STEM Sisters Blog













































































Hey UA, 

We all know that April showers bring May flowers, and we’ve certainly had plenty of showers, so let’s talk about how to grow the best flowers (and any other plants).

When caring for a garden, people generally think of soil, water, and sunlight, but one equally important thing actually involves the soil; it’s the pH.

Soil pH is the measure of how acidic or alkaline the soil is. As a reminder, the pH scale goes from 0-14, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. Soil pH influences many soil factors that affect plant growth, such as soil bacteria, nutrient leaching and availability, toxic elements, and soil structure. This helps ensure that the plants are getting an adequate amount of nitrogen and nutrients from the soils.

Most plants have an optimal pH range of 5.5-7, but some plants, like blueberries for example, grow better in more acidic soil, while others like lavender grow better in alkaline soil. If you want more information on soil pH, check out the links below!

Happy spring UA!

The STEM Sisters


Career Spotlight: Soil and Plant Technologist

Education: Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in general agriculture, agroecology and sustainable agriculture, horticultural science, general plant sciences, soil chemistry and physics, soil microbiology

Salary (average): $66,000

Projected growth rate: 6.7%

Requirements: Some states require licensing, but it generally includes a bachelor’s degree with a specific number of credit hours in soil science, a number of years working under a licensed scientist, and passing an exam

Description: Soil and Plant Technologists use chemistry and other sciences to conduct research on soil, crops, and other agricultural products. They also develop methods of conserving and managing soil that farmers and forestry companies use. They study ways to improve agricultural sustainability, develop ways of altering soils to different types of plants, investigate soil problems or poor water quality, and develop new methods for controlling weeds, diseases, and pests.


Hi UA!

Welcome to this week’s post. Recently, I started watching “Year Million” on National Geographic, a docudrama that is focused on the revolution of artificial intelligence. Year Million isn’t literally the year million. Instead, it’s a figure of speech that symbolizes a completely different world in the far future, feeling like it’s been a million years.

The documentary showcases the scientific advancements in our community that will foreshadow the types of things that we’ll see in the future. For example, the series talks about cryopreservation. Cryopreservation, in the simplest terms possible, is the process of freezing a body in extremely low temperatures. In this process, it will also be possible to revive an individual, with many decades lapsed, with the correct technology. The show outlines the ethics of this process and the technology that would be needed to bring somebody, who has essentially been frozen, back to life. Similarly, the show talks about telepathy, immortality, and humanoids (among other things) and highlights specific work done in universities today. For example, have you ever thought about a robot that has almost every aspect of a human? Arguably, one of our most important and innate traits as human beings is our self-awareness. Columbia University’s robotics lab has developed a self-aware robot that is programmed to recognize its surroundings and act accordingly. In an experiment to test this claim of self-awareness, researchers cut off an arm or leg of this robot. In response, the robot began limping and while this doesn’t seem like much, it’s a huge breakthrough in the field of robotics.

The series is both frightening yet fascinating, leading me to think about this revolution almost every spare minute I get. How do you think Year Million will be? Do you see the future being positive or negative? Will there be more robots than humans? Let your curiosity grow, and let your mind wander. Because it’s this curiosity that will drive us to revolutionize the world as we know it.

Until next time,

STEM Sisters

Hi UA!

Welcome back to this week’s STEM Sister Blog. Last week, Carissa did an incredible job highlighting the Ursuline Academy robotics team, Engenuity. This week, we are highlighting the INTERalliance of Greater Cincinnati’s annual technology conference, TechOlympics. 

TechOlympics ​​brings together over 300 local high school students and over 50 Cincinnati regional businesses, like P&G and GE, for a weekend of technology-based presentations, career readiness workshops, and competitions. This year, we also had a Hackathon the following week allowing student teams to compete for various prizes. Both TechOlympics and the Hackathon help prepare students in the Cincinnati-Kentucky area to become Cincinnati’s Future Technology Leaders and instill innovative STEM thinking. Fun fact: February 19th, 2022 was declared as “TechOlympics 2022: BYTE Back Day” by Mayor City of Cincinnati, Aftab Pureval! 

You might be wondering how I’m connected with INTERalliance. I serve on the INTERalliance Leadership Council (ILC) which organizes both the TechOlympics (which was a hybrid event this year) and the Hackathon (which was completely virtual). Here are my key takeaways from the events:

TechOlympics (February 18-20): 

Being on the leadership council and prepping for this event the whole year, the event was extremely fun. We had two keynote speakers this year: Julia Hoppock, the Partnership Director on the Social Dilemma team, and Catherine McCully, the Chief Information Security Officer at Proctor and Gamble. I spoke with Julia Hoppock on the increasing amount of control social media has on our lives, and I gained quite the insight. I also learned a lot from Catherine McCully who spoke about her journey to the top of JP Morgan Chase & Co, the TJX Companies, and now Proctor and Gamble. There were breakout sessions with many different topics and competitions throughout the weekend. 

My whole experience with the TechOlympics was positive, from organizing the sessions to carrying it out in real-time. 

Hackathon (February 26-28): 

While the Hackathon was more offline work for the ILC, I had a close connection with the weekend-long event being the emcee. We heard from Anil Bhatt, Anthem’s Global Information officer, and Erin Spinelli and Jim Schwaller, Senior Managers of Software Engineering of GE Aviation as keynote speakers. Students won prizes like Apple Second Generation AirPods for their innovative solutions! 
If reading this made you interested in being a future attendee of the TechOlympics, go to or If you want to be a part of the leadership council, apply at the application closes on July 31st.

Introducing Engenuity: UA’s Robotics Team

Hey UA!

We’re so excited to introduce to you Ursuline’s robotics team, Engenuity. The name comes from a combination of the words engineering and ingenuity, both of which have been the backbone for this team. Throughout this year, Engenuity has been planning, designing, constructing, and programming a robot for the FTC Freight Frenzy competition.

Last weekend, the team recorded their six official runs, with the goal of moving freight (rubber ducks, blocks, and wiffle balls) to their proper spots around the field to score the highest number of points. These points were added, and combined with the score from judging of the presentation on Sunday, February 20, to give the overall ranking.

Congratulations to Engenuity and Moderator Mr. Tim Gannatti for winning the Judges Choice Award for UA’s qualifying tournament! This was an amazing accomplishment for the team’s inaugural competition season.

The award video for this weekend’s competition is here: Wilbur- The moment you've been waiting finally here! ( [Start at 1:37]

To find out more about this year’s competition, click here!

We encourage you to check out Engenuity on social media to see all of their amazing work from this season: 

Ursuline Academy Robotics - YouTube

ursuline.robotics - Instagram

Congrats to Engenuity!

Until next time,

STEM Sisters

Career Spotlight: Robotics Engineer

Education: Bachelor’s Degree, generally in mechatronics, robotics, or automation engineering

Average Salary: $98,000

Projected 10 year openings: 33,000

Description: Robotics engineers use computer-aided design to build and test robots to help create an integrated environment between people and machines. Often times robotics engineers will work for private robot manufacturers, as well as in military and space programs.

Requirements: familiarity with computer programming, creativity, problem-solving, following deadlines

Pixar Exhibit

Hi UA, welcome to this week’s post! Today, we’d like to take a moment to expose our student community to an exciting opportunity. We’ve all seen Pixar movies growing up, from Cars to Toy Story to Up. Ever wonder how they’ve been able to successfully bring those characters to life? Or maybe you’ve been in awe of the precise details that the movies bring to screens.

Well lucky for us because the Cincinnati Museum Center is hosting the “Science Behind Pixar” exhibit to show students exactly how they do it. This exhibit will empower you to understand the eight key steps in the filmmaking process– modeling, rigging, surfaces, sets and cameras, animation, simulation, lighting, and rendering. 

Math teacher Jenny Breissinger '88 has gone to the exhibit and absolutely loved it. Here are her remarks: 

The Pixar exhibit had me “geeking out” for about two hours straight!  There were so many amazing applications of STEM throughout the Pixar film-making process.  For example, Pixar engineers used computer generated quadratic functions to model blades of grass in the film A Bugs Life.  Additionally, they translated and scaled objects for the set layout in Monsters Inc and several other films.  My favorite Math application was how they rotate 2D shapes around an axis to create 3D objects, like the balloons in the movie Up

Interested in going? We’ve planned a field trip in collaboration with the UA Math Department to allow students to take their STEM knowledge one step further. Mark your calendars for Sunday, March 20th, 2022 from 1-3 pm, we can’t wait to see you there.

Use this link to sign up!

Until next time,
Your STEM Sisters


Why Can We Not Cover the Desert WITH Solar Panels?

Hey UA, today we’re going to be discussing the practicality of covering the desert with solar panels. 

Solar energy has become increasingly more popular in just the past 14 years, with the solar capacity of the US growing from .34 gigawatts (GW) to 97.2 GW today. This is roughly the amount needed to power 18 million average US homes. The cost of solar has also dropped about 89% over the past decade. Covering about 22,000 square miles - approximately the size of Lake Michigan - would provide enough electricity to power the entire United States. Just the Sahara Desert is over 3 million square miles, and it receives 22 million terawatt-hours of energy each year. That’s more than 100 times the amount of energy humanity consumes annually. So why have we not just covered deserts in solar panels?

Some of the issues with this idea lie in the fact that the desert obviously has very little water, but it also has an abundance of dust. Solar panels require some sort of cooling system, usually done with water or high-power fans. This isn’t the most feasible thing, since water is mostly unavailable and fans would be using a lot of the power being generated. Furthermore, solar panels require almost daily cleaning to maintain efficiency, so a dry, dusty environment would not be ideal.

Another reason that we can’t cover the desert in solar panels is the amount of disruption that this would cause to the ecosystems of the deserts. If large amounts of water were used to clean the panels, it could affect the ecosystem. Furthermore, there would be vast habitat loss, and since solar power plants often use a solar power tower, the beam of concentrated sunlight created by the tower can kill birds and insects that fly through the beam.

There are many countries and companies working to develop solutions to all of these problems, but until then, we’ll have to focus more on small-scale solar farms and individual solar power systems.

Until next time,

STEM Sisters

To learn more about this topic, check out this TED-Ed video and this article about solar energy in the US


Career Spotlight: Solar Engineer

Education: Bachelor’s degree, typically in electrical or mechanical engineering, or civil engineering, chemistry, computer science, or other related fields with a concentration in solar energy

Average salary: anywhere from $63,000-$100,000+

Projected job growth (2019-2029): 51% (for solar installers)

Environment: offices, construction sites, manufacturing plants

Requirements and description: designing solar thermal systems for residential and commercial buildings, using computer-aided design software to create electrical diagrams, create plans for developing, monitoring, and evaluating a solar electrical system, maintaining safety standards

Hi UA! 

Science is all around us making it a subject where learning never ends so this week, to ease back into school, we thought we’d put together a list of fun STEM facts. We hope you enjoy it! 

  1. NASA experts believe that there are more trees on Earth than stars in our galaxy. 
  2. J is the only letter that doesn’t make an appearance on the periodic table.
  3. Studies have shown that planets Neptune, Uranus, Jupiter, and Saturn have the potential to rain diamonds due to extreme pressure in the atmosphere. 
  4. In specific conditions, water can exist as water, solid, and gas at the same time. 
  5. The average person takes around 7,500 steps a day. If you maintain that average and live until 80 years, you’ll walk a span of 5 times around the world. 
  6. When substances are hot, they expand. Due to this phenomenon, the Eiffel Tower grows up to 15 cm taller in the summertime. 
  7. Ever dream of jumping through a cloud when you were younger? Clouds actually weigh up to a million pounds when they hold rain. 
  8. We wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never tickled a rat but if you have, you know that rats laugh when they are tickled.
  9. Did you know that humans are capable of producing venom? Our body mechanisms have all the tools and resources to do so– it’s all up to evolution now! 
  10. If you were to drill a tunnel through Earth, it would take you approximately 43 minutes to get to the other side. 

Until next time,
STEM Sisters


CGI: History and How It’s Done

Welcome back UA, hope you all had a great winter break. With the recent release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, I figured this would be the perfect time to discuss computer-generated imagery, better known as CGI. But don’t worry, this post will be No Way Home spoiler-free.


The first movie to ever use CGI was Westworld, released in 1973, and was followed by many others that helped the future of CGI. Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) included the first all-CGI character and was followed by Toy Story (1995) which was the first full-length CGI movie. Avatar (2009) is widely regarded as the best use of CGI with its revolutionary usage of 3D CGI. 

There are some movies that you might think use a lot of CGI, but they actually rely mostly on special effects. This includes Jurassic Park (1993) which only had about 4-5 minutes of CGI in its 14-15 minutes of dinosaur footage, the rest was done via animatronic puppets. Another movie that seems like it might have needed a lot of CGI is Titanic (1997), when in fact, CGI was only used for the water and adding extra people. They utilized a lot of miniature sets, as well as a full-size model of a ship in the water (they actually only built half the ship, this is why there’s a scene where all of the extras are waving left-handed because they just mirrored the other half of the ship).

So, what is CGI, and how is it done? 

CGI is 2D or 3D animations, objects, and/or renderings (the process of generating a photorealistic or non-photorealistic image from a 2 or 3D model using a computer program). These models are created and then layered and added into a live-action scenario. A common scenario would be something being filmed on a green screen (or sometimes a blue screen, which is better for dark/nighttime scenes or scenes with green costumes or props). The green is then removed via chroma-keying, which is just removing anything green in the shot. Then background footage, called plates, is added in post-production. 

Some of the easier CGI includes creating things like the sides of buildings, which are essentially just textured layers. This is especially good for scenes where the building isn’t the main focus. One example that comes to mind is from Spider-Man 2 (2004), wherein in this scene, the whole fight sequence on the side of the building is completely CGI.

Another common use for CGI in films is motion tracking or motion capture (often shortened to mocap). Actors are put in a mocap suit which can look different depending on the scenario, but the general suit is covered in tracking dots or sensors. The position of the dots is recorded with the camera, as well as the changing distances, and this helps to build a sort of virtual skeleton, which is then applied to a 3D character.

When CGI goes wrong

Have you ever been watching a tv show or movie and you could tell that a scene had CGI? Maybe you couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was, but you knew there was something off. This is usually something to do with how the computer-generated element was added and blended into the scene. Oftentimes this is because the shading, lighting, coloring, or weight of an object doesn’t match the rest of the setting. This is often the most difficult part of a computer-generated model and it can sometimes make or break the scene.

Career Spotlight: Visual Effects Artist

Education: Bachelor’s Degree, typically in computer animation or visual effects

Median salary: $75,270

Job Growth (2019-2029): 4% for all multimedia artists and animators

Requirements: technical skills, knowledge of industry-standard software, able to follow deadlines, ability to work in a team or on your own


How Does a Microwave Work?

Hey! This post is an appreciation post for our lovely microwaves in the Café. Not only do they warm up my food so I’m not eating stone-cold pasta at 9:30 am but they teach us about an important concept in chemistry-- the idea of microwave radiation.

If you’ve taken AP Chemistry before or are currently taking it, you might be able to recall a little bit about this topic already but there are so many more practical applications to it than you might think. If you’re unfamiliar with the realm of radiation though, welcome!

A part of the electromagnetic spectrum, Microwaves are waves of electrical and magnetic energy moving together. Microwaves are used in many different industries like the plywood industry, rubber industry, and even the doughnut industry but we most commonly use them in microwave ovens. But why are microwaves used in microwave ovens?

It’s confusing to differentiate between the type of radiation and the oven, but it’s named so closely because of its characteristics. Microwaves are reflected by metal and are absorbed by food containing water molecules which is a key element in a microwave oven. Microwaves are reflected inside the oven’s metal interior, which is then absorbed by food. This absorption of microwaves causes the water molecules in the food to vibrate which causes heat to cook food.

Isn’t that neat? Anyway, that’s it for this week. Happy Holidays, UA. See you next year.

Until next time,

The STEM Sisters

Get to Know Us!

Hey, Lions! Welcome to Stem Sisters, a blog that aims to keep our UA community up-to-date on all things STEM. Our names are Carissa Aiello and Vinaya Sivakumar of the class of 2023 and we are so delighted you are here. Read a little further to learn more about us.

What is your favorite subject in school?

Carissa: Forensics. My interest in forensics came from watching various tv shows but now that I’m in the class it’s super cool to see the science behind what we see on tv. It’s also pretty hands-on which I think is great.

Vinaya: AP Biology. Biology has always fascinated me because it’s all around us and so practical in our everyday life. Not only is the course great for people who love to be challenged but you’ll love having Ms. Barhorst as a teacher!


Who, in your opinion, is the most important scientist?

Carissa: Stephen Hawking. To be honest, I hadn’t thought about who the most important scientist would be, but I did a presentation on Stephen Hawking in middle school and I remember how interesting his work on black holes was because there’s so much to learn and discover about them.

Vinaya: Rosalind Franklin. To give you more background information, Rosalind Franklin is the scientist that originally discovered the double-helix structure of DNA. Unfortunately, she didn’t have trustworthy colleagues which led to the credit of this discovery going to somebody else. I find her really important because she highlighted the misogyny in STEM.

What is your favorite restaurant?

Carissa: Copper Blue

Vinaya: I’m too fickle-minded to decide on one favorite restaurant.


What’s your favorite thing about STEM

Carissa: I like the creativity that comes with STEM because there’s so much freedom to learn about many topics and there are opportunities to collaborate with others.

Vinaya: I love STEM because you have so much scope to discover and learn. I’m by nature a curious person so that aspect of STEM is my favorite thing.


What are your interests outside STEM?

Carissa: Softball and karate are my two biggest interests outside of STEM but I have many smaller side hobbies.

Vinaya: Working on world-changing projects with other inspiring youth.


What are your takes on pineapple on pizza?

Carissa: No. They’re fine separate but they just don’t go together.

Vinaya: Yes, please! It’s the perfect blend of sweet and savory.

Well, that’s all that we have for you this week. Stay tuned next week to learn more about how microwaves work.

Until then,

The Stem Sisters