Girls, Math and Science (and chocolate)

I love science, and being around smart women, and chocolate. The combination of all three is nearly unbeatable, and made for a fun event last weekend. I had a great time with three of my female co-workers on Saturday talking with ten middle and high school girls about scientific computing, networking (the computer kind), and computational biology.

The girls came to PSC with Nina Barbuto of the Girls, Math and Science Partnership, sponsored by Carnegie Science Center, for a Tour Your Future event. I got to tag along as Kathy Benninger, Marcela Madrid, and Laura McGinnis spoke to the girls about careers in computational science.

Part of the "cloud" lives here.

Kathy explained what she does as a network engineer and took the girls to tour one of the machine rooms containing networking and cloud storage equipment. They wanted to know what her favorite project was (designing the network for the Software Engineering Institute building) and asked – or more precisely, shouted over the cooling units in the machine room – what happens if the air conditioning is off (best guess: machines would start to shut themselves down within an hour, but let’s hope we don’t have to find out.)

A participant manipulates a myoglobin molecule

Manipulating myoglobin.

Marcela introduced the girls to computational biology by showing them how to access the Protein Data Bank online and manipulate a myoglobin molecule, and demonstrated how the design of new drugs can be affected by molecular structure. Better yet, she explained that, yes kids, you can try this at home, for free!, which left several girls chattering excitedly about the possibilities.

Parallel processing to count M&Ms

Collision management: this jar isn't big enough for the both of us!

By now you’re asking, “But what about the chocolate?” Laura brought it when she engaged the girls in computational thinking to solve the big question, “How many M&Ms are in this family-size bag?” Using spoons (processors) to scoop M&Ms out of a narrow-necked jar, the group learned about idle time (waiting for a turn with one of the spoons), collision management (trying to get more than one spoon into the jar at once) and the advantages of parallel processing (many girls counting) over serial processing ( just one girl counting the M&Ms). And then they got to eat them.

Thank you, Nina, for bringing the girls in, and thank you, Ally, Sai, Sarah, Tajah, Caroline, Olivia, Lindsey, Arianna, Mariya, and Tristyn for coming and for proving – again – that women and science is a very cool combination. Good luck in school, and we hope to see you around the lab soon!

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  • Mike Schneider

    Like! Nicely written. I’m brainstorming w/myself about how it might be possible to do more with this . . .

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