2018 Roundup: 5 Stories We Loved This Year in Engineering and Technology

Happy New Year! Lots of amazing things happened in 2018, we couldn’t possibly name them all. So we’ve chosen five stories that we LOVED in 2018 that showcase the work of amazing people, tackling wicked problems and using 21st century skills. We hope these stories inspire you as much as they inspired us!

Bias and A.I.

To the left is the Algorithmic Justice League Logo, to the right is Joy Buolamwini during her 2016 Ted Talk.

Artificial Intelligence has integrated into our day-to-day lives, think of Siri, self-driving cars and using facial recognition to unlock your phone. You’re not alone, hundreds of companies like Nike and Unilever use A.I. to help with different aspects of their business, like helping eliminate bias in hiring practices. But is A.I. really unbiased? Not exactly, or at all – Joy Buolamwini founded the Algorithmic Justice League after experiencing first-hand the prejudices of A.I. As an MIT student she had to ‘borrow’ her white roommates face for projects because the technology wouldn’t recognize her dark skin. The Algorithmic Justice League highlights algorithmic bias and develops practices for accountability during the design, development, and deployment phases of coded systems. It’s so, so, so important that the A.I. informing things like hiring practices, loan grants and how much time someone spends in prison isn’t operating under the prejudices of their developers (spoiler alert, they are, and it’s a problem). To learn more about Buolamwini’s experience and A.I. prejudice, read her New York Times Op-Ed “When the Robot Doesn’t See Dark Skin”. Her Ted Talk “How I’m fighting bias in algorithms” isn’t from 2018, but it’s an absolute treat! (You’re welcome.)

8th Grader Launched and Retrieves her ‘Space Balloon”

To the left, is a picture of Krishna Nair outside of her elementary school. To the right is the Canadian Space Agency Logo.

Have you ever dreamed of sending something to space? Or collaborating with the Canadian Space Agency? For the majority of us, those dreams stay dreams. One of our 2018 inspirations was 14-year-old, Krishna Nair, of Ontario, who made that dream a reality! Earlier in the year she proved that age doesn’t limit creativity, critical thinking or collaboration (or awesomeness). Nair bravely reached out to the CSA for help on her 8th-grade science project. She wanted to launch a high-altitude balloon “near space” and then retrieve it. She asked the CSA for help because her first attempt wasn’t successful, (read more about the challenges she encountered here). The CSA invited her to re-launch the balloon during the 2018 STRATOS campaign held in Timmins, Ontario (#Goals). You can watch the video of that launch here!! We can’t wait to see what Nair will accomplish in 2019!

Financially-Accessible Tumor Identifying Technology!

Above is Kavya Kopparapu the day she received her 2018 Davidson Fellows Scholarship for her project GlioVision.

The medical community continues to make incredible strides forward with cancer research and treatment, but 18-year old Kavya Kopparapu realized there has been less progress in obtaining tumer information. In 2018, Kopparapu won FOUR awards for her A.I. project GlioVision. It helps determine relevant characteristics of tumors in a fraction of the time and cost of traditional methods!! The technology uses scanned images of a biopsy instead of DNA samples. Right now, the technology mostly targets brain cancer, Kopparapu was partly inspired by Senator McCain’s glioblastoma diagnosis and its short prognosis. Not only does Kopparapu’s project help tackle a wicked, real-world problem, it makes the technology economically accessible for every U.S hospital. Believe it or not, Kopparapu’s accomplishments don’t stop at GlioVision, she also founded Girls Computing League, an organization that empowers underrepresented groups in the technology workplace. AND she was named one of TIME Magazine’s “Most Influential Teens of 2018”. If you’re in need of some inspiration check out Kopparapu’s website!

$1 Microscope?

Left and right, is the (mostly) paper-made microscope designed by Manu Prakash and Jim Cybulski.

Good microscopes can set you back HUNDREDS, even THOUSANDS of dollars, they can be heavy and bulky and generally inaccessible. During field visits around the world, professor Manu Prakash (who considers himself in the field of “curiosity-driven” science) and his then PhD student Jim Cybulski, at Stanford University, realized there was a universal need for a low-cost alternative. So they engineered a microscope made almost entirely out of paper. In total, the parts cost around $1!!! The two regularly visit classrooms with a Foldscope for every student, Prakash’s favourite part of these workshops is hearing what students will explore once they get home. Here, watch students engage with Foldsope’s and see a classmates hair under the microscope for the first time! In the same video, you can listen to Prakash speak about the impact and reach of Foldscope. In July of 2018, Foldiscope made its first trip across South America, you can read their blog series about it here.

Do it yourself!

Left, is the DIY Girls logo! Right, are highschool students Daniela Orozco and Veronica Gonzalez assembling solar-powered tents for the homeless.

If you want it done right, do it yourself (DIY)! DIY Girls, provides opportunities for girls in the Los Angeles area to increase their interest in engineering and technology. In 2018 they gave 842 aspiring female engineers and computer scientists access to programs and activities! You might have heard about DIY Girls in 2017, when a group of highschool girls built solar-powered tents for the homeless after noticing increased homelessness in their area. DIY Girls offers lots of programs like Creative Electronics for 4th and 5th grade students to learn basic electronics and create their own projects while utilizing 21st century skills! GIRL POWER!!

We can’t wait for another year of learning, creating, testing and iterating! Let us know some of your favourite 2018 engineering and technology stories. What will the new year bring?! #NEM2019