Texas.

The first day, things got going a little slowly. We waited for everyone to arrive, filled out paper work, and reviewed the week’s objectives. Once that was out of the way, we loaded up in the vans and headed to our first destination – the Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG) in Austin.

Energy Road TripThe BEG is a great place, and it’s part of the University of Texas system. It’s a large warehouse where they store drilling cores, and scientists and engineers can come and study them. They can pull out cores from different areas from around the world and see what the subsurface geology looks like. This is a must for people looking for crude oil, people looking at how coasts form, and people looking at what type of rocks and at what layers can hold carbon dioxide. The inside of the warehouse looks a bit like the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

On day two, we went to two different locations. The first was the test well at Schlumberger. It’s a fully working rig that drills through cement without hope of striking oil, and its purpose is to train field engineers. Schlumberger makes its money not by drilling for oil, but by providing services for the oil industry. Specifically, they’re known for well logging — when you scan the inside of a well for specific attributes, like conductivity and resistivity.

Energy Road Trip

It’s always fun to stand on a rig and talk with the people who run it. One of the major differences between a rig drilling for oil and the test rig is that the people on the test rig often get to go home at the end of the day.

Our second stop of the day was Marathon Oil’s Visionarium. It’s like the Giant Screen Theatre, a conference room, and a digital laboratory all rolled into one. On a 27-foot by 8-foot curved screen, the engineers are able to display data (seismic, pipeline, etc.) and model a geological formation in 2D and 3D (and probably 4D as well).

After that, the people at Marathon did something great — something I’d never seen done.  They asked the teachers their opinions on all the different ways to get kids into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The teachers all answered similarly — the time that makes or breaks science for a kid is in 6th and 7th grade. Kids need to see what options there are for jobs and they need mentoring.

On Wednesday (the third day), we went down to the South Texas Nuclear Project (STP) and took a tour of the facilities. The cooling reservoirs cover a massive 7,000 acres, or 10.9 square miles. The training control room has an exact mockup of STP’s reactor control rooms. Because of the way that licenses are given to nuclear plants, the control rooms haven’t changed much.

In the training control room, unlike the real one, we were able to turn knobs and press buttons. In fact, we were even able to make several of the alarms go off — fun in a training room, but disastrous in a real one.

Energy Road TripAfter that, we took off to Brazosport College. Why Brazosport College, you ask? Because of its Process Operations Management degree and its on-site working chemical plant.  Process operators are the people who run plants — not plants like the ones you find in a greenhouse, but chemical and energy-producing plants. Brazosport offers a two-year program and is able to offer some incredible hands-on experience because it has a small chemical plant onsite, where students experience what happens when they have a blocked pipe or things are flowing incorrectly.

Join me next time here on the blog where we’ll see a coal-fired plant and a drill bit factory.