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What do we do?
Energy and Electronics are a major part of our world and our quality of life. Understanding how to produce energy and design electronics for generations to come requires not only a basic scientific understanding of what electrons do and why they do it, but also a wider, bigger view of the many impacts that energy and electronics have on our growing world. In reaching out to the community, our goal is to teach on topics of electricity and energy and their impacts in a way that is understandable and appealing to everyone from elementary school age to retirement.

Our lectures are 30-50 minute talks whose content is tailored to the age and education of each audience.

Our workshops are interactive, hands-on learning activities from 30 - 120 minutes long.

Our exhibits are intended for science and career fairs as well as other public information events, designed to engage visitors of all ages.

More Lectures

Detailed Descriptions of our Lectures, Workshops, and Exhibits

E-waste, E-toxics, E-pressing
With more and more pressure to recycle into more and more bins, it becomes more and more tempting to give in to overload and give up on minimizing our own daily contribution to the toxification of our environment. Whether at home or in the office, the sheer range and complexity of the many things we discard is overwhelming.

Of the many things we discard, however, few are as toxic to environment and public health as electronic waste. And, as pressure increases to recover precious metals and rare earth elements from our discarded electronics, recycling is at risk of becoming just as dangerous to air, water, and soil quality as illegal dumping. Yet, the ubiquitous nature of electronics all around us and the ever increasing pressure to decrease product development and product lifetime makes it equally ever more difficult to make good decisions about how we choose new electronics and how we dispose of the old ones. Few realize that electronics are the #1 source of heavy metal toxificiation in our waste, accounting for almost 80% of the those metals that rest in landfills, and making a disproportionate contribution to the leaching of these toxins into soil and groundwater.

Yet, even if the e-toxics in e-waste are truly e-pressing, what can an ordinary consumer or office worker really do to mitigate the problem? Isn’t recycling batteries and toner cartridges enough? Is dropping an aged and no longer desirable mobile phone into the appropriate bin a step in the right direction or a negligible drop in a gargantuan bucket?

In this lecture and discussion, we will look at the electronics and components that have the most harmful impact on environment and public health and corresponding means to dispose of or recycle them most effectively. We will also look at where the electronic waste stream goes and how it impacts both developing and developed countries. Although many formal collection programs now exist to support the safe and efficiently recycling and disposal of e-waste, there are still many loopholes through which E-waste can fall, into places where it creates havoc with public health and ecosystem alike.

E-waste, E-toxics, E-ducation…. can turn a jumbled patchwork of recycling and marketing messages into a streamlined strategy for discarded refrigerator and mobile phone alike.

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Plastic Planet
Electronic devices and equipment, like almost all modern products, contain plastic and plenty o fit. By their very nature, plastics are designed to last for a very long time, if not forever. Yet, Americans alone dispose of over 33 million tons of plastic every year. How could this be? How could we reach a point that we are disposing more and more rapidly things that are fundamentally designed to last longer and longer?

Plastics are lightweight, convenient, and inexpensive. They are used in an incredibly broad range of products. Water bottles. PVC pipe in plumbing. Grocery bags. Cutlery. Plates. Electronic enclosures for everything from circuit breaker boxes to consumer electronics. Television sets. Automobiles. Food containers. And the list goes on. And on.

Almost as broad in their spectrum of use is the range of plastics used to meet product demand. Polyvinyl chloride. Polystyrene. Polypropylene. Polyethylene. Poly. Poly. Poly. Add to the basic plastic a heterogeneous batch of additives on top. Stabilizers. Softeners. Colorants. And the list goes on. And on.

In the end, we have a planet increasingly filled with plastics. Designed to last forever, plastics do not biodegrade as many materials do once they have reached the end of their useful life. Instead, plastics photodegrade. They become brittle and break into many, increasingly smaller plastics until they permeate the oceans and to a lesser extent the land.

In this lecture and discussion, we will look at the many different types of plastic and their impact on public health and environment and corresponding means to dispose of or recycle them most effectively. We will also look at plastic in the world's oceans and the tremendous, complex, and long term impact that increasing volume of plastic has on marine life and ecosystem health.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 .... Plastics…. are a technology whose unanticipated consequences (and use) are far reaching, yet American consumers hold tremendous power to redirect what plastics have become and what they can do to the planet during this generation and for generations to come.

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Enormous Electricity
Worldwide, we consume over 20,000 Tera Watt hours of electricity every year. That's the equivalent of 57 trillion refrigerators or 200 trillion 100 Watt light bulbs operating year round. Where is all that electricity coming from? And, just as importantly, what is it doing to our environment?

In days when eco-friendly is in and fossil-use is out, it’s easy to think there are two forms of energy to feed our electricity needs: renewable and non-renewable. It gets much more complicated than that, though. Electricity can be generated from a broad range of sources from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, oil) to biomass (wood, crop waste) to renewable sources (water, sun, wind). The way in which electricity is generated to meet regional demand varies widely not only by what is available but also by political and other sociocultural pressures that prefer some forms of generating electricity over others. Coal and natural gas, while abundant and inexpensive, have serious environmental impacts. Water, wind, and sun are much cleaner, but are generally more expensive and have their own unique impacts on the environment.

In this lecture and discussion, we’ll take a look at some of the major ways to produce or generate electricity including coal, nuclear, solar, hydroelectric, and wind. We’ll also share some insider tips into which combinations of what types of electricity generation make the most sense in different parts of the world, including the Pacific Northwest. The environmental impacts of each form of electricity production are also surveyed. How does one compare the overall goodness of wind energy to that of hydroelectric (water) energy? What is a fair comparison between coal and natural gas? How is it possible to compare the efficiency of burning coal to that of converting the sun's energy to electricity?

Answers to all these questions play into the larger challenge of developing central power plants over the long haul but also the smaller scale choices that both residential and industrial stakeholders make in how buildings are constructed, devices used, and local power generation systems installed.

While electricity production may seem to be a large, centralized effort with little opportunity for the individual consumer to effect in a positive or meaningful way, there are, in fact, many choices the consumer can make to limit the negative impacts of electricity demand and use.

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Many Speeds of Electricity
We notice electricity most when it is moving, when a charge is striving to get from one place to the next, if only to travel around a loop and then do it again. In fact, it is electricity in motion that serves our world, by powering our lights, our heaters, our refrigerators, our televisions, and all manner of consumer electronics. But, electricity that sits still or is static is also all around us... lurking, awaiting an opportunity to be know, observed, and understood.

In this workshop, we will take a good look at static electricity, how electrons can be observed when they are not moving, and what it takes to get electrons moving. We'll get hands-on and generate our own static electricity using it to entice rice to dance and hair to stand on end. We'll also learn how a plasma ball works and persuade electricity to choose us (the path of least resistance) over air. We'll also take a look at the invisible electricity that resides and changes on the human body every time we move, every time we walk, and every time we blink.

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The Glowing Pickle
Our first introduction to electricity often comes when we see a thunder and lightning storm. Millions of volts dance in the clouds over head and occasionally, through a well placed lightning bolt, travel to the earth through a tree, or sometimes, a human being. While we can't create clouds and millions of volts in the classroom, we can simulate what goes on up there in the clouds with a pickle. Indeed, plugging a simple pickle into a wall outlet can produce the same effects as a thunder and lightning storm, although not quite as dangerous.

In this workshop, we will stalk the ordinary pickle as it goes from a simple resistor, to a puff of steam, to a capacitor, and then an arcing display of lightning, complete with a salt-induced glow and the smell of burning sugar that will intrigue learners of all ages.

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Jewelry from Electronic Waste
Missing a pair of earrings? Looking for a brand new look to wear to school tomorrow? Looking for a birthday gift for Mom? Here’s a great opportunity for you to repurpose electronic waste into your own custom designed, jewelry. Whether, it's a simple pair of earrings or a more complicated necklace design, you'll have the opportunity to fashion electronic waste into a beautiful custom design that will not only look good but also make good use of electronic waste that might otherwise end up in a landfill.

This workshop gives a brief introduction to electronic waste and then follows up with plenty of hands-on time to craft jewelry from multiple forms of electronic waste components, including resistors, capacitors, transistors, and many more. Join us, as we explore a great opportunity to repurpose and re-use electronic waste.

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The Dark Side of Electronic Waste
This exhibit begins with a series of carnival games including The Ring Toss, The Bean Bag Toss, and The Duck Pond. Level of difficulty is varied by age and physical height to keep the challenge going for all participants. Once a participant "wins" one of the carnival games, he (she) is awarded a token to forage through The E-Waste Pile. The goal of foraging through the E-Waste Pile is to identify the waste electronic that is most lucrative to recycle = will give the recycling worker the most $$$ return on the investment in recycling the electronic. The selected piece is then taken to The Buyer who will explain what it is that is valuable in the waste electronic and will also provide monetary reward that is related to how much the waste electronic is worth. This (play) money can then be used at the store to purchase various prizes that reflect the profit (immediate monetary) gratification of recycling purely for money's sake.

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The Green Side of Electronic Waste
This exhibit also begins with a series of carnival games including The Ring Toss, The Bean Bag Toss, and The Duck Pond. Level of difficulty is varied by age and physical height to keep the challenge going for all participants. Once a participant "wins" one of the carnival games, he (she) is awarded a token to forage through The E-Waste Pile. The goal of foraging through the E-Waste Pile is to identify the waste electronic that is most beneficial to recycle = will result in recycling that results in the most and best environmental impact. The selected piece is then taken to The Buyer who will explain what it is that is so environmentally harmful in the waste electronic. At this point, The Buyer will also provide environmental (green money) reward that is related to how much proper recycling of the chosen waste electronic can reduce impact on health and planet. This (play) green money can then be used at the store to purchase various prizes that reflect the environmental (GREEN) gratification of recycling for the improvement and sustainability of both public and environmental health.

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What is it?
Electronics take a huge range of form, shape, and function. In this exhibit, participants will have the opportunity to take a look and touch common electronics that are not immediately recognizable and surmise as to what these electronics do and how they do it. Exhibit teachers will be on hand to explain the function and use of these electronics.

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Impacts of Digital Technology on the Mind
While the jury is still out on whether digital technology has an overall positive or negative impact on cognitive skills and abilities, a wide range of studies have now proven specific relationships between the use of certain types of digital technology and how the mind functions. How does media multitasking impact academic skills including recognition, recall, math, and reading comprehension? What is the net result on academic outcomes like GPA? How does consistent use of digital technology from a young age affect how the mind grows, develops, and matures? How do video games and social media affect identity formation, especially in adolescence?

This lecture and discussion will look at these and other complex relationships and impacts that digital technology has on how the human mind functions, matures, and strengthens over the course of a lifetime.

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Impacts of Digital Technology on Mental Health
It can be incredibly difficult to prove that the use of certain types of digital technology, such as social media, actually improves or damages mental health. However, a wide range of research studies have spoken to strong relationships between certain mental health issues and specific types of digital technology use. What is the relationship between Facebook and various forms of depression? Between Facebook friends and narcissism? Between checking text messages and bipolar disorders? This lecture and discussion will focus on the increasing and increasingly broad range of studies that point to digital technology as a potential enabler and catalyst to certain forms of mental health challenges. Even in the vastly sophisticated technological age in which we live, research results can be distilled into an age-old bottom line: Everything in moderation.

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Health Impacts of Mobile Device Use
Recently, the media has cast a frequent spotlight to potential brain (and related) cancer risk induced by mobile device use. The long latency of brain cancer and difficulty in identifying specific use and behavior patterns among mobile device users hinders the process of proving cancer risk. However, a deeper look into the research does indeed show that mobile device use (and storage) can impact certain parts of the body, particularly reproductive organs for both men and women. Yet, does this effect extend to the brain and cancer?

This lecture and discussion takes a closer look at what has been proven regarding mobile phone use and health while examining what the emerging and growing body of research is saying about longer term impacts such as brain cancer, other tumors in the head and face, and other health impacts. While mobile phone use has largely been regarded as safe because of the fact that mobile devices emit non-ionizing radiation, this simple view of radiation and its effects may not be sufficient to understand what mobile devices are really doing to our health.

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