September 2013

Spotlight on Breakthrough Greater Boston

What happens when Cambridge middle school students commit to 6 years of intensive out-of-school education? A breakthrough – that’s what!

BTBG Middle Schooler

Since 1992 Breakthrough Greater Boston (BTGB), both founded and based in Cambridge, has been providing tuition-free, year-round educational services to the most dedicated and motivated of Cambridge’s (and now Dorchester’s) underserved middle and high school students. Their mission of inspiring excitement for learning, creating paths to college, and promoting careers in education is brought to life through their unique middle school, high school, and teacher training programs.


When students sign on for this rigorous program in the sixth grade, they get a taste for the potential they have and the college education that is available to them. As they progress through the program and reach high school, they have the resources they need to ace their classes and secure admittance to four-year colleges. This is no small feat considering the rigor of the Breakthrough program, the time commitment required (including giving up summers), and the fact that they must complete the Breakthrough program in addition to completing all other regular schoolwork. That’s what I call dedication!

BTGB Hall Art

But BTGB isn’t just about students learning- it’s about students teaching and teachers learning! Through their unique students-teaching-students model, high-achieving high school and college students step in front of the classroom, designing their own lesson plans and managing their own classrooms. Over 900 teachers have worked with their own professional Mentor Teachers to inspire the next generation of college-bound students.

To learn more about BTGB and how to contribute to a breakthrough, head to their website where you can watch a number of inspiring video clips of BTGB in action or donate. It’s hard not to get excited about this awesome program when you see just how energetic, passionate, and talented the students and teachers are!


Launching a Startup…the HACKFit Way

Create a startup over the course of one weekend? No problem! Cue the coffee, Red Bull, take out, and complete isolation from any type of exercise or activity. Sound accurate?

HACKFit Boston

Not so much for those who took part in the sold out HACKFit Boston this past weekend at the NERD Center and Brooklyn Boulders in Somerville. In fact, HACKFit, a competition where early stage fitness-tech concepts become viable startups, was the complete antithesis to this! Around 150 techies, hackers, entrepreneurs, and other business-minded individuals teamed up to bring their ideas to life and get in some killer workouts at the same time. HACKFit is all about balancing mind and body – adequate sleep, healthy meals, exercise, and tons of coding and business planning!

Coding at HACKFit

Photo Credit: Dana J. Quigley

Hackathoners wasted no time after arriving at Microsoft on Friday afternoon. They jumped right into a fitness session to get their creative juices flowing then received a dose of inspiration during the keynote address by Jason Jacobs, Founder and CEO of RunKeeper. The remainder of the night was spent listening to pitches and forming teams around the best ideas. Participants would spend the rest of the weekend in these teams, bonding during fitness breaks and developing a sense of camaraderie as they rushed to transform their vision into a reality.


Photo Credit: Dana J. Quigley

The next 48 hours were jam-packed with working and working out. Rock climbing, martial arts, thai chi, yoga, running, and Crossfit kept the hackers fresh as they finalized and demoed what will become some of the greatest fitness technologies on the market. One creation you should keep your eyes peeled for? The HACKFit 2013 winner SimplyLift, a free phone app that records weight, reps, sets, and rest time while working out. Say goodbye to workout spreadsheets!

Does this competition sound as awesome to you as it did to me? Head to their website to learn about all things HACKFit and how to get involved in the next competition.


The Top 3 Inventions at Invented Here!

What do the following three things have in common: Light Positioning System Using Digital Pulse Recognition, Terahertz Quantum Cascade Lasers and Real-Time Terahertz Imaging, and Low-Maintenance Lawn Seed Mixture? Aside from sounding a bit intimidating, they were all invented right here in New England and were the featured honorees at the 2013 Invented Here! event at the Museum of Science.

Invented Here

Robin Young from WBUR was the host for the evening.

The Museum of Science in partnership with the Boston Patent Law Association recognized 16 inventions (full list here) and their inventors at last Thursday’s event (appropriately held on Massachusetts Inventors Day). Each of the 3 featured inventions, along with a fourth museum staff favorite (Robobees), was presented to attendees by the vibrant museum staff. Check out what some of New England’s innovators have been up to!

Invented Here Honorees

All of this year's honorees posed for a group shot.

Light Positioning System Using Digital Pulse Recognition (ByteLight): This system, invented by Aaron Ganick and Daniel Ryan, allows for indoor wayfinding. Essentially, it is accurate and affordable GPS software that utilizes LED lights to pinpoint one’s exact location indoors. While we may not need this in our own homes (I would hope not!), it is groundbreaking software that department stores, museums, and other similar spaces can use to enhance and improve the customer experience (no more aimlessly searching for the rest room!).

Terahertz Quantum Cascade Lasers and Real-Time Terahertz Imaging (MIT): For those of us who have no idea what this name implies, this invention allows you to see through opaque materials in real time! Invented by Qing Hu and Alan Lee, this technology, for instance, can help doctors differentiate between cancerous and normal skin cells without subjecting patients to invasive biopsies and can also help astronauts detect internal space craft damage.

Low-Maintenance Lawn Seed Mixture (Pearl’s Premium): This one sounds simpler but is, nevertheless, just as useful! Inventor Jackson Madnick spent ten years developing this genius lawn seed mixture that minimizes lawn maintenance while helping the environment at the same time. With this slow growing, deep-rooted seed, you will only have to cut your grass once a month! The resulting grass also requires substantially less water (reduced water bill, anyone?) and no harmful pesticides.

Each of these inventions will be featured at the Museum on Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30 throughout October, November, and December. They’re definitely worth taking a look at!

Microsoft Store Now Open in Burlington!

Thinking about getting in some shopping this weekend? Now you can add the new Microsoft Store at the Burlington Mall to your lists of shops to visit!

ribbon cutting at Burling Mall

Ribbon cutting ceremony at Burlington Mall store opening!

Our latest retail store officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony yesterday, but the festivities will continue throughout the weekend. And we’re not just talking balloons and streamers. We’re talking an exclusive Demi Lovato concert (details here) and meet and greet right at the mall on Saturday, September 21! The first 200 customers from yesterday’s opening (many of whom camped out overnight!) received free tickets for the show, including the meet and greet before the concert. An additional 1,500 customers also received concerts tickets for themselves and a friend. There were also plenty of giveaways and prizes for the first customers that came and explored the new store!

Demi Lovato Concert

One of the lucky ticket winners shared with pic with us on Facebook!

What’s even cooler than the concert is that in honor of the grand opening, Microsoft is donating over $800k worth of software to local community organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, Roca, and the Young People’s Project. The new store also has free theater space for schools and summer camps to use.

Burlington Store opening

The new store was packed!

Not into all the giveaways, prizes, and Demi Lovato concert? Not a problem! Stop by anyways just to test drive all Microsoft Windows 8 PCs, Windows Phone, Xbox, and Kinect products. You can even schedule a personal training, personal shopping, or answer desk appointment with a Microsoft associate.
We’ll see you there!

Invented Here! at the Museum of Science

We all know there is some impressive innovation taking place around us everyday. Though we may not always notice it, it’s what helps us flourish in our daily lives. Inventors and entrepreneurs from right here in New England are creating groundbreaking technologies that shape the way we interact with each other and the world, that help alleviate our social problems, and that help us live a more sustainable life. To honor these innovators and share their work, the Museum of Science is hosting its annual Invented Here! event (for free!) this Thursday night, September 19, from 6:30-8:30 pm at the museum.

Museum of Science Logo

As event co-sponsor, along with MassChallenge, we are thrilled to see the Museum celebrating some of the area’s leading inventors and encouraging the next generation of genius. Stop in after work for a networking reception at 6:30 followed by the main program at 7:30. You will have the chance to mingle with the great minds behind the science and technology and listen to a facilitated conversation between the inventors and Robin Young, Host of Here and Now on WBUR.

Register now. You don’t want to miss this one!

A New Age of Learning with the Surface Pro

School is back in session, and students at Williston Northampton School in Easthampton, MA have traded their pens and notebooks for something a little more high tech: Microsoft Surface Pro tablets! That’s right. Every student and faculty started off the year with a school-issued Surface – that’s roughly 100 faculty members and 545 students.

Surfaces arrive at Williston!

Surfaces arrive at Williston!

The introduction of the Surfaces fell right in line with Williston’s ongoing initiative to use classroom technology to boost learning. The Surfaces have brought a new level of technological consistency that the school has not had in the past. “Somewhat ironically, when everyone has the same device, the device ceases to become as important as the work that’s being done, because no one is distracted by a device that may be different,” explained Andrew Shelffo, the school’s Chief Information Officer. With everyone on the same device, students require only one set of directions, making classroom instruction easier.

Williston Faculty learn to use their new tablets

Williston Faculty learn to use their new tablets

So why did Williston choose the Surface over other laptops and tablets? Shelffo explained that it has all of the factors necessary for a powerful and useful learning tool: touch screen, multiple inputs including a stylus for scientific and mathematical notation, the ability to run multiple programs simultaneously, a table form factor, a comfortable keyboard, and compatibility with other programs and devices.

The Surfaces were also outfitted with specific software to meet the needs of the students and faculty. In addition to being equipped with Microsoft Office Suite 2013, the tablets feature several web browsers, Nook and Kindle apps, digital editing tools, specialized editing software, and let’s not forget a few games. Students will be able to write papers, monitor grades, share documents, and conduct research (all of which they will surely be doing rather than playing games!).

Surface deployment

Williston deploys the Surfaces to the students!

For their progressive technology program, Williston has been named one of Microsoft’s Innovative Schools. This title is given to those schools who have engaged deeper with Microsoft’s Partners in Learning, a 10-year initiative aimed at improving teaching and learning. We hope to see many more schools embrace technology in the classroom as Williston has done! Way to go!

Register Now for The Successful You!

Brace yourself Boston! A powerhouse group of women is coming to town for The Successful You: 2013 Women’s Leadership Forum at the NERD Center on November 14.

Successful You

This annual leadership conference, hosted in conjunction with The Commonwealth Institute (TCI), brings together a network of female entrepreneurs, CEOs, and leaders in STEM fields from the across New England. Joining these women will be 30 girls from the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts and Science Club for Girls. With women grossly underrepresented in science and technology fields, it is a much needed opportunity to mentor and provide support for these future leaders. In addition to sponsoring the girls, all proceeds of the conference will be donated to the two organizations to help them promote STEM education.

Successful You Logo

This year’s forum boasts a myriad of speakers, workshops, and networking opportunities. Dr. Georgia Papathomas, Vice President and Group CIO at Johnson and Johnson Pharmaceuticals, will jumpstart the day with a keynote followed by a talk on Executive Presence in STEM Fields by conference veteran Diane Ripstein, Owner and Principal at Diane Ripstein Consulting. Workshops will include The Future of Social Technology and Tapping Your Inner Entrepreneur.
Given this impressive group, tickets for the event will go fast! Early bird tickets are now available to purchase online here for $99 (regularly $125), so don’t wait…buy your tickets now to guarantee your ticket and savings! You can also donate an additional amount to the two organizations so they can continue their work of advocating for girls in STEM fields.

We’ll see you on November 14!

And The Winner Is…

Remember those friendly, classroom math competitions in school? Well, the Math Prize for Girls competition, sponsored by the Advantage Testing Foundation, is nothing like that! For one, I certainly don’t ever remember a $25,000 cash prize for the top performer!

NERD Math Prize for Girls 2013

Math Prize 2013 participants. Photo Credit: Dana J. Quigley

Yes, you heard me right. This annual math competition for high school girls, the only of its kind in the United States, boasts the largest monetary math prize for girls in the world. But money aside, the real goal of the competition is to encourage young women with exceptional potential to become the mathematical and scientific leaders of the future. These mathletes will be the professors, CEOs, and startup founders of their generation.

Math Prize participants playing Twister

Playing Twister before the big exam! Photo Credit: Dana J. Quigley

The main event is an invitation only, 2.5 hour exam. This year’s exam, to which 328 girls were invited, took place last Saturday at MIT. All girls also had to complete the AMC and AIME math qualifying exams to participate (275 girls sat for these exams). But the testing doesn’t stop there! The winners of the Math Prize also qualify to sit for the 4-hour proof-based Olympiad exam in November. Good thing these girls love math!

Math Prize Logo

While the math competition was the focus of the two-day event, the girls were able to unwind on Friday night at the NERD Center for a Games Night complete with all of the originals: Twister, Scattergories, Boggle, Blokus, and gourmet cakes (Boston Crème, Chocolate Ganache, mmmm!) provided by Jules Catering. The sense of camaraderie among the girls, many of whom are the only math stars in their communities, shined through as they relaxed and connected before the big day.

The girls were further united at the post-exam lunch and awards ceremony where Dr. Corina Tarnita, a professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton, delivered an inspiring keynote address about “Using Math to Unlock the Mysteries of Biology.” To check out more about these remarkable young women and the Math Prize, watch PBS’s short documentary on the 2010 Math Prize.


Origami fun at Games Night! Photo Credit: Dana J. Quigley