STEM Week: It’s Not Rocket Science

Oct 25 2019

On a Tuesday night in one of NYU Shanghai’s computer labs, Chen Siyi 陈思怡’22, president of the university’s Women Empowered in STEM (weSTEM) club, stood before a room of students to present the evening’s challenge: building a Polaroid camera from scratch.


The workshop was the first event in “It’s Not Rocket Science” STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Week organized by weSTEM. Chen and fellow club members moved around the classroom, doling out fresh croissants and Raspberry Pi – single-board computers with wireless LAN and Bluetooth connectivity. Equipped with these and a thermal printer, students had one hour to team up and build a working camera.

Siyi Chen 陈思怡 ’22 (left), president of the university’s Women Empowered in STEM (weSTEM) club presents on networking with thermal printers.

“We designed this event in conjunction with STEM Week to celebrate the amazing applications of STEM in our daily lives – Polaroid pictures are certainly one of those,” said Chen. “We call ourselves weSTEM because encouraging female participation in STEM fields is also one of our main goals, but our club is open to all genders.”

Students cheered and laughed as they succeeded in networking the camera module with the microcomputer to finally start taking pictures.

Later in the week, weSTEM teamed up with NYU Shanghai’s branch of the International Youth Neuroscience Association (IYNA) to teach students to create their own neural network models using the free online simulation program NEURON. Student mentors gave their classmates a primer in the basic function and structure of neural networks so students can run their own projects examining how the brain works. 

The week was rounded out by talks on science education from NYU Shanghai faculty members Marcella Caprario and Wang Xingyu (王星语). Caprario, who teaches a class on science literacy and its social impact, focused on giving students tools to help peers and family members think critically about scientific information and misinformation. 


Gu Jintao 顾金涛, a postdoctoral researcher in Neuroscience at NYU Shanghai, shows students how to use NEURON to simulate the way the brain processes sound.

“Basic science literacy is a key issue, because if we lack the ability to critically engage with information about science, that has huge implications for public policy and public health,” Caprario said. “STEM Week is an important step toward improving science literacy in our own community.”

Wang, an Assistant Professor of Practice in Physics, closed out STEM week with a look at the gap between formal education in the sciences in China and the need to popularize science in the country. Ultimately, she left students with ideas about how to bring their interest in STEM to the broader community around them.

“It’s really important to be able to show students that STEM is not only practical, but that it can also be fun, and I think STEM Week was successful in doing that for our students,” said Wang.

Chen said she hopes STEM week was able to expose students who aren’t formally involved in STEM research or study to find a way to enjoy learning about STEM. “Understanding STEM is important in everyone’s daily life, even if you’re not in a STEM field,” she said.

“We hope that through ‘It's Not Rocket Science,’ the NYU Shanghai community can be more aware of the STEM around us, more willing to learn about STEM, and be inspired by it.”