SLATE & CHALK e=mc2einstein-144x144 image

New York — Malaysia today became a founding partner in the Global STEM Alliance, a new high-tech multi-million dollar initiative dedicated to promoting young talent in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) around the world.

Led by the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak participated in the launch at UN Headquarters Monday Sept. 22.

With the goal of developing over 1,000,000 aspiring STEM leaders in more than 100 countries by 2020, the initiative will create a host of learning opportunities, including student connections and networking online with senior international mentors — the many NYAS member Nobel laureates among them.

The Alliance is a collaboration of over 70 governments, companies, NGOs, universities and schools with participants and organizations in over 50 countries. Founding nations and regions of the Global STEM Alliance are the USA, Malaysia, Rwanda, Benin, Bhutan, Barcelona and New York State.

Says the Prime Minister: “Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are at the heart of modern life and provide the foundations for economic prosperity. The purpose of driving STEM education is not only to create economic opportunity for individuals; it’s to provide the fuel needed to power a science and technology driven economy.”

Other world leaders participating in the New York launch included President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, President Yayi Boni of Benin, United States Under-Secretary of State Catherine Novelli, and representatives from UNESCO and the UN’s International Telecommunication Union.

Climate change, food, water and energy shortages, epidemics and the explosive growth of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are among the demands that need to be met by an innovative, STEM-educated workforce.

Yet in emerging economy nations, where innovation is needed the most, there are far too few work-ready STEM professionals.

The Alliance will focus on three strategies: intergenerational mentoring, building foundational skills and building a global network of STEM innovators.

It will create:

  • a global resource for the best available STEM teaching and learning materials
  • enhanced, customized STEM education programs designed to foster youth interests
  • a global mentoring and networking medium for top scientists and STEM students,
  • a connection between STEM leaders worldwide and local STEM programs

The Alliance’s first major initiative: The Junior Academy, a virtual learning and research platform to inspire and prepare gifted students around the world. The platform will include novel talent identification mechanisms, course work and authentic virtual research experiences, access to mentors, and a virtual writing center—tools that are especially valuable in developing, rural or impoverished urban areas, where qualified STEM instructors can be scarce.

CISCO Systems is a partner in the Alliance, creating the online networking and communications platforms enabling online courses, participation in Academy conferences, workshops, seminars, and other activities via laptops or smartphones, providing access to the best STEM learning resources via any web-enabled device, and virtual partnerships leading to inter-generational global projects.

At the UN launch ceremony, Prime Minister Najib’s wife, HE Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansor, was recognized with a STEM Hero Award. Additional Malaysian participants in the program included Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan, Advisor, PERMATA Pintar Programme, Universiti Kebangsaan, as a global implementation expert.

Says Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to the Malaysian Prime Minister and co-chair of Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT): “Countries will either have creative, educated young citizens who can out-innovate global competitors such as China and India or they will lag far behind in the world economy. Our generation has to invest in and develop STEM education and talent to the limits of our ability, to find a way to get and keep kids interested — to make STEM fields as fun as football fields. I believe the Global STEM Alliance contributes a big piece in the solution to this puzzle.”

Among sectors of the world economy expected to add the greatest number of high-paying but STEM education pre-requisite jobs: advanced manufacturing, automotive, construction, financial services, geospatial technology, security, information technology, transportation, aerospace, biotechnology, energy, healthcare, hospitality and retail.

Original release:

Henry Sapiecha


Research currently underway at MIT’s Distributed Robotic Laboratory (DRL) could lead to an innovative replicative manufacturing technique with the disruptive potential equal to that of 3D printing. Imagine a sand-like material that could autonomously assemble itself into a replica of any object encased within. Incredible though this may sound, the DRL researchers have already managed to build a large scale proof-of-concept, with 10-mm cubes acting as the grains.

Before we go into how these cubes – or “smart pebbles” – work, let’s sketch out the general concept. The idea is to create objects using a subtractive method, where excess material is removed just like when carving in stone. Each grain of smart sand would be a self-contained micro computer. These tiny machines would use an elaborate algorithm to communicate with the neighboring particles in order to establish the exact position and shape of the input object so that it can be replicated.

The already mentioned smart pebbles demonstrate this principle in a more easily understandable 2D setting. First the pebbles establish which of them border on the perimeter of the object to be replicated. Once identified, these particles pass on a message to their neighbors, and effectively specific particles selected by the algorithm are notified that an identical (or scaled) arrangement should be recreated a safe distance away, so that the two shapes do not overlap.

Once the perimeter of the copy is identified, the pebbles within that area bond to each other, while the redundant material simply falls away. The resultant object would be solid, but it could be easily deconstructed simply by putting it back into the heap of smart sand. The constituent grains would detach from each other and the whole process could be repeated with an entirely new shape.

Each smart pebble cube used for testing was equipped with a set of electro-permanent magnets on four sides. The magnetic properties of such magnets can be switched on and off using electrical impulses, but unlike electromagnets, they do not require electricity to sustain these properties over time. With each particle neighboring on eight other particles in a 2D scenario, the magnets allow for selective bonding with any of the neighbors. However, the magnets also play a role in communication and power sharing.

Each smart pebble was also fitted with a rudimentary microprocessor capable of storing 32 kilobytes of code and boasting two kilobytes of working memory. With such limited processing power at the disposal of a single unit, the main computational heft had to fall on the distributed intelligence algorithm that constitutes the core of the current DRL endeavors.

“How do you develop efficient algorithms that do not waste any information at the level of communication and at the level of storage?” asks Daniela Rus, a computer science and engineering professor at MIT. The answer to that question is likely to be found in a paper that Rus co-authored with her student, Kyle Gilpin, and which is going to be presented in May at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

The algorithms developed at DRL have already been shown to work robustly with 3D scenarios, where the bed of smart sand would be divided into layers, each constituting a separate 2D grid. Now the only thing that stops smart sand from joining 3D printing in revolutionizing the world of rapid manufacturing is getting the scale right.

But according to Robert Wood, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Harvard University, this is not an issue. Wood reckons recreating the functionalities of the smart pebbles in smaller scale is feasible. Yes, it would require quite a lot of engineering, but the goal is well defined and reachable. “That’s a well-posed but very difficult set of engineering challenges that they could continue to address in the future.”, he says. If Wood is right, the future of subtractive manufacturing is bright.

Watch the video below to find out more about the algorithm behind smart pebbles.

Source: MIT

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha