By Daniel Benjamin
Dean, School of Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math at American Public University
STEM is a multifaceted, fascinating field with infinitely large borders. While the acronym, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), seems simple and readily understandable, it is easy to miss the magnitude of the knowledge domains that it encompasses. For example, in a nationwide classification of instructional programs (CIP), the National Center for Education Statistics dedicated several hundred CIP codes to STEM related disciplines because STEM is so broad in scope. On a similar note, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) publishes a “STEM-Designated Degree Program List” that identifies more than 400 STEM disciplines.
Let’s examine this broad scope of STEM from a various perspectives:
Depth and Height:
STEM focuses on organisms, creatures, and objects from ocean depths below 25,000 feet to the stratosphere 30,000 feet above the earth. It goes to the ultra-deep fields (UDF) of space several billions of light-years away, thanks to the Hubble space telescope.)
On one extreme, STEM focuses on the darkest objects such as neutron stars and black holes that suck in light and, on the other, it focuses on highly luminous sun, stars, and quasars that give out energy.
STEM professionals use satellite technology to study infinitesimally slow processes such as transformations of the surface of the Earth that take several thousands of years to change about a centimeter (less than half an inch). They also use time-lapse photography to “speed up” and visualize slow moving processes such as the growth of a plant. They also study fast phenomena such as nuclear explosions and bullets in flight.
Taste – Sweet and Hot:
STEM-trained food scientists measure the heat (or spiciness) of peppers using Scoville scale; and on the other hand, they measure sweetness using degree Brix (oBx) and degree Plato (oP).
Past, Present, and Future:
STEM disciplines such as archeology study human activities in the past by recovering, cataloging, and analyzing artifacts and biofacts left behind. Today’s STEM-trained mechanical and electrical engineers develop smart cars. Of the develop cancer medicines that are highly targeted and effective and with minimal side effects. And, STEM researchers focus on developing science and technology for the future. Other future products include cars that drive themselves and hyper-speed trains that can travel at 800 miles an hour.
Earth and Beyond:
STEM disciplines such as Earth science study things such as soil, rocks, oceans, glaciers, the atmosphere, and the crust and interior of the earth mass itself. Beyond the Earth, astronomy studies celestial objects including planets, stars, and galaxies.
Beneficial and Destructive:
STEM professionals study and develop things that are beneficial to humankind such as medicines. On the other hand, some STEM professionals develop weapons that could be destructive.
Particles and Waves:
Classical mechanics is concrete in nature and focuses on physical laws in the world we see. For example, if you know the direction and speeds of two billiard balls as they approach each other, these laws can predict the direction and speed after the balls collide. On the other hand, quantum mechanics is highly abstract in nature; it is concerned physical laws and physical phenomena in the atomic and subatomic world. It treats the atomic and subatomic particles as waves and uses math similar to that used to understand ocean waves to explain physical phenomenon.
Size – Atomic to Galactic:
On the lower end, we have nanoscience and nanotechnology which deals with the nano-world of objects that are in the order of 1-100 nanometers (10-9 or one billionth or 1/1,000,000,000 meters). To put this in perspective, the average human hair is about 100,000 nanometers in thickness. Even at this miniscule, atomic scale, nanotechnology is a very broad field that encompasses a host of disciplines such as surface science, semiconductor physics, molecular biology, and nano-weapons. On the other end, astronomers focus on large galactic cores (large quasar groups) that are over 4 billion (109 or 1,000,000,000) light-years measured from one end to the other. A lightyear is the distance travelled by at the speed of light in 1 year (about 5.87 trillion (1012) miles). So, the width of the LQG is the distance travelled by light in 4 billion years or 23.46 sextillion (1021) miles.
Simple to Complex:
STEM professionals study simple organisms such as the unicellular amoeba as well as complex forms of plant and animal life. Engineers design and develop simple things such as children’s toys and complex things such as dams and spacecraft.
It is evident that the scope of STEM is far-reaching and fascinating. STEM professionals work with things that are visible and the invisible; old, new, and emerging; tangible and intangible; concrete and abstract; and in gaseous, liquid, solid, and other states that we don’t yet understand! STEM covers a wide spectrum of disciplines. As such, it provides exciting opportunities for exploration and learning.
About the Author
As the School of Science and Technology Dean, Mr. Benjamin led in the establishment of the department and its curriculum at American Public University. He’s a foremost IT and management education leader drawing on an extensive consulting career in the public and private sectors. His clients include the White House, Senate, Department of Defense, Department of Treasury, Federal Aviation Administration, and the Department of Education. Mr. Benjamin is a sitting member of the University’s Academic Integrity Committee and authored books on Java and Oracle published by Element-K and McGraw-Hill Professional.