Orange, silver and gold – a quick lesson in density

Which is more dense – an orange inside its skin or an orange that has been peeled?

Parents can easily conduct an experiment on density at home. It’s fun for mom and dad to perform hands-on science experiments together, so we created a low-cost experiment that uses household items.

First, get a clear vessel – such as a big glass bowl – and fill it with water. Then grab various items such as fruit (oranges and apples), corks, coins, rocks and a half-filled water bottle.

With younger children, ask them if the cork or the rock would sink. For older children, present a real-life situation such as the sinking of the Titanic. Ask real-life density examples such as how does a life jacket provide flotation and how does a massive steel ship float.

For those students who excel at the toughest density experiments, it’s time to present the Archimedes’ principle for density. An ancient Greek mathematician and engineer, Archimedes devised a method to test if a crown was forged of solid gold, or if silver diluted the gold crown of King Hiero II. When submerged in water, the crown would displace an amount of water equal to its own volume. This density would be lower than that of gold if cheaper and less dense metals had been added. Archimedes’ experiment proved that silver had been added to the king’s crown.

I would hate to be that goldsmith who cheated the king!

To try this at home, parents should explain the principle of density and perform the experiment. To test your child’s knowledge, ask him or her to explain the concept and perform the experiment on their own then justify the result.”

Ah, and to the question posed at the beginning of this story – did you get the right answer? The peeled orange sinks like a rock. The rind of an orange is full of tiny air pockets which help give it a lower density than water, making it float to the surface.


31b427840dThis school year is well underway and we’re getting close to the holidays when kids tend to lose their focus.  Grab their attention back with some awesome hands on STEM activities. Need a few ideas?  Check out this great site from the people at PBS, Design Squad Nation. This resource is full of different engineering challenges, animations, videos, and episodes of kids taking on real-world engineering challenges. 



A classroom favorite, Zip Line, gets your students thinking about friction, center of gravity, and much more while they design a contraption that will carry a ping pong ball down a zip line.  Need help explaining center of gravity?  Check out the short animation they have to help give the kids a visual!


Most activities come with lesson plans and handouts in English and Spanish, as well as materials list to make planning that much easier.  Give it a try and join the conversation on Facebook to let us know how it went in your classroom!

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Going From STEM to STEAM — The Arts Have a Role in America’s Future, Too

Joseph Piro, Education Week

In education circles, STEM—the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—has been gathering, for want of a better descriptor, “alpha” status. Not only has President Barack Obama announced a $250 million public-private initiative to recruit and train more STEM teachers, but also the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top Fund grants competition is giving bonus points for applications that stress STEM instruction.

This funding is on top of the nearly $700 million the federal government already spends on science and math education programs within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies. Factor in what’s earmarked by individual states for STEM and a picture emerges of where a lot of tax money is rightfully going.

This generous support is being allocated in the belief (or fear) that the United States is becoming less competitive and secure, that we are losing our global-leader status in STEM fields and being eclipsed by other countries, mostly in Asia.

Yet, in the midst of all the STEM frenzy, we may want to do something riskier, and more imaginative, to save the country: turn STEM funding into STEAM funding. Inserting the letter A, for the arts, into the acronym could afford us even greater global advantage.

Many may be puzzled by this statement, considering that the arts have held a traditionally marginalized place in both American society and the school curriculum. And, in the eyes of some, support for the arts has a dubious payback, especially in areas of national concern such as defense, homeland security, and technology. The arts are something we do when we stop being serious. Friday afternoons spent drawing turkeys, pumpkins, and valentines in more classrooms than one might think can attest to this.

But just consider the following. A 2008 study from the National Endowment for the Arts, “Artists in the Workforce,” showed that individuals involved in the arts represent a sizable branch of the labor force, only slightly smaller than the total number of active-duty and reserve personnel in the U.S. military. What may also be surprising to some is that artists make up a larger occupational group than lawyers, medical doctors, or agricultural workers. The size of the artistic community gives it an astonishing $70 billion aggregate annual income. The country’s $316 billion communication and entertainment business employs a diverse range of artists, including musicians, actors, filmmakers, videographers, and architects. It is probably safe to say that most of these people prepared for their careers by participating in some sort of arts education program…


Joseph Piro is an associate professor of curriculum and instruction in the school of education at Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus, in Brookville, N.Y.

Teachers, what do you think?

Energy Education Materials are a Hit!

Guest Author – Mary Spruill, Executive Director, National Energy Education Development Project (NEED)

Energy4Me materials developed in partnership with NEED are a huge hit and will be used by NEED’s trainers throughout the 2011-2012 school year.

Throughout the year, The NEED Project ( and Energy4me, the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) energy education program, work together on many energy education activities including the Teacher and Student Workshop at the Offshore Technology Conference and the Teacher and Student Workshop at SPE’s ATCE.  Each summer though, NEED’s energy programs get bigger and faster paced with so many kids and teachers to reach in only a few short weeks.  This June and July were no exception with over 550 kids and teachers in Washington, D.C. to participate in the 31st Annual NEED Youth Awards for Energy Achievement.  This event recognizes school groups who commit to learning about energy and to sharing their knowledge with their peers, their teachers and their communities.  Students submit portfolios of  their energy programming in April for review at the state and national level, and the winning schools come spend 4 days in the Nation’s Capital sharing their energy work, touring our monuments and museums, and meeting with elected and appointed officials.

On a sleepy Sunday morning during the conference – the kids are up early and working on hands-on activities featuring the lessons provided by Energy4Me and some lessons that NEED and Energy4Me created together.  The students are learning about porosity and permeability, and the work needed to bring oil and natural gas to market.  They learn about transportation efficiency too and consider ways to make the vehicles of tomorrow and their own driving habits more efficient too.  The activities from Energy4Me are engaging, fun, and provide students with the background they need to really understand the oil and natural gas resources we use each day.  They leave with big smiles, new friends, and new activities to take home to their communities and share.

As soon as the Youth Awards wraps up, NEED’s training team heads out to the NEED National Energy Conference for Educators.  This year’s conference in Denver, Colorado hosted 150 educators from across the country and from Thailand and the Saipan.  For a week, the educators were like students at summer camp – learning about each other and about energy so they could return to their classrooms and teach energy with excitement and fun.  The Energy4Me activities and the presentation resources allow students and teachers alike to look more deeply into oil and natural gas development and use.  This year’s opening speaker was Don McClure, Vice President for Community Relations, Legal and Finance at EnCana, one of America’s largest natural gas producers.  Don’s extensive background in energy provided teachers with a look at how diverse the industry is, the number of jobs available for all types of students, and the challenges and opportunities that abound in developing natural gas in America.  In the days that followed, teachers learned about density, drilling technologies, properties of oil and natural gas and are prepared to take the lessons home and open up the oil and natural gas world to their students.

But that’s not all.  After Denver, the team packed up and traveled to La Quinta, California for NEED’s Facilitator Training Conference.  This conference is hosted every few years and brings together teachers, NEED’s training staff, and energy professionals from many companies and  agencies to sharpen their facilitation skills, to train on new content and new materials, and to learn how to deliver energy curriculum and training to teachers in NEED’s 600+ energy trainings each year.  This year’s group of 40 trainers rolled up their sleeves and researched and presented about America’s leading energy sources, they debated the advantages and disadvantages of the energy sources we use today, and they developed methods to share energy information with teachers and students nationwide. The It is a busy (but fun!) summer and together with SPE, NEED is reaching thousands of teachers and students each year.  As America’s teachers head back to school this month, let’s take a minute to thank them and to encourage them to teach about energy as often as possible in class!

For the 2011-2012 NEED curriculum guides or to register for a NEED workshop near you visit!


North-east schools get educated at All-Energy 2011

All-Energy hosted an Education Day at its 2011 conference Thursday 19th May to help educate local schools about a range of renewable topics.

Organised by Aberdeen Council, Aberdeenshire Council, the Energy Institute and the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) Aberdeen, the event is aimed at teachers and careers advisors to help raise awareness of the Renewable sector.

The event also hosted the final of the ‘Electrocity Challenge’ where five teams of four children from Meldrum Academy, Peterhead Academy, Mackie Academy, Turriff Academy and Mintlaw Academy went head to head in an “ElectroCity” Competition.   ElectroCity is an online game that has been developed specifically for teachers and students between years 7 and 9. Students build and manage their own virtual towns and cities, making important decisions and learning about energy generation and environmental management. Representatives from a range of businesses led round tables to provide valuable industry information to subject-specialist teachers and career guidance experts.

Colin Black, SPE CG Chairman, Aberdeen Section, said:  “This event focuses on sharing information with teachers and pupils so they are better informed about the ‘whole energy’ sector and careers within it.  This includes the ‘energy mix’ of hydrocarbons and renewable as well as the vital role the oil and gas sector plays now and in the future.

This is a global energy industry with many opportunities for young people – SPE Aberdeen aims to continue to provide background information, facts, guidance on career paths and information on how to enter the industry.  This event is a positive step towards this.” 

SPE Aberdeen, along with other hosts, provided tour guides for teachers and pupils to meet many of the businesses exhibiting at the show. 

SPE collaboration with Schools is part of the global SPE initiative  and SPE volunteers will be working closely with Schools during various events throughout this next term and anyone wishing to lend support should contact the Aberdeen Section, Career Guidance Committee at

Congratulations to SPE member Belinda Wu “New Faces of Engineering” 2011 honoree!

This year the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) is proud to announce that Belinda Wu, an SPE member, was among the New Faces of Engineering honorees for 2011.

Each year, National Engineers Week Foundation, a coalition of engineering societies, major corporations and government agencies, asks its members to nominate colleagues 30 years old and younger for consideration as one of the New Faces of Engineering. The work of the 2011 class reflects many of the most pressing issues that engineers are endeavoring to solve on a global scale, including energy resources, infrastructure renewal, technological advancement and national security.

Belinda Wu is currently a reservoir engineer for Woodside Energy Ltd. in Perth, Australia. She is passionate about her work because it is so dynamic, facing different challenges from day to day. As a reservoir engineer in the oil and gas industry, her job involves finding and extracting hydrocarbons from reservoir rock deep below the surface of the earth. Much of the world’s energy is sourced from oil and gas, so her work involves constantly improving on technologies that will enable more hydrocarbons to be extracted in a cost effective manner. She is excited about being an engineer. She chose her career because she enjoys the thrill of solving complex problems and likes the flexibility to work on site or in the office.  Plus, working in the oil and gas industry gives her the opportunity to travel.

Wu is currently a member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers and serves on the young professionals coordinating committee in the Western Australian section. She is also a 2010 SPE regional award winner for outstanding young professional.

Wu holds a bachelor degree with honors in chemical engineering from the University of Adelaide. The petroleum engineering profession includes chemical, mechanical, civil, electrical and marine engineers, as well as those with degrees in petroleum engineering.

Read more about the New Faces of Engineering honorees for 2011 or learn more about engineering careers.

Join in the fun and help celebrate Engineers Week February 20-26!

Engineers Week is a global program that promotes math, science and technological literacy while encouraging students to consider a career in engineering by raising awareness of the positive contributions engineers make in today’s society. This year’s events will take place February 20-26, 2011, with additional events in March.

The Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) is a sponsoring society of Engineers Week and hopes to attract bright young people to the exciting world of engineering. Many of SPE’s local sections use Energy4me to bring Engineers Week to their communities through activities such as:

  • Giving classroom presentations

Energy – Making Our Lives Easier (elementary)

Petroleum Engineers Make a World of Difference (intermediate/secondary)

Game – Petroleum Engineers Make a World of Difference (intermediate/secondary)

Energy’s Grand Challenges (educators/adults)

Energy Sources of the World  (educators, adults, intermediate and secondary)

  • Organizing student tours of interesting engineering achievements in the community
  • Sponsoring materials for a teacher workshop
  • Judging local Future City™ competitions
  • Offering art or essay contests for students on the importance of engineering
  • Purchasing Oil and Natural Gas books and Energy4me Kits to donate to schools
  • Holding “Introduce a Girl to Engineering” events
  • Hosting “Engineer for a Day” programs in which high school students shadow engineers for one day
  • Presenting annual engineering scholarships awards banquets
  • Teaming with other organizations in your community for an expanded outreach

Need ideas to get started? Check out the Engineers Week website for tips to jumpstart your Engineers Week celebration with special programs like “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” and National Engineers Week Future City™ Competition.

Visit to learn more about engineering careers

SPE Pittsburgh Petroleum Section Participating in Engineers Week at Carnegie Science Center

Guest Author – By Donna Marcotte, SPE Pittsburgh Petroleum Section, Board Member

Student and professional members from the Pittsburgh Petroleum Section of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) will present demonstrations, exhibits, and hands-on activities at the Carnegie Science Center Engineers Week event on February 18 and 19.

SPE Pittsburgh has been participating in this event for more than 10 years and is a contributing sponsor this year.

The SPE booth will feature petroleum engineering students from Pennsylvania State University (PSU), the SPE student chapter affiliate of the Pittsburgh professional section. The PSU SPE members will engage Pittsburgh area students in various activities and exhibits, developed by the students and contributed by various SPE Pittsburgh members and companies.

Booth activities will include various materials, samples, experiments and games—with lots of prizes and give-ways. Professional SPE members from the greater Pittsburgh area will also be on hand to help students with the materials and answer questions.

Companies contributing to the success of this event include: Baker Hughes, Burnett Oil, Centric Performance, EKT Interactive, EQT, EXCO Resources, Range Resources, Schlumberger, and Superior Well Services.

This year’s co-chairs for the SPE Pittsburgh booth are area residents and SPE members, Melissa Ramirez, a petroleum engineer at EXCO Resources, Inc. and Bill Thomas, a consultant with Centric Performance, LLC and member of the Marcellus Resource Group.

“This industry offers so much opportunity for anyone interested in any kind of engineering or earth science, such as geology,” explains Ramirez, also a PSU graduate. “It’s a chance to contribute daily to solving the world’s energy problems.”

“We want to get the word out to area students, so they can get the right education and take advantage of these exciting career opportunities, which are now right in their own backyards,” states Thomas.

Petroleum Industry Full Circle in Pennsylvania

Many credit Titusville, Pa., just north of Pittsburgh, as the birthplace of the modern oil and gas industry, when in 1859 Edwin Drake drilled the first commercial oil well. Oil production in Pennsylvania peaked in the early 20th century, and oil and gas production has continued over the years without a lot of fanfare. Since 2005, however, the industry has seen resurgence in the area with exploration and development of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, a vast geological formation that spans six states, including a large portion of Pennsylvania.

New technologies—developed and deployed by engineers from many different disciplines—have made extracting natural gas from shale technologically and economically feasible. Many experts believe that the Marcellus Shale will provide a huge natural gas source for Northeast U.S. markets and a vital boost to the local economy in increased tax revenue, business activity, and good-paying jobs.

About Engineers Week

The Engineers Week event at the Carnegie Science Center celebrates engineering achievements and provides an opportunity to reach out to students K-12th grade and introduce them to exciting careers in engineering.

For more information about the Carnegie Science Center Engineers Week event, visit their website at

For more information about Engineers Week, visit the National Engineers Week Foundation website at

About SPE

The Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) is a not-for-profit professional association whose members are engaged in energy resources development and production. SPE serves 88,000-plus members in 118 countries worldwide. SPE is a key resource for technical knowledge related to the oil and gas exploration and production industry and provides services through its publications, conferences, workshops, forums, and website. Learn more about SPE and its energy education program Energy4me.

With more than 700 professional and student members throughout Western Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Petroleum Section is one of the many affiliated sections and chapters of SPE International, which is headquartered in Richardson, Texas.

One of the primary roles of SPE and the local section is to raise and award scholarships for college students. This year, SPE Pittsburgh will award $15,000 in scholarships to area students. For more information about SPE Pittsburgh, visit

Why would students want to become an engineer?

Guest Author – Marva Morrow, Energy Education Consultant

As students are moving from the classroom to the real world, the biggest question is, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”  Becoming an engineer might be the right career for you if you want to have a career that’s exciting, flexible, and where you can really make a difference!

Did you know that engineering is one of the few fields where you can earn a good salary after only four years of college? In the US, engineers’ starting salary can range from USD 52,048 – USD 83,121 a year depending on which type of engineering field you pursue, according to the National Association of College and Employers (NACE) Engineering salaries have been higher than average salaries for the last 40 years and according to the US Department of Labor, engineers starting salaries are among the highest of all college graduates.

Top-Paid Majors for 2009-10 Bachelor’s Degree Graduates (Source: NACE)

MajorAverage Salary Offer
Petroleum EngineerUSD 77,278
Chemical EngineerUSD 64,889
Mining and Mineral EngineerUSD 63,207
Computer ScienceUSD 60,473
Computer EngineeringUSD 60,396

Engineers are well-paid globally, though salaries will vary depending on the country. For example, typical starting salaries for petroleum engineers in the UK range from £29,000 – £36,500, according to salary data collected August 2009 (USD 36,000-USD 49,000). The Society of Petroleum Engineers has just published its 2010 salary survey that shows salaries based on years of experience in different parts of the world.

Besides earning a great salary, engineers can choose to work in the field or in the office. In certain industries, some engineers travel around the world working from one site to another. Since science and technology are constantly advancing, there will always be new problems to solve making a career as an engineer always exciting! Engineers are constantly challenged to “think outside of the box” and to explore new possibilities, making our lives better.

Science and technology are the gateway to tomorrow and someone will be engineering it. WHY NOT YOU!

Learn more about engineering careers.