Inspiring Tomorrow’s Engineers

One of the things I love about the readers of Energy Girl 101 (yes, that would be you) is that you send me links to things I might be interested in reading about.  So far, you’ve been right!  Keep it up!  Recently, I got an email suggesting I check out a new toy company, GoldieBlox.  Now whether I was sent this because of my irrepressible love of LEGOs and building things or because I think the world needs more women in STEM fields, I don’t know. However, both are true.

So what is GoldieBlox?  Let me start off by saying that I’m not associated with GoldieBlox in any way.  After reading their story and checking out their site, I am a fan of the idea.

This is a company designing construction toys for girls.  Now you may be thinking that there are plenty of building toys out there.  You’ve got LEGOs, Gears, Lincoln Logs, Magformers, K’NEX… What makes these special?  Other construction toys take the same toys designed with boys in mind and turn them pink.  As the creator of GoldieBlox, Debbie Sterling says, “Girls do like pink.  I think there’s a lot more to us than that.”  She’s right, you know.  You are allowed to like pink and want to build stuff.  


During her research into the things that would make a construction toy appeal to girls, she discovered that “Boys like to build.  Girls like to read.”  What Debbie has done is create a line of construction toys and paired it with a book series.  As the story moves along, kids get to build what’s in the book, right along with Goldie.  In Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine, Goldie builds a machine to help her dog chase his tail. She builds a belt drive.  After reading that on their website, I had a moment of “oh right, that’s what a belt drive is”.  Showing little girls this and telling them what it’s called is kind of awesome in and of itself.

GoldieBlox’s wildly popular YouTube video shows girls taking their tea sets, pink feathered boas, and other toys from “the pink aisle” and turning them into a giant Rube Goldberg machine.  What I love best about this video is that it takes the Beastie Boys Girls which is…well, you know the song.  It isn’t exactly about empowering girls.  GoldieBlox flips it on its head and these lyrics are all about “girl power.”



English: Shelves with pink girls toys, Canada 2011

English: Shelves with pink girls toys, Canada 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Why do we need something like this?  Let’s face the facts.  Women are underrepresented in the fields of engineering, technology, science, and math.  This isn’t new information.


At the Offshore Technology Conference in May 2013, the CEO of Petrobras, Maria das Gracas Silva Foster, commented on the number of women in the energy industry during her WISE Women’s talk.  Even finding statistics on the number of women in the energy sector is a challenge. There are some numbers I dug up from 2007 released by World Petroleum Council.   At that time only 12% of Exxon executives were female.  That number was up from 9% in 2000.  According to CNN Money, Exxon Mobil has more than 99,000 employees. The number of technical recruits in the industry that are women was 20%.  The number is growing, but many of the number are in positions such as human resources, communications, law, and finance.  The industry falls in line with numbers from the Association for Women in Science.


According to the Association for Women in Science, women only represent 24% of the STEM workforce.  The reasons for women dropping out of the STEM workforce is telling.



Founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, Debbie Sterling’s story is a perfect example of why this issue needs to be addressed.  This Stanford educated engineer had no idea what engineering was until high school.  Her math teacher suggested it as a college major for her.  When she gave it a shot, she was bothered by how few women were in her program.  Now obsessed with the notion of “disrupting the pink aisle”, she designed a toy to introduce girls to engineering at a young age.


Building games for girls to inspire future engineers

At GoldieBlox, our goal is to get girls building.  We’re here to help level the playing field in every sense of the phrase.  By tapping into girls’ strong verbal skills, our story + construction set bolsters confidence in spacial skills while giving young inventors the tools they need to build and create amazing things.

In a world where men largely outnumber women in science, technology, engineering, and math…and girls lose interest in these subjects as early as age 8, GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation.  Construction toys develop an early interest in these subjects, but for over a hundred years, they’ve been considered “boys’ toys”.  By designing a construction toy from the female perspective, we aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generations of female engineers. We believe there are a million girls out there who are engineers.  They just might not know it yet.  We think GoldieBlox can show them the way. – GoldieBlox website


Is it a good toy?  I don’t know.  I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet.  Is it a good concept?  Abso-freaking-lutely.


This is what I know.  When my niece was younger, finding toys that didn’t pander to the philosophy that the only things girls want to make are fashion accessories was a huge challenge.  Heading down “the pink aisle” in the stores drove me nuts.  Yes, I’ve got it, all little girls are princesses…I turned to the toy section with chemistry sets and science oriented toys. I came up with kits to make slime and catch bugs. Let me tell you, friends, my niece is not a slime kind of girl. LEGOs? Well, at the time, all of them were definitely designed with boys in mind.  Firemen, policemen, cars, cities, spaceships…is it okay for girls to like this stuff?  Sure!  However, my niece was definitely into pink and anything that was considered “for girls”, and the responses ranged from “eeeww” to “that’s for boys”.  She wanted toys made for girls, and I wanted to show her that she was so much more than just a pretty pink princess. Because it isn’t enough to tell little girls they can change the world. We need to show them too.





‘Til Next Time,






What’s Going On with America’s Gasoline?

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposal for changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) on Friday, November 15, 2013.  The proposal attempts to find the precarious balance between encouraging growth in the biofuels sector and blending more ethanol than some engines can handle safely.

The Renewable Fuel Standard passed in 2007, and, in recent years, the production of biofuels has rapidly increased.  However, gasoline demand did not meet expectations after RFS passed.  The EPA said in a statement, “We are now at the ‘E10 blend wall,’ the point at which the E10 fuel pool is saturated with ethanol.  If gasoline demand continues to decline, as currently forecast, continuing growth in the use of ethanol will require great use of higher ethanol blends such as E15 and E85.”  EPA 2014 RFS Proposal: Industries and Environmentalists React, Conway Irwin, Breaking Energy, November 18, 2013

This proposal decreases the targets for advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel than what is laid out in the Clean Air Act.

Screen shot 2013-11-15 at 4.42.27 PM

Source: EPA

This proposal is viewed as a victory, albeit a conditional one, by refiners.  They say it doesn’t go far enough.  However, it is perceived as a step back in efforts to achieve US energy security and emissions goals by biofuels and environmental groups.

The American Petroleum Institute’s president and chief executive, Jack Gerard expresses concern for American consumers and the reality of cellulosic biofuels, while lauding the EPA’s acknowledgement of the blend wall.

“EPA has acknowledged that the blend wall is a dangerous reality and that breaching it would serious impacts on America’s fuel supply and would be harmful for American consumers.

“While the agency took a step in the right direction, more must be done to ensure Americans have the choice of ethanol-free gasoline for boats and small engines, and to bring their mandates closer to reality on cellulosic biofuels, which do not exist in commercial quantities.

“Congress must protect consumers by repealing this outdated and unworkable program once and for all.” EPA 2014 RFS Proposal: Industries and Environmentalists React, Conway Irwin, Breaking Energy, November 18, 2013

The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association’s North American Representative, Leticia Phillips expresses her disappointment that the RFS proposal minimizes the sugarcane ethanol Brazil is prepared to export to the US, and views the decreases as a step back.

“Slashing the 2014 target for advanced biofuels would be a huge step backwards from the Obama administration’s goal of decreasing greenhouse gases and improving energy security.”

“We are surprised and disappointed that EPA’s proposal minimizes the 650-800 million gallons of sugarcane ethanol Brazil is poised to supply to the United States in 2014.” EPA 2014 RFS Proposal: Industries and Environmentalists React, Conway Irwin, Breaking Energy, November 18, 2013

Other groups weigh in on the issue as well.

Novozymes President, Americas Adam Monroe

“The Renewable Fuel Standard was signed into law to break OPEC’s effects on the nation: high oil and gasoline prices, American dollars going offshore and environmental consequences our grandchildren will endure.”

“We cannot put oil’s interests before the nation’s needs. Blending more renewable fuel means more savings for consumers at the pump.”  EPA 2014 RFS Proposal: Industries and Environmentalists React, Conway Irwin, Breaking Energy, November 18, 2013

American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM):

“EPA’s recognition of the blendwall and the potential adverse effects on consumers is a welcome step, however greater reductions in the biofuel mandate are necessary if consumers are to avoid all the detrimental impacts of the statute.”

“EPA’s actions can only be short-term in nature and point to the need for Congress to work quickly in addressing the severely flawed and totally outdated Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). EPA 2014 RFS Proposal: Industries and Environmentalists React, Conway Irwin, Breaking Energy, November 18, 2013

The creators of the Solar Schools project, the Natural Resources Defense Council recognizes the depth and complications inherent in the issue. “There is no denying that the bulk of today’s conventional corn ethanol carries grave risks to the climate, wildlife, waterways, and food security,” said NRDC’s Franz Matzner in a recent blog post . “It is equally true that as a nation we need low carbon, sustainable biofuels to combat climate change and break our addiction to oil.” 

“…developing sustainable, next generation biofuels is complicated.  It’s technically and economically challenging and it’s not going to happen without ongoing course corrections to ensure the explicit goal of the Renewable Fuel Standard is met—namely to move the country away from polluting fuels like gasoline and today’s corn ethanol and toward sustainable, low-carbon alternatives.” Putting Renewable Fuels Back on Track, Franz Matzner

This isn’t an issue of black and white, do or do not.  When the RFS passed in 2007 it set goals for biofuel usage. (36 billion gallons of biofuel, including 22 billion gallons of non-corn biofuel) Putting Renewable Fuels Back on Track, Franz Matzner.  The provisions for the EPA to make ongoing adjustments were Congress’s recognition of the obstacles that would need to be overcome to reach these goals.  No matter which side you come down on, the EPA appears to be following those directives.

Ultimately, to achieve the goals of the RFS, the key will be expanding next generation fuels that can use a diversity of feedstocks guided by a smart set of policies that protect our biodiversity, food and feed supplies, and climate.  To hit the mark, the biofuels program must not require more consumption of a given feedstock than the environment can comfortably support.  Putting Renewable Fuels Back on Track, Franz Matzner

As in most complex issues, there is no easy fix or solution.  That precarious balance has to be maintained, adjustments will have to be made, and a realistic view of the current situation is crucial.  Does this provide that balance?  Is this a step backward?  Does it go far enough?

‘Til next time,


University of Tulsa Students Take 1st Place in Chem-E-Car Competition

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Student Conference Chem-E-Car Competition, sponsored by Chevron took place November 3, 2013 in San Francisco.  University of Tulsa chemical engineering students brought home 1st place with their “Oxidants Happen” vehicle. 

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The competitive field included 32 teams from around the world.  The annual National Chem-E-Car collegiate competition prods students to test their knowledge of how to power a toy car, roughly the size of a shoe box, for a specific distance.  The tricky part is to control the chemical reaction powering the vehicle to make sure that the car travels the required distance without going over the finish line.  An hour before the competition, teams receive the required weight for their vehicle and the distance to travel.  Precision is the key in this race.  It isn’t about how fast you get to the finish line.  This is about stopping as close to the line as possible.

Students from the University of Tulsa built a car with an 8-cell battery with magnesium and manganese dioxide, a renewable power source, a gear box taken from a model car, and a frame with wheels and axles built out of purchased parts. – Chem car contest for engineering students like Super Bowl, Julian Guthrie, SF Gate, November 3, 2013

The Chem-E car for the winning team earned its name, “Oxidants Happen”, because the team at TU developed their driving mechanism on accident.  This team worked on developing their car for nearly a year.  They began just after the Thanksgiving break last year, and their hard work culminated with the Annual Student Conference Chem-E-Car Competition in San Francisco, CA.

You can watch an interview with some of the team members below.  They discuss the accident that powers their vehicle and provides its name.

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Each team was given a spending limit of $2,000, and the winning team took home a bit of cash for their school.  The purse for this race, $2,000. Teams who entered biologically powered cars, those powered with items such as lemons or beef liver enzymes, received special recognition for their achievement.  On the flip side, if your car smoked, leaked or…combusted, the team was disqualified.

“We’re all about safety, said Professor James Smith, indicating the students decked out in lab coats, protective eye wear, and latex gloves.  Even the floors were covered in plastic.  Professor Cliff Henderson, with the Georgia Institute of Technology’s school of chemical and biomolecular engineering, said the event is about “team building and working collaboratively.”  This is a chance for students to take the classroom knowledge they’ve gained and apply it to problems in the real-world….like energy. (Chem car contest for engineering students like Super Bowl, Julian Guthrie, SF Gate, November 3, 2013)

So how close is close enough?  Well, here are the results from the top three teams.  The University of Tulsa stopped their vehicle just 3.0 centimeters from the finish line.  City College of New York took 2nd place with their car coming to a halt 6.0 centimeters from the finish line, and coming in 3rd was the University of Houston stopping their vehicle 13.0 centimeters from the line.


The University of Tulsa is ranked in the top 100 colleges among doctoral universities according to U.S. News &  World Report’s 2013 edition of America’s Best Colleges. TU students worked on the three-year Challenge X competition to reduce automobile pollution and improve energy consumption, and placed among the top five teams for transforming a 2005 Chevrolet Equinox into a diesel-electric hybrid vehicle.  The university also has a Cyber Corp Program that trains elite squadrons of “cyber warriors”, who work within the U.S. government and military to protect and defend America’s critical infrastructure.  These engineering students are no slouches.  Check out other University of Tulsa achievements here.

The University of Tulsa commitment to the energy industry doesn’t stop there.  TU has created a Masters of Energy Business program for working professionals to become idea generators as well as .  The program is designed to provide the” breadth of business knowledge and skills that energy professionals need to address changing and expanding industry needs”.    The program takes the business practices and principles that you typically find in an MBA program and combines that with today’s energy issues to create a program the is energy focused.  Their website states that the Spring 2014 class is already full.