A heart, a liver, and a nurse walk into a bar…

By Sara Leiter

Introduction– Who I really am

•I was a curious child and spent a lot of time playing outside, as well as “caring” for my large stuffed animal collection. I also played with Legos, and, admittedly, became quite addicted to playing Tetris. Anything involving numbers was a favorite subject of mine, so ending up in STEM was not a surprise. What I wanted to do as a grown up changed frequently—architect, veterinarian, genetics researcher.

In my free time, I enjoy cycling, running and other activities that get me outside! I also love scary movies.

Materials and Methods– How I got here

Degrees can only tell you so much about a person’s STEM career, here’s my actual journey:

•I learned about organ donation as a child and thought it was the coolest thing ever—to be able to “reuse” a person’s organs after they died, to save other peoples’ lives!  But I never considered a career in organ donation—I didn’t even realize such a thing existed.

After nursing school I found myself working in a Neuro-Trauma ICU. There, we cared for patients with a variety of illnesses: seizure disorders, strokes, spinal cord injuries, brain cancer, traumatic brain injuries. Periodically, our patients were declared brain dead and became organ donors. Brain death is different from cardiac death (the kind of death frequently seen on TV shows, where the heart rate monitor becomes a flat line). In brain death, patients can look “alive,” because they are still breathing and their heart is beating, but there is no blood flow to their brain. The body is being kept alive because the heart keeps beating as long as it receives oxygen, and oxygen is provided by the ventilator (breathing machine). Brain death is not the same as coma, because in brain death, the body has no reflexes AT ALL—no eye blinking, no breathing, no movement. Brain death is, legally, the same as cardiac death.

Anyway, I had the honor of taking care of an organ donor patient when she was in my ICU. It was one of the most meaningful patient experiences I had ever had as a nurse, and am still in touch with her family. While I was caring for her, I met the representatives from the organ donation organization. To my surprise, they told me they had been nurses prior to working for their current employer. I had no idea “organ donation nurses” even existed.

Two years ago I applied to be an Organ Recovery Coordinator with the organization here in Colorado, Donor Alliance. I wanted to pursue my passion for organ donation and make a difference in the donor families’ lives, as well as the lives of the organ recipients.

Results– What I do now

Right now, I am focusing on my job as an Organ Recovery Coordinator. We do…

•There is no “typical day” in my job. My organization covers all of Colorado and most of Wyoming, so I travel to hospitals in both the Denver metro area and elsewhere. One day I may be in Colorado Springs, two days later I may be in Grand Junction. My job is also on-call, or “as needed,” so I work unusual hours. I may be up for 26 hours straight sometimes!

Some of my job duties require traveling to the hospital to assess potential organ donors. I decide what tests may be run on them (for example, chest X-rays, CT scans, particular labs) to evaluate their organ function. I work with my medical director to see what medications we should give the patient to optimize their organ function. Other duties include speaking with transplant surgeons, entering data on the computer, coordinating the OR time, and educating the patients’ families and hospital staff. I work with transplant centers to see if their patients are interested in the organs. Finally, I actually go into the OR for the recovery procedure to help ensure everything goes smoothly as it can get quite chaotic—usually there are several doctors, and everybody is moving quickly! After cases I present the case information to my peers and also perform audits (checking the data to make sure everything was entered).


– Passion for the subject

I love science and medicine, and here’s why:

•To this day, it still amazes me that we are able to take organs from one person’s body and place them in another person. Technology is advancing every day to improve this process. For example, there are kidney pumps, which enable doctors to evaluate how the kidneys are functioning outside the body before putting them into the recipient. Kidneys are such strong little organs that they can continue working outside the body for 24 hours! They actually travel on commercial planes by themselves (in a box, with the appropriate packaging, of course!). Researchers are working on similar devices for hearts and lungs to optimize those organs as well, since they are very sensitive to being taken out of the body.

In addition, donation is not limited to organs. People may also be skin, eye and tissue donors. These gifts can make a huge change in one’s life.

For more information on organ donation, go to donatelife.net.

The New Scientist on the Block: the Data Scientist

By Will Lansing


Introduction– Who I really am

I have always loved science, though when I was young it seemed more like magic. Science was dinosaurs roaming the Earth millions of years ago being wiped out by a comet that had been flying around in space for billions of years. The sheer scale of everything in Science amazed me and still does. Science was making “new” discoveries every night. I remember using my grandfather’s (Pap as we called him) telescope to look at the moon at night and was fascinated by the fact that the moon moved so quickly out of the view of the telescope. Later in school this fascination was turned in to amazement when I learned how more than 300 years ago Isaac Newton created a formula to precisely (although not as precisely as Einstein) calculate the orbit of the moon and other planets. There was no doubt in my mind back then that I was going to be either an astronaut or some kind of time traveling dinosaur hunter.

Fast forward a few decades and I am most certainly not an astronaut and I have yet to travel back through time, though I think we can all agree that this blog post would be a lot cooler if I had. Although my love for Science has not changed, I do have a new focus in both Technology and Math. With the incredible rate at which the speed of technology is increasing (see Moore’s Law) and the amount of data that is being collected, I find myself in a relatively new and exciting field as a Data Scientist, but more on that later.

Outside of my pursuits in STEM subjects, I am a husband, father of three girls, and the owner of an ever increasing number of pets. I am an avid reader of presidential history and a second degree black belt in Ju Jitsu. I truly enjoy learning and plan to apply for courses to start a Masters of Applied Statistics this fall.

Materials and Methods– How I got here

The Sciences were always my favorite subjects for as far back as I can remember (except Biology, blah). In high school I was able to expand upon this with classes in Chemistry and Physics where our teacher allowed us to perform all kinds of experiments that resulted in things catching fire or crashing down to earth (and if we were really lucky both at the same time). Although my passion had always been with Science, I wasn’t sure what kind of “real” job I could apply it towards, so I left for college and declared as a Political Science major with expectations to go on to Law school. I was only part way through my first semester when I started to seriously doubt my decision to go into Law. Luckily I was able to pick up an Intro to Programming class during that semester and by the end of the first semester I was ready to make the jump to Computer Science. The major focused on the key principles and practices of computing, and the mathematical and scientific principles that underpin them. There was a lot of math, so so much math. Calculus 1, 2 and 3, Discrete Math, a year of Statistics and Linear Algebra. I did my best to hold my head above water, but I never understood how most of these classes applied to programing.

After graduation I started working for R+L Shared Services as a Programming Analyst. My primary job at the time was to write reports against databases for the business to use in order to make decisions. The problem in most cases was that the data was either in too many different reports, too old, not accurate, or not understood enough to be used. At that time the IT department was creating reports but most of them were just being ignored by the business.



After a year or two of generating reams of unused reports, the IT department and business started to work together to identify critical data needs for the business and establish guidelines for the way that data should be used. I began working with a team to develop a data warehouse, which is a single place to pull data into from all the other source systems in the company. By putting all the data in one place we could speed up reporting and ensure that when a user in Sales ran a report it would match the same numbers as a user in Finance pulling a similar report. This may sound like a simple process but it has taken almost 10 years to develop it to the place that it is now. Each day the data warehouse parses hundreds of millions of rows of data to ensure the business is able to look at trends in our data to try to determine how the company is performing.

This now brings us to the most exciting and challenging part of my job; we know how the company has been performing, but how will we perform in the future…enter the newest scientist on the block, the Data Scientist.

Results– What I do now

Past performance does not necessarily predict future results. This is such an important fact that the government requires mutual funds (the people that manage all your parents’ money) to basically write that statement on anything they give to investors. What that really means to me as a Data Scientist is I can’t look at past numbers on how the company was performing in a vacuum. We have to consider many other variables that may have had some effect on the company such as economic indicators, fuel prices, job reports, etc.

Remember all those math classes that I didn’t understand why I needed, well I wish I had paid a bit more attention in them. We are constantly applying different mathematical principles from many of the different fields in mathematics such as regression analysis, derivatives, correlations and many others.

In order to predict what may happen in the future, we build what is called a predictive model. To build the model we must first determine what we are trying to predict and the timeline for the prediction. For example, if we were to try to predict the amount of time it would take a driver to deliver items to customers tomorrow, we would need to know how long it has taken in the past, what the weather conditions will likely be, what day of the week it is (because no one really works on Fridays), how many items the driver has to deliver, how heavy the items are and possibly the time of the year. We would then estimate the time and after the driver makes his deliveries we would record that actual time and validate how well the model did. We do this by looking for correlations and causations (if you don’t get the joke below, then hopefully I can explain this in a later post) in the data and adjust our model for any issues or biases that we have.



The model that I have described above is relatively simple given the short timelines involved. The models get much more complicated and contain a lot more room for error the further you look into the future. You can think of it like a weather forecast, if the weather channel tells you it is going to rain today, it probably will, if they tell you it will rain 2 weeks from today, you probably don’t need to run out and buy that umbrella quite yet.

So how do we become better about making predictions, we let computers figure all this out for us.

Discussion– Passion for the subject

Machine learning may sound like something made up for the new Star Wars movie, but the idea has been around since the late 1950’s. The idea is to teach the computer to learn new things without explicitly programing it. How does this factor into the future of predictive analytics? The idea would be to build a base model that the computer then runs simulations against using other information that it has. The computer would then modify the model based on patterns it recognizes on its own to make a better prediction. Machine learning is already a staple at tech giants like Google and Apple (think map recommendations and Siri) but it is now also becoming common place in many businesses and the possibly are nearly limitless.

A Winding Journey Leading Me to You

By Dr. Deborah Rook


Introduction– Who I really am

My bio is on the website, but that is not who I am. Here’s the truth about me:

I was a STEM baby from the start. My mother was a physician (which she claims are actually artists not scientists), and studied chemistry and biology before she went that route. When I was a kid, I thought I was going to be a doctor just like her; I had a knack for math and science, and was never much of a reader. I had a toy microscope that came with slides of all sorts of things, and I vividly remember looking down into that microscope at a section of dragonfly wing and examining all the tiny veins that ran through. Absolutely fascinating.

I had a really tough time with Chemistry in high school. The experiments were so cool, but it was hard to wrap my head around the equations and how the elements fit together. My high school chemistry teacher told me that honors biology was probably going to be too hard for me, but I took it anyway- and boy am I glad I did! Biology opened a new world of science I had never experienced before; it is so completely awe-inspiring and was much clearer to me than Chemistry ever had been. I love the connections between and within animals and plants and how everything evolved together to make so much sense (and sometimes appearing to make absolutely no sense at all). I just couldn’t get enough. After that, I decided to major in biology in college.

It’s also important to note that science is not all that I am. Though it is a crucial part, I not only hang out and chat science all the time, but I have a personal life just like most other scientists. I am a mom, with a daughter just over a year old (and I am very excited to do science experiments with her in the kitchen!). I have close friends that include scientists, librarians, museum researchers, advertisers, accountants, salespeople, physical therapists, stay-at-home-moms, and all number of other types of people. I love to watch movies (really bad science movies tend make me crazy, though Jurassic Park is awesome), read science fiction and fantasy, work out when I can, cross stitch and knit, and even bake.

Materials and Methods– How I got here

Degrees can only tell you so much about a person’s STEM career, here’s my actual journey:

I went to Case Western Reserve University knowing that I would double major in biology and theatre and go to medical school after graduation. Seemed like a great idea to me at the time. Turns out, theatre wasn’t going to be who I was in the end, but I did join the musical theatre group on campus and participated in 6 shows with them. About halfway through my first semester, a group with one biology major, pre-meds (people who knew, like I did, that they were bound for medical school after college), and nursing majors were sitting around watching an old TV show called ER, about doctors and nurses working in a hospital emergency room and all the crazy things that happened both there and in their personal lives. Something really gross happened, that had a lot of blood and guts and all that, and two people in the room reacted by hiding our faces and going “eeeww”- me and the one non-medical-school-bound biology major. Turns out, I hate blood. A lot. And just seeing it on TV makes my stomach turn, so how was I possibly going to cut people open as a career? That is how I became a biology major, not bound for medical school, adrift in a sea of confusion about my future.

I kept taking biology classes and found something that I loved in my third introductory class- Evolution. It just spoke to me (see Discussion). I added a Evolutionary Biology major to my record and continued to take the classes that interested me, unsure if I would ever find my true calling, until I took a class on mammalian evolution and paleontology. I was hooked. For a class I was taking my senior year, I needed a research project to work through at the same time, so I contacted the professor after the class and asked if he had any research he needed assistance on.. I started to measure mammal teeth for him to investigate the types of diets ancient mammals had. So cool, right? I learned a lot about mammal teeth and how different foods wear down teeth (think about having something hard or gritty in your mouth, and what that might do to your teeth).

Because I had applied for graduate schools before I started my research, I applied all over the country to many schools with evolutionary biology master’s degree programs. I got really lucky that one of them had a mammal paleontologist– Ohio State. I joined his lab and worked on a funky little pack of mammals called taeniodonts whose fossils usually had teeth so worn that you couldn’t make out what the top of the tooth originally looked like. They lived right after the dinosaurs died out, possibly having evolved just before the extinction, and were some of the first mammals to evolve to large body size (can you imagine an entire world with just little mouse to cat sized mammals running around and nothing even large-dog sized?). I studied their phylogenetics, the science of animal family trees. I examined many teeth (which are what is most likely to fossilize in mammals) to determine which of the taeniodonts were most closely related and how they fit into the larger mammalian family tree. It was fascinating, and ended in my master’s thesis and three journal articles (links are on my bio page if you’re really, really interested).

Sometimes, life isn’t just about your education and your career. I think that’s an important point that some people don’t realize. The next step in my journey really was a life step and not a career step (or so I thought). At the end of college, I met a boy. We dated through our last year and went into graduate school not knowing what the future held for us. I was going to Ohio State and he was going to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was going for a 2 year program, he was going for at least 6. The plan became that after my master’s I would move to Madison until he finished and then I could pick the next place we would go (with a master’s degree I would be qualified to teach at colleges in the area, or get a job in environmental science). Instead, thanks to connections at OSU, I decided to apply to the graduate school in Geology (not Geoscience), and was accepted.

My PhD program was a really informative time in my life. I taught a class that I absolutely adored (Evolution and Extinction), worked many hours with the Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution on outreach initiatives, and received a teaching certificate. I also did research on the big-picture connections between the rock and fossil records in North America (basically, how missing rocks could be skewing our view of evolutionary history), and finally got to work on some mammal teeth towards the end. What I really learned, though, is that though the research piques my interest and I love doing it, my heart seemed to land with outreach and education. I defended my PhD in June 2014.

Results– What I do now

This is where my journey brings me to you, and the blog you are reading right now. Thanks to lifelong friendships and everlasting bonds of scientific love, I am working with Inner City Science on multiple initiatives. I will be a recurring contributor to this blog, as well as working on curriculum to expand the program into biology and earth sciences. I will also soon be teaching a lab at George Mason University in Virginia, making sure to keep up with my teaching.

Discussion– Passion for the subject

I love EVOLUTION, and here’s why:

Somewhere, at least 3.5 billion years ago, life emerged on this planet. It was tiny little single-celled organisms with no divisions between their interior parts. From that, every living thing you see today has come about because of evolution. To me, that’s completely insane, but I love to think about how small changes over long, long periods of time (or every so often big changes) can lead to so much diversity of life, so many things that we see in the fossil record that we do not see today, and so much change over the course of those billions and billions of years.

I study how things change over time. The history of this planet (and especially mammals) continues to hold my interest, especially since we learn new things every day. Every day a new fossil is found. Every day a new theory on how those fossils are linked together is formulated. Every day someone looks at the fossils in context with the rocks they are found in, the environment the organism was living in, or the area they were found, to come up with new and interesting ideas about how the animal lived, died, and came to be found in the dirt by a paleontologist.

And Evolution is what I am going to be focusing on as a recurring blog poster. If you love evolution as much as I do, or if you don’t yet, stay tuned for some awesome stories from the science I love best!

Further Research: A Teaser for my next blog…

How is a Chihuahua and a Great Dane the same species? What happened to dogs??

The Making of this Blog

As a scientist, I feel misunderstood.  There are so many of those memes flying around that insinuate exactly what I already know: no one knows what I do.


That is what this blog sets out to do.  It’s goal is to help people get acquainted with what people in STEM fields really do.  For those who are really new to the block, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  When reading this, I hope you will find yourself both interested and intrigued by the different opportunities available, and hopefully you will learn new things.  I have invited people from all the different realms of STEM that I could find to write about their jobs, interesting research they are doing, or maybe just interesting research being done in their fields.

I guess I am the first blogger.  My name is Meghan, and I just received my master’s degree in Chemistry.  I have my undergraduate degrees in Chemistry and Biology from a tiny school in North Carolina, Pfeiffer University.  I had wonderful professors who helped me understand that I wanted to be a scientist, but I did not want to be a doctor.  I think this was the first misconception that I had to overcome.  Not all who study science, become doctors.

After teaching high school science for a year and a half, I realized that I needed to go on in my schooling, so I decided to get my master’s degree.  I chose Chemistry because I truly find the subatomic dance of bonding to be beautiful.  However, in grad school, I realized that I did not find bench chemistry research beautiful.  In fact, I found it painful and boring. Bench chemistry is when you perform experiments, usually at a lab bench.  You can imagine it as somewhere between the middle picture from Breaking Bad and the lower left hand picture of Beaker.  This was the next misconception that I had to overcome.  Not all scientists, do bench chemistry.

This entered me into the world of science education, and it is where I find myself now. I have discovered that the science that I love to study is how to improve the learning and teaching process and bring it to everyone.  I started a science nonprofit that brings free science experiments to the kids of Denver Public Schools, and I study how we can use activities and experiments to help students overcome their own misconceptions that they have about science.

So that is the first post.  Next time I post, I will continue on about the research of misconceptions, but I do not want this to get to long. This blog will feature the research of several different scientists, mathmaticians, nurses, doctors, engineers, and tech guys.  I invite you to learn more about everything that STEM has to offer, and perhaps eliminate some of your own misconceptions of these fields.

For more information about the nonprofit, please visit: http://www.innercityscience.org

If you know a STEM individual that you believe would like to contribute, please have them email me at: innercityscience@gmail.com

This blog is in association with the nonprofit.