When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in July 1969, three African-American women mathematicians were the human computers behind the space capsule’s feat. But they remained hidden figures with a shadowed glory because they were black and they were women. The giant leap for womankind still had to come.

Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughn had to fight overt instances of dismissive superiors at work to become NASA’s steer-leaders, launching America into spaceflight primacy over the erstwhile USSR.

Much later, accolades came their way. Never mind that justice delayed is albeit justice denied.

2021. A long way since, meet NASA’s women engineers Dr. Swati Mohan, Vandana “Vandi” Verma, Zainab Nagin Cox and Diana Trujillo. All women of color. Now inked in history because all have a significant role in the Perseverance landing and continued exploration for signs of past life on the red planet. One had a supportive family that backed a STEM higher education choice. Two fought a conservative background each, while one hails from a milieu that could never imagine a girl growing up to drive. Leave alone steer a rover on Mars.


The Landing Expert

Dr. Swati Mohan (1983)

Aerospace Engineer at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
Guidance and Controls Operation Lead on NASA Mars 2020

“At age 9, I watched Star Trek and was struck by the beautiful views of the galaxies and outer space. I wanted to be there.”

Born in Bangalore, India, Dr. Mohan’s parents emigrated to the United States when she was one. Most of her childhood was spent in the Washington DC metro area. In interviews post the epic seven month 300 million-mile journey to Mars, Dr. Mohan recorded:

“My parents have been supportive all through. Getting into a good college was the only criteria for them to fund my entire education. It was very expensive but they believed in my passion and that made all the difference.”

Because the pressure of a work-school-work routine was absent, Dr. Mohan was able to avail of the unpaid internships and extra-curricular courses such as satellite coding and design during her undergrad days doing Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University. Shortly after graduation, she was invited to work as a junior engineer on Cassini, NASA’s historic mission to Saturn’s moon Titan.

In 2013, barely three years after completing her PhD, Dr. Mohan became a part of the Perseverance Mission. “My seniors opened the door to NASA’s most heady mission,” she recorded in an interview, adding that diligence and the will to excel are a pre-requisite for anyone looking at STEM soaring their career.

Dr. Mohan narrates that while interested in space and star gazing, she was all set to become a pediatrician.

“I did not know how to fuse my interest and academic choice. Till a Physics class when I was 16. That was a turning point and helped me understand matter, engineering and calculations as the way to space.”

What started as an eight-hour shift, soon gathered steam and turned into a 12-hour work pattern. Hardware testing and probable situations that could be encountered while landing on the Martian terrain were simulated. Ejection from the mother capsule, plunging down the friction of an alien atmosphere and landing onto the target planet were the real test.

Dr. Mohan led the team which developed the “Attitude Control System Terrain Relative Navigation.” In simple words, she led a group of aerospace engineers to craft a technology which enabled Perseverance to scan the area before touchdown in an upright position. Not only did the rover land successfully, it did away with the hitherto experienced glitches caused by slanting or leaning of the study mechanism. Above all, fitted solar panels panned out in a direction such to trap maximum amount of sunlight to power the mission.

Whew! All this made possible by Guidance, Navigation and Controls (GN&C) controlling the maneuvers here on Earth. Dr. Mohan was leading the second-by-nano-second move of the landing during the “seven minutes of terror.” And when, she did announce “Touchdown Confirmed,” the world broke out in jubilation.

In her NASA page, she states:

“It is an honor and privilege to work in such an incredibly motivating environment. All the projects seek to expand human understanding and are almost always first of a kind in some way.”

A mother of two and known as much for her Indian cultural roots, she is every reason to believe that a support system is all needed to back a STEM career for women.


Rover’s Robotic Arm Expert

Diana Trujillo Pomerantz (1980)

Aerospace Engineer at Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Currently leading a 45-member team behind the Robotic Arm of Perseverance

“The future that I wanted was to explore the stars.”

Feisty, gutsy and loving it all. That is how Diana Trujillo appears. Born in Colombia, she grew up in a country torn apart by narco-terrorism, guerilla insurgencies and a power-hungry elitist political system.

“I grew up with a lot of violence. For me, a safe place was looking up at the sky and the stars.”

Trujillo’s mother left medical school when she came along. Her family was faced with economic hardships which worsened each time political instability rocked the country. Her leanings toward mathematics and the sciences emerged clear but not knowing English was proving to be a disadvantage. In hope of a better future, she set off to an aunt in Miami. Life changed thereon.

“I came to the US not knowing English and with $300 in my pocket. From doing hourly-paying odd jobs to washing the bathrooms, I did all to make ends meet. At the Miami Dade College, where I was studying English, I borrowed a textbook from the math department for a break. It reignited my passion and I decided on pursuing my dreams.”

With confidence in her mathematical prowess and having read about the role of women working in aerospace missions, she enrolled for aerospace engineering at the University of Florida. Here, Trujillo applied for the NASA Academy.

Her selection for the 10-week summer program made her the first Hispanic woman to have qualified for this primary brush with space for promising students. Being part of NASA robots expert Brian Roberts’ team helped her define her forte as robotics in space operations. He convinced her to move to Maryland which offered better prospects of a career in aerospace.

“I need to be the Latina woman that will fulfill the dream of my women. I need to be the Latina woman that will have the life that my mom, great grandma deserved — three generations that couldn’t do what they deserved.”

She graduated from the University of Maryland in 2007 and later that year, joined NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She served many roles, chief being as architect of the DRT or dust removal tool, to enable shaking dust off the Martian surfaces, for scientists to study deeper.

Each learning experience was only a stepping stone. She enrolled for MS and PhD in Aeronautics/ Astronautics from MIT and while still pursuing the doctorate, was invited to participate in SPHERES. This experiment at the International Space Station conducted from Earth introduced her to the concepts of design and experiments with algorithms for space systems.

The DRT was put into successful action on Curiosity rover’s Mars expedition in 2009. During the same mission, she was also assigned the communication between the spacecraft and scientists on Earth. She is currently heading the robotic arms operations for Perseverance as it looks for signs of past life in the Jezero Crater on Mars.

“Believe in yourself. Don’t second guess it. Write down the skills you are good at. What are the things you love doing and then write a plan. Search for people who have done what you want to do. Find out how they made it happen so you can figure out how to navigate your path. Then put it in a timeline. These things will put you on the right track and keep you on the rails!”

— Quotes from kcet.org


Rover’s Engineering Operations Team Chief

Zainab Nagin Cox (1965)

Spacecraft Engineer at Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Currently part of Engineering Operations Team working with Perseverance
Conferred NASA Exceptional Service Medal
Asteroid 14601 discovered in 1996 was renamed Nagincox in 2015

“If you really want to go where someone has never been, you want to be with the robots. They truly explore first. There was one place that did that consistently and that was NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.”

“I am an explorer, engineer and a fighter,” Cox declares. Born in Bangalore, her childhood had a brief chapter in Kuala Lumpur before the family emigrated to the United States. Growing up in Kansas City, where her father was a professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri, she realized the treatment meted out to herself and her sister was far different from what the brothers were handed out.

“At dinnertime, we were expected to help out. My brothers were served and eating was their only role,” she recounts in her NASA page. Her father minced no words when he thought girls were “worthless.” The boys were sent to a middle school known for math and science while the girls were packed off to an arts and humanities specialization school.

“And then I realized that it had to do with being a girl.”

Had it not been for her mother’s encouragement, Cox would probably have lived life in its usual grind. When Star Trek and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos brought alive the galaxy and beyond, all she wanted to do was explore the universe. Not as an astronaut. As a robot… and from Cornell University because that’s where Carl Sagan was from!

The dream alive in her heart, little wonder then that when she saw an Air Force trailer parked behind her high school, her interest perked up. “Join us and The Air Force pays for your college” came as her ticket to NASA. She enlisted and even specified her college preference but the letters of admission did not come. Or so she thought, till one day, she realized… her father was tearing up the letters because he did not want his daughter to go to university.

She was determined and four years later, in 1986, she graduated with a double major in psychology and engineering from Cornell. An Air Force stint as systems engineer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton propelled her into a master’s program in space operations systems engineering at Air Force Institute Technology. Thereon, came six years of job as an Air Force orbital analyst.

When she finally joined the Jet Propulsion Lab in 1993, she struck upon IWWTWTF — I was willing to wash the floors — an acronym that she scribbled in every notebook thereon. A constant reminder of how much she yearned getting in, Cox has been a constant in iconic missions such as Galileo, all the Mars rovers – Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity, Kepler and Insight. With Perseverance, she has taken on the role of deputy team chief of the engineering operations.

In her many TED talks, she speaks of how she lives in the Martian time zone and actually wears two watches! And when there is some free time to spare on Earth, she occupies herself as a state representative travelling the world to encourage greater participation by women in STEM careers.

“Work does not feel like work. It is where I want to be.”


Rover’s Driver

Vandana “Vandi” Verma

Space Roboticist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Drove Curiosity and now driving Perseverance

“I do realise that I possibly have one of the coolest jobs in the world.”

Her seventh birthday was indeed the lucky one. Verma was gifted a set of books on space, which she “devoured” and then set her goal. A space scientist and no less. Her father, a pilot with the Indian Air Force flew Russian-made MiG jet fighters while her mother, a traditional housewife, knew that her daughter will be sent to college and then sorted into an arranged marriage. Born in Halwara in Punjab, India, Verma’s planets were perhaps outweighed by Mars.

After a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, she pursued a master’s program in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Between studies, she gained a pilot’s license because:

“I wanted to fly planes. Actually, what I really wanted to do was make automatic flying planes.”

Her thesis later, also from CMU, involved a three-year astrobiology experimental station at the Atacama desert because of its similarities with the Martian surface. While still a student, she bagged the first prize in a competition to create a robot that was capable of collecting balloons and navigating a maze in an unknown environment.

“As long as what you do is something that interests you, and you do it with passion, it makes your work unique in that different way. There is no right or wrong way.”

Armed with a flying license and loaded with robotics, it was but natural that she co-wrote PLEXIL, a programming technology developed in 2006. A year later, she saw herself in JPL with a special interest in flight software and robotics.

Verma joined the Mars team in 2008 and has since then “driven” all the rovers on the red planet. Together with her team, she has “everything to do with the mobility of the rover.” This includes driving and navigation as well as operating the robotic arm that gathers rock and core samples on Mars.

Existing in Martian time was bound to happen and each day starts 40 Earth minutes after the previous one. Her breakfast could be at 10 pm and dinner 5 am because the rover’s day works in a sol or one Mars day. Each night, it relays back data and images which are carefully studied and helps the team plan for rover’s next day ride. The chartered route is then beamed back so that the rover can start at dawn.

In Verma’s words:

“Perseverance is the most sophisticated machine sent to Mars and will look for biosignatures of past microbial life. The rover’s robotic arm will drill the surface and collect sample the size of chalk. These will be brought back to Earth sometime in the early 2030s.”

A mother to toddler twins, she says her husband has been a pillar of support.

In the end, distance does not matter. At the end of the day, we are all under the same sky.

– All Images Credit: Sidra Choudhry


Despite the noise and discourse about the state of STEM education in the US, we have a long way to go before we solve the conundrum and emerge as the world leader.

Gaëtan Salone, who is today an established engineer in a leading MNC in the Silicon Valley, cannot thank his class teacher enough for going the extra mile and helping him with his math and science. He credits his love for the subjects to his seventh grade teacher who took upon himself and coached him till he grew confident.

“I was really not enjoying my math and science till my seventh grade. It clearly showed in my performance,”

Reminisces Salone about his school days in Helsinki.

“But I was fortunate enough to have great teachers who took special care to see that I not only enjoyed the subjects but also excelled in them. We were taught not to cram to pass a test or exam, but to think analytically, question and evaluate references. I realized very early that learning hands-on and making mistakes were the first few steps to my learning process.”

“When I look back to my early education and see the kind of system my 6-year-old daughter is in right now in the US, I can clearly see the difference. I want her to love STEM subjects and probably pursue a career in technology. But I don’t see this happening here. With less focus on playful and hands-on learning, she’s getting disinterested in science and math. I can see where this will lead.”

Besides, I am paying over $25,000 annually on her school fees and this will increase as she goes to higher classes. However, this is not about the fees alone. If she gets the same special care and attention that I got in Finland back then, I would definitely rethink my decision. So, we are moving back to my roots in Helsinki next year,” tells Salone.

Salone also tells us that the amount of homework his daughter comes home with everyday does not leave her with much room for playing and relaxing after school. “When I was my daughter’s age, my homework was very minimal. Most of the days we had no homework at all. We had a lot of free time to play after school,” remembers Salone.

The kind of life Salone leads today in the Silicon Valley would be anybody’s envy. But his daughter’s education is his top-most priority and nothing will stop him from giving up what he has earned so far to secure the best for his child. Salone might not be going through this dilemma alone. There might be several parents from Finland, but settled in the US, contemplating on the same course of action.

Given the 2015 data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), where Finland outperformed the US in reading, math and science, this comes as no surprise. PISA is considered to be one of the most important tools to measure education systems worldwide.

So where does this scenario leave us with? Why isn’t Salone happy with the US model of STEM education? We all know about the current state of STEM education in the US and we had also discussed in detail about what needs to be done in our earlier blog.

However, very little is being done despite repeated calls for educational reform. There has been a common consensus in the US to support and promote STEM education, thus leading to several studies, commissions and task forces that have come up with numerous findings and reports. Interestingly, all the reports singled out the same problems and called for the same solutions.

If we were to look for a sustainable change, the American STEM education system needs to go for an overhaul. Perhaps emulating Finland’s education system is the answer. Considered to be one of the best education systems in the world, Finland is able to outrank the US year after year because this Nordic country has over the years revolutionized its educational system with several simple, yet novel reforms.

Let’s find out the top 3 things that educators and specialists in Finland pointed out what Finland does differently to consistently outrank the US in the field of education.


Formal schooling does not begin until age 7

Global education influencer and ALO Finland digital teacher training on Finnish education, Pirjo Suhonen, says:

“Formal schooling in Finland does not begin until age 7, when children are considered to be ready, motivated and eager to learn. Out here in Finland besides science, technology, math, literacy and language, art, music, physical education, textile and wood work are also considered important in holistic education.”

Whereas in the US, children are stuck in the K-12 circle, where they begin their formal schooling around 5 or 6 years, and the cycle continues till college. The grading system takes a toll on some students as they have to deal with tests, competitions, peer pressure and the rigmarole.


Finish education is not based on high-stakes testing

Suhonen eleborates,

“Finnish education is not based on high-stakes testing or narrow curricula. Instead, play and playful learning are highly valued in Finland. Teachers do not need to stress over test results, spend tremendous amount of time in preparing children for tests or assessing them. They can create a learning environment, which supports the holistic growth and development of learners. There is a shift of focus in the curriculum from teaching students content (what to learn) to broad-based competencies (how to learn).”

“Basic education creates the conditions for lifelong learning and continuous development, which is an integral part of building a good life. Children should learn how to learn, experiment and make mistakes, not how to take tests.”

However, in the US standardized tests and exams are a part of the curriculum. This system leaves no room for a holistic growth as most of the children tend to cram and study just to pass their exams. There’s also very little focus on playful and hands-on learning early on.


Finland relies on academic, research-based teacher education

Adjunct Professor (UEF), education researcher and specialist, Jyrki Loima, says:

“Finland remains to be the only European country that has fully relied on academic, research-based teacher education for its best high school students and has updated their curricula accordingly. Teacher education programs have remained very popular and universities may only take the best applicants, which is a strong pre-service quality assurance guarantee as well. Current basic education curriculum update (in force since 2016) will have less content requirements for students.”

“More attention is paid on teamwork skills, the joy of learning and interdisciplinary, project-related collaboration of the students. Skills and processes matter, not solely emphasized on test scores. Recent minor changes in teacher education programs have been holistic and constructivist, emphasizing on the individual support that learners need. Research skills are seen as important tools for teachers to improve the various learning environments they facilitate.”

In a stark contrast, a survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) states that around 30 percent of physics and chemistry teachers in public high schools in the US are not well qualified in their fields and have not earned a certificate to teach those subjects.



Given Finland’s education system where children start formal schooling at 7 years with more focus on playful learning and pedagogic research and child development, children don’t need to worry about competition or exams. With no private schools in Finland, there’s also the same level of education for everyone regardless of anyone’s social stature. So, parents need not worry about looking for top performing schools. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Finland’s education system outperforms other countries, including the US.

Moreover, as education is free in Finland, the student loan debt compared to the US is quite low. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s report, the student loan debt in the US amounts to $1.56 trillion, fanned out among 45 million American borrowers.

In Finland, emphasis is also laid on special education and extra care when a child fails to learn things as fast as his/her peers. A special teacher is assigned to help the slow learner. However, in the US and in other countries without the special attention, parents end up hiring private tutors to fill in the gap.

With minimal homework, children in Finland can focus on play and extra-curricular activities after school. Salone would not be planning to move out of the Silicon Valley, had his daughter got the same kind of education system that he got as a child in Finland. But we can stop the future exodus of many parents like Salone and perhaps lure Salone back to the Silicon Valley if we revolutionize our education system and bring in those simple and novel reforms that Finland had been following over the years.


Did you know that according to the National Math And Science Initiative (NMSI), 69% of school graduates are not prepared to take up college level science and math? This clearly substantiates the fact that students do not get the required exposure, support and guidance from their parents and teachers during the formative years. So, how can we make our STEM classrooms more engaging and fun?

Research reveals that learners can retain only 5 percent of whatever is presented to them through lecture and 30 percent through demonstration. However, if you include hands-on learning in your process of teaching, the retention rate is as high as 75 percent.


Considering these factors, Mand Labs Teach Electronics Program focuses on APPB Learning (activity-based, problem-based, project-based learning). This program plays a crucial role in helping educators/teachers to effectively teach hands-on projects in the field of physics, electrical and electronics.

The content-rich and curriculum-driven program endeavours to make STEM classrooms more engaging and fun for students with an exciting mix of real-world projects and activities further fuelled with quizzes, contests, and more.

Let’s walk you through:


Demonstrate laws of physics with ease and confidence

Built and tested on the strong fundamental of do-it-yourself approach, the larger goal of our program is to make children realize that technology is not technical and no matter how complex any technology seems; it can always be broken down into smaller components, logic and fundamental laws of physics.

Our complete curriculum will guide you on how to demonstrate abstract concepts of physics and teach electronics in a fun-interactive way using real-world hands-on projects.

For instance, the best way to learn “transistor as an amplifier” is to actually build it and then use math and equations to test out its working. Another example to demonstrate EMI (electro-magnetic induction) is to create a small generator using a DC motor and likewise.

You will also be able to demonstrate Kirchhoff’s voltage law, Kirchhoff’s current law, Ohm’s law, The Esaki Effect, Electromagnetic Induction, Time Constant Circuits with ease. There are ample examples in our books and PDF guides that will help you to learn how each discrete component works be it transistors, LEDs, capacitors, or relays and more and how do we connect them through logic to build something more meaningful.

This experiential learning process will imbibe critical thinking and computation acumen in children. Our intention is to help students realize that each component can be treated as a building block to build logic.

By teaching children how to apply concepts of physics and use math in real-life projects, you will not only make your classroom challenging and exciting, but also help your students to be collaborative and imbibe a sense of teamwork in them.



Create curiosity:

Norwegian psychologist, May-Britt Moser, had aptly said:

“It is so important for children to bloom and to be driven by their curiosity.”

To captivate children’s attention and make them curious, but most of all to get them interested in science and math in their formative years, it is important for the teacher to create an environment for them where they are actively involved in their own learning and where he/she is able to engage them and spark their curiosity.

Mand Labs Teach Electronics Program focuses on creating limitless options for children to be curious, to investigate and to go in depth using interactive do-it-yourself activities and projects.

The program that comprises project-based learning curriculum, including, books, videos, step-by-step project building guides (PDF), classroom lectures (PDF) and workshop presentations (PDF) will help you to engage your students in hands-on experiments that embark curiosity by encouraging students to ask questions combined with the joy of building circuits from scratch; it is a journey of multiple learning levels.

For instance, imagine each kid rotating the DC motor to flash an LED and then try to figure out why the motion produces electricity, at what voltage does the LED glow, and exploring the principle of EMI (electromagnetic induction). This simple yet fun experiment will create excitement while making them inquisitive and curious. To quote May-Britt Moser again,

“All children are born with stars in their eyes, and they are curious. It is important for teachers to be careful not to kill this curiosity…”

So, by engaging them with exciting do-it-yourself hands-on activities and letting them explore further on their own, you are already laying a strong foundation for them to be actively involved in their own learning.


Evaluate with contests & quizzes

Your job is incomplete if you do not gauge how your students have fared. The need for evaluation is crucial but how you evaluate them is even more crucial. If your evaluation process is not interesting to the students, you may hinder their learning.

Mand Labs Teach Electronics Program is built to make your evaluation process simple and fun with maximum participation from students. It is complete with quizzes and assessment questions that are all based on practical experience of students. Hosting quizzes in your classroom will not only spark interest among your students, but will also test the level of their comprehension.

To make your classroom even more engaging, our program will guide you on how to organise contests. This will ensure a competitive environment in your classroom. For instance, you can test the “fastest circuit maker” in your class and reward the winner. Or you can have an “Open Book Project Challenge”, wherein you let students use the books to create something that they have no idea about; or even better- who builds the “logic gates” first?

But for those of you who want to take this contest to an intra-school level and help in creating something new, help is at hand. Yes, when you organise your Annual Science & Technology Exhibition and hold a challenging circuit building contest like the H-Bridge, IR security alarm, logic gates etc. Mand Labs will sponsor the prizes and also guide you.




Mand Labs Teach Electronics Program that is complete with rich curriculum for 25 hands-on hours, comprising hardware kits for students and educators, 60 projects, quizzes, classroom workbooks, and dedicated technical support is not just any of your run-of-the-mill program.

The program has been built after years of working closely with educators and students from across the globe. Developed after continuous research, testing and improvisation, the program will take you through a rigorous building process and analytics to make your classroom more relatable and interesting to students.

What’s more? The transparent pricing matches no other. And our dedicated back-end technical support, comprising experienced engineers will be always there to guide you to run your annual program or whenever you need to troubleshoot.

Several schools that have been the early adopters of Mand Labs Teach Electronics Program have been able to make their classrooms dynamic, engaging, hands-on, competitive, collaborative, exciting, inquisitive and not to mention challenging.

So, let us know your thoughts? We are always looking for good ideas. Join our community and you never know, you might end up inspiring a bunch of students to create and build something bigger than themselves just like Miss Riley did in the biopic, October Sky.

To know more about the Teach Electronics Program, you can mail us at support@mandlabs.com.


“With my Glenview’s Got STEAM program we want to excite girls about the possibilities of STEM that are available to them and pair them with high school mentors who are involved in STEM.”

— Kate Stack


This Women’s History Month at Mand Labs we focus our attention on the incredible “Little Women” who are following their passion with grit and determination. In this blog series throughout March, we bring you stories of a few dynamic young women who are paving the way for our generation to soar right through the glass ceiling.

Kate Stack, a high school student at Glenview, Illinois, has taken her love for STEM beyond the four walls of her classroom. Her invention, Epi-Spot, a stuffed animal that teaches people with food allergies how to administer lifesaving epinephrine injections, had won her the Infosys Young Maker Award 2017. Kate has also been instrumental in starting a makerspace and STEM program at the Glenview Public Library with her Infosys grant money of $10,000.

Founder of Glenview’s Got STEAM, an outreach program for middle school girls, Kate loves attending and presenting her projects at Maker Faires. She spoke to Urmila Marak, Head of Communications at Mand Labs, about her invention and what inspires her to be so passionate about STEM. Excerpts.



1. Your prototype Epi-Spot was chosen for Infosys Young Maker Award – could you please tell us what is Epi-Spot all about and how did you come up with this invention?

Epi-Spot is a furry friend helping people with food allergies learn how to administer lifesaving epinephrine injections. Ever since I was three years old, I have had a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. So I had to learn how to self-administer epinephrine in case of a severe allergic reaction. As a kid, I remember learning how to use my injector was a scary experience because I was afraid of needles. The only ways of training were to practice on myself with a special training device or by injecting an orange. I wanted to create a friendlier method of training that was also engaging.

To create Epi-spot, I had to teach myself how to program electronics with an Arduino. The toy has a touch sensor on its thigh to register the injector being placed. Then an instruction screen is activated which guides the user through the steps of the injection. I have been able to use the project in many cool ways. I submitted the prototype to the Infosys Young Maker Award competition and received a $10,000 grant to donate to my local library to start STEM programming and a makerspace. I have also taken Epi-Spot to national food allergy conferences for feedback.



2. You have also founded Glenview’s Got STEAM, an outreach program for middle school girls. What inspires you to be so passionate about STEAM?

What inspires me to be passionate about STEM is how I can apply my creativity to solve problems. The area of STEM that I am most interested in right now is biomedical engineering. It’s been amazing to see how this field of engineering (and others!) is directly improving the lives of people. With my Glenview’s Got STEAM program we want to excite girls about the possibilities of STEM that are available to them and pair them with high school mentors who are involved in STEM.


3. How do you think as an influencer in your space you can motivate more girls in STEM?

I think that being a role model and enthusiastic about STEM is important in changing perceptions. It’s important to break stereotypes and show that you can be in STEM and still have a multitude of other interests. On my twitter account (@MakerKate) along with other teens in STEM we use our platform to encourage others and talk about our experiences.



4. As a young girl aspiring a career in STEM/STEAM, what major challenges do you face?

I think it is important to be resilient and keep a growth mindset. It’s crucial to believe in yourself even if others do not. I have found that by keeping focused on what I am learning instead of what others are doing is when I am the most successful.


5. Who are your role models and why?

My role models are mostly peers whom I have met at conferences or through social media. Many of them are a part of @TheSTEAM_Squad on Twitter but others include people like Abigail Harrison (@AstronautAbby) or Emily Calandrelli (@TheSpaceGal). They are all extremely talented and always willing to give advice or help with projects. Each one of them is rocking it in their own way and are an inspiration to others!


6. Why do you think it is important to introduce STEM education to children at an early age?

When I was younger I thought that you had to be extraordinarily smart and understand everything in order to have a chance at a STEM career. But through the Maker Movement and my various experiences I have seen that this is not true! These misconceptions exist among students so it’s important to challenge these notions.



7. What advice would you love to give your peers and other young girls who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

The biggest piece of advice I would give is not to be afraid of taking chances and trying something new. When I was younger I never imagined I would be as involved in STEM as I am now, but I had an open mind and took risks. It’s easy to measure yourself against all that you don’t know, but instead try to measure yourself by how much you have learned. It’s also helpful to reach out to people who are involved in things you are interested in; whether that be a neighbor, family member, teacher, or even a fellow student.


8. How do you like to relax when you are not working or studying?

I have been teaching myself the ukulele for the past couple years and I enjoy film photography! I love to work in a darkroom and I appreciate the hands-on aspect that goes into every roll of film or print. I’m also endlessly inspired by the Maker Movement and I like to attend and present at Maker Faires whenever possible.

We wish Kate Stack the very best in her future endeavors! Follow Kate Stack on Twitter @makerkate 


“Be yourself and know that your goals are more important than what others “think” you can accomplish. It’s okay to dream, but it’s better to do it.”

— Taylor Richardson


This Women’s History Month at Mand Labs we focus our attention on the incredible “Little Women” who are following their passion with grit and determination. In this blog series throughout March, we bring you stories of a few dynamic young women who are paving the way for our generation to soar right through the glass ceiling.

Meet 16-year-old Taylor Richardson, an aspiring engineer, scientist and an astronaut, who has an impressive list of accomplishments in her kitty. Taylor is on a mission to inspire more girls of color into STEM and has successfully raised over $100,000 for STEM-related causes through her crowdfunding campaigns. She has also donated over 10,000 books to young people across the world.

Also known as Astronaut Starbright, Taylor is a student of the Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida. She spoke to Urmila Marak, Head of Communications at Mand Labs, about her philanthropic work and how she remains undeterred by the obstacles that come her way and doesn’t let the challenges slow her down. Excerpts.


1. You are just 15 and you have achieved so much at such a young age. What inspires you towards your dream of becoming an engineer, a scientist and an astronaut?

Knowing that there is so much in the world that hasn’t been explained, or explored. My curiosity drives me to keep moving toward my goals.



2. Please tell us more about your philanthropic work, including what propelled you to start a GoFundMe campaign to help 100 girls watch the movie “Hidden Figures.”

I advocate for girls in STEM so that they know that they have someone encouraging them and who looks like them. Representation in the STEM community is lacking women and people of color, and the media plays a part in that. When I saw a private screening of “Hidden Figures” I was inspired to help other girls see the film because it was the first time I had learned of the extremely important roles that African-American women played in the space program.

I knew that if more girls knew about those contributions then they would feel that they could achieve anything they put their minds to. I’ve raised over $100,000 for STEM- related causes and donated over 10,000 books to young people across the world because representation and education are so important to me.



3. How do you think as an influencer in your space you can motivate more girls in STEM?

Just by showing them that they are enough. I was bullied because of my skin color, retained in second grade because I initially was a slow reader. I was told not to participate in STEM activities because I was a girl, and have ADHD (Which I call Abundantly Different Happily Divine) but haven’t let any of those obstacles slow me down or make me feel like my goals are not attainable. I believe in doing, not just dreaming.


4. As a young girl pursuing a career in STEM, what major challenges do you face?

I mentioned many of them above. When you don’t resemble everyone doing it, sometimes it’s hard to find your comfort space. That’s why I’ve been building groups of STEM sisters so that we’ll have a built-in support system.


5. Who are your role models and why?

Dr. Mae Jemison, Arlan Hamilton, Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey. They’ve each added to a system that already existed, but completely transformed how others think about the space program, investing in companies, creating impactful films, and being the voice of reason in the media.



6. Why do you think it is important to introduce STEM education to children at an early age?

The more exposure that children have to STEM education the faster they can find what they do and don’t like about it. Plenty of college student go into pre-med, without even realizing whether they really like it or because it’s the only job they know in the field. Almost everything that we use in our day-to-day lives like cellphones, apps, cars, television, computers email were created by someone in STEM. If we can convey that message to children, many may not grow up wanting to be doctors.


7. What advice would you love to give your peers and other young girls who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

Be yourself and know that your goals are more important than what others “think” you can accomplish. It’s okay to dream, but it’s better to do it. Find mentors, and ask questions because it’s the only way to learn what you don’t know.


8. How do you like to relax when you are not working?

Hanging out with my friends, going to the movies, and talking on the phone like most teenag

We wish Taylor Richardson the very best in her future endeavors! Follow Taylor Richardson on Twitter @astrostarbright 


“…Be passionate, persistent and work hard. Success does not come overnight, but it is an accumulation of hard work spanning many years.”

— Hasini Jayatilaka


This Women’s History Month at Mand Labs we focus our attention on the incredible “Little Women” who are following their passion with grit and determination. In this blog series throughout March, we bring you stories of a few dynamic young women who are paving the way for our generation to soar right through the glass ceiling.

Meet Hasini Jayatilaka, the young scientist, who in just a few years into her research has brought hope to millions of cancer patients with her significant discovery. This discovery will help in slowing down the spread of cancer by directly affecting the complex mechanism behind the spread.

After completing her postdoctoral research from Stanford University School of Medicine, Hasini recently joined Syneos Health as a consultant. This young scientist has also made it to the Forbes list 30 Under 30 – Science 2019.

She spoke to Urmila Marak, Head of Communications at Mand Labs, about what got her interested in taking up her study on cancer and how her discovery can help in cancer treatment. Excerpts.



1. You have discovered a signalling pathway that blocks the spread of cancer. Could you please elaborate more on the findings – What it is all about and how will this discovery help in cancer treatment?

My team and I discovered that cancer cells can communicate with each other based on how they are closely packed. They communicate through two molecules called interleukin 6 and interleukin 8. Like anything else in nature, when things get too packed, this signal is enhanced causing them to move away faster from the primary tumor and spread to a new site. So, when we block this signal using a drug cocktail that we developed, we can stop the communication between the cancer cells and slow down its spread.

Ninety percent of cancer-related deaths are caused due to metastasis. Our finding is significant because currently there are no Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved therapeutics that target metastasis alone. In fact, metastasis is thought of as a by-product of tumor growth. It is believed that if we shrink the tumor we can stop its spread. However, we successfully slowed down the spread of cancer, not by shrinking the tumor, but by directly affecting the complex mechanism behind the spread.



2. Tell us more about yourself. What inspired you to take up this study on cancer?

I started working in the lab of Dr. Denis Wirtz as an undergraduate research assistant during my second year of university. At Johns Hopkins University, it is mandatory for undergraduate students to complete at least one semester of research. I chose to do my research in Dr. Wirtz’s lab after I had seen him present at a seminar. His enthusiasm and passion for his work on cancer metastasis is what drew me to research on this subject.

As an undergraduate research assistant, I was given to look at how cancer cells move in a 3D Collagen I Matrix that recapitulated in a dish after migrating cells are exposed to the human body. This was new and exciting for me as most studies had been conducted in 2D flat plastic dishes that really weren’t representative of what was happening in our bodies.

During this time, I attended a seminar conducted by Dr. Bonnie Bassler from Princeton University. She talked about how bacterial cells would communicate with each other based on their population density and perform a specific action. This was a light-bulb moment for me! I thought “wow”, I see this in my tumor cells when it comes to their movement. The idea for my project was thus born. I hypothesized that the movement of cancer cells could be regulated by how closely packed they are in the tumor microenvironment.

We then recruited undergraduate and graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and professors from multiple institutions and disciplines to come together and work on the idea that I conceived as a sophomore in college. After years of experiments together and merging diverse perspectives and ideas, we identified a new signaling pathway that controlled cell density dependent migration in cancer cells.

We decided that we wanted to block this pathway and see if we could slow down the spread of cancer. We implemented this in pre-clinical animal models. We came up with a drug cocktail that consisted of Tocilizumab, which is currently used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, and Reparixin, a molecule currently in clinical trials for breast cancer.

Interestingly, what we found was that the cocktail of these two drugs only targeted metastasis and not tumor growth. This was significant because currently there aren’t any FDA approved therapeutics that target metastasis alone.



3. How do you think as an influencer in your space you can motivate more girls in STEM?

I think part of encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM is by showing them how women, who are currently pursuing STEM, are “ordinary” like any of us. When I was younger (and even now) I look at women who are successful in STEM and think they are superhuman and I don’t have the superhuman talent that they possess. However, what I have learned is that these women who I look up to are just like me. They all enjoy a good laugh, they all want to have fun, and they all want to pursue ideas that interest them. Showing that “ordinary” side of me, has helped me motivate girls to pursue more STEM careers.


4. As a young girl pursuing a career in STEM, what major challenges do you face?

Working with difficult scientists. Working with anyone difficult takes a lot of patience and self-restraint to tolerate the toxic environment. It’s important to teach girls how to navigate these kind of situations. In my case, once the projects ended, I was able to stop working with those scientists and cautiously pick who I wanted to work with.


5. Why do you think it is important to introduce STEM education to children at an early age?

I think with anything else in life it’s important to expose children to all opportunities available to them and let them pursue what interests them. Introducing children to STEM at a young age gets them excited about the possibilities that exists.



6. What advice would you love to give your peers and other young girls who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

I would advise them to pursue a career that they love. I wake up every day excited to enter the lab and work on challenging projects. I would advise them to be passionate, persistent and work hard as success does not come overnight, but it is an accumulation of hard work spanning many years. My professional journey has been hard but I persisted because I got support from friends and family and I am grateful to be where I am today. I would also advise them to be kind and supportive to peers as individual success contributes to collective success. I wouldn’t have been here without my peers.


7. How do you like to relax when you are not working.

A lot of my free time now is spent meeting with friends and skyping with my family in Sri Lanka. Sometimes when I have time to myself, I like reading, experimenting with recipes, and watching TV shows and movies. I also like to work out and stay active. This usually involves yoga and running. Anything that takes me away from my phone and computer is relaxing.

We wish Hasini every success in her research and future endeavors! Follow Hasini Jayatilaka on Twitter @HasiniJt 


The world wouldn’t be the same without their innovations & inventions

Every human being is a tinkerer. There’s a creative side in all of us: Politicians, teachers, lawyers, businessmen, bankers, scientists, engineers, writers and so on. But how many of us actually tinker, create and breathe life into the things we imagine? We might have great ideas, but we don’t put in the effort to build or make or see the project to fruition.

Carol S. Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, is apt in saying:

“No matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.”

On the other hand, we have people who fired up their imagination and turned their groundbreaking ideas into extraordinary products. They have revolutionized the world with their creative spirit and brought about the maker movement.

We bring you stories of 10 such ordinary tinkerers or innovators in the world who gave us extraordinary products with nothing more than their effort and creativity. These innovators have given us remarkable technologies and tools that have not only changed our lives, but have also helped scale our businesses and created economic disruption.


Thomas Alva Edison

“I never did anything by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident; they came by work.”

Watch his life story


Considered to be one of the greatest inventors of all time, Thomas Edison is credited with thousands of patents to his name, including the electric light bulb, the phonograph, the microphone, the motion picture camera and the alkaline batteries.

Nicknamed “The Wizard of Menlo Park”, Edison developed an insatiable quest for knowledge at an early age of 11. He was easily distracted and hyperactive, which made him a difficult student at school. He was soon expelled from school. But his mother homeschooled him and he never failed to attribute his success to his mother. “ My mother was the making of me…” he said.

Edison started devouring articles on N-number of subjects as he spent almost all his free time in reading and experimenting before he got his first breakthrough. He was never distracted by outdoor sounds and could concentrate more on his work because an early bout of scarlet fever and ear infections left him with hearing difficulties in both ears.

Later, his career as an inventor stretched from a tinkerer to the head of a major corporation, (Edison General Electric, which we know as GE today). His career, essentially a rag-to-riches story, is about the 19th century innovation as a business. The rest they say is history, as he set the stage for the modern electric world.


Alexander Graham Bell

“The day will come when the man at the telephone will be able to see the distant person to whom he is speaking.”

Watch his life story


Known for his invention of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell started off his career as a teacher for the deaf. He was a tinkerer by heart, so while teaching he began his research on hearing and speech and how he could help the deaf communicate. He researched extensively about ways to transmit telegraph messages simultaneously over a single-wire, which eventually led to his invention of the telephone.

Bell drew inspiration for his work from his wife and mother, who were both hearing impaired. He is also attributed to other groundbreaking work in optical telecommunications, aeronautics and hydrofoils. He might not be the founder of the National Geographic magazine, but he had a great impact on the magazine when he served as its second president.

As a tinkerer, Bell sometimes worked through the night and went to bed only when the sun came up. Sometimes he even loved to drive so hard that he would end up getting severe migraines. But he loved to relax by taking a dip in the lake by his summer home and puffing on a lit cigar.

Bell continued with his work with the deaf till his last years. He also established the American Association to Promote Teaching of Speech to the Deaf. In 1922 when Bell died at his home in Canada, the entire telecom department paid tribute to the genius by shutting down the system for one minute.


Nikola Tesla

“If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6 and 9, then you would have the key to the universe”

Watch his life story


Born in modern-day Croatia, NiKola Tesla portrayed his streak of geniusness from a very early age. His ability to memorize the entire book with algorithm tables and his skill to pick up languages at the drop of a hat amused and puzzled everyone around him. He functioned normally even when he went on for days without a wink of sleep.

Tesla enrolled for electrical engineering when he was 19 years old and soon established himself as a star performer. He would often get into a debate with his professors over perceived design flaws in the direct-current (DC) motors that were being taught in the class. During those days, he became so obsessed with electromagnetic fields and a hypothetical motor powered by alternate-current, that he lost all focus on his schoolwork and suffered a nervous breakdown.

Despite the odds, this genius of a man came up with the induction motor harnessing electromagnetic power to alternate current. Tesla is also credited with over 700 patents and innumerable applications ranging from the Tesla coil to the radar, radio, remote control, smart bombs, basics for X-rays among many others.

However, his AC motors and power systems were said to be one of the most valuable inventions after the telephone. We are the greatest beneficiaries of Tesla’s AC electrical system as his invention had made an impact on how we use electricity today. Tesla’s dream of a global wireless-transmission tower and his lack of a business mind proved to be his doom. He was bankrupt and spent his last days in a hotel room with pigeons and solving scientific problems and mathematical equations in his head.


Henry Ford
(1863- 1947)

“A market is never saturated with a good product, but it is very quickly saturated with a bad one.”

Watch his life story


Ford might not be the inventor of the automobile, but he revolutionized automobile into an innovation and laid the foundation of an effective transportation for middle class Americans. With his innovation, Ford turned around the landscape of the 20th century that continues to impact our lives even today.

Born to a farmer, Ford refused to follow in his father’s footsteps and started tinkering with watches instead. He used watches as his books to learn the fundamentals of machine design. He worked in machine shops and tinkered in his free time. He even apprenticed at a car company in Detroit before he joined as a full-time engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company. In 1896, his efforts paid off when he completed “Quadricycle”, a gasoline-powered horseless carriage or automobile.

To improve on his prototype and to keep building other vehicles, Ford sold the Quadricycle. For seven years he continued with his work, with the backing from several investors. Finally, his hard work paid off and the Detroit Automobile Company was born. However, he quit the firm because of some differences with his partners, and a year later, he founded the Ford Motor Company.

Henry Ford’s belief that technology had the ability to harness new ideas that could eventually improve people’s lives, further standardized American life. The automobile industry owes the creation of the assembly line manufacturing to Ford. His creation revolutionized the concept of mass production of automobiles worldwide. His commitment to bring an efficient, dependable and affordable automobile for everyone, has made the Ford Motor Company to where it stands today.

Ford’s sales team would often come up to him asking for variants of the Model T. He wanted to stop this as his plans were only to sell just one variant of Model T. So, he introduced this popular policy, “you can have any color you like as long as it is black”. It worked out really well because in the first year of production, they could sell about 6,000 cars. The following year, the workers produced 35,000 cars, tripling productivity and making car ownership affordable to the working class.


Steve Wozniak

“My primary phone is the iPhone. I love the beauty of it. But I wish it did all the things my Android does, I really do.”

Watch his life story


A pioneer of the personal computing revolution of the 1970s and 1980s, Steve Wozniak is also popularly known as “The Woz”. Though he co-founded Apple Inc along with Steve Jobs, his interest lay in engineering. He never had any fascination to run his own business, nor did he want to tell people what to do. “My goal wasn’t to make a ton of money. It was to build good computers. I only started the company when I realized I could be an engineer forever.”

Wozniak was always interested in electronics as a child and made homemade devices and kits from scratch, including games, calculator, a voltmeter among several other things. A tinkerer from a very small age, Wozniak always dreamt about building his own computer. However, circumstances were such that he couldn’t afford to build one because of the expenses. All he could do was design them on paper and compete with himself to get better.

In his mid-twenties, when he got into Hewlett-Packard (HP), where he designed calculators, he wanted to stay on as he wanted to be an engineer for life. It was during his HP days that he was introduced to Steve Jobs and the course of his life changed forever.

Their love for technology and playing pranks drew them close and Wozniak soon developed Apple I, while Jobs spent his time marketing it. Soon in 1977, Wozniak built Apple II and quit his job and formed Apple Computer Inc. By early 80s, Apple was the best-selling computer in the world. “Steve Jobs didn’t really set the direction of my Apple I and Apple II designs but he did the more important part of turning them into a product that would change the world.”

Jobs and Wozniak were interested in the devices called blue boxes, which Wozniak succeeded in building. The device enabled them to imitate tones used for long-distance calls. Once the device was built, Jobs instantly wanted to sell them. So, they started giving demos of the product in order to entice people to buy them. In the process, Wozniak made calls to weird places in the world speaking about their product. He even ended up calling the Pope on one such occasion. Only when he burst out laughing did the Vatican realize that it was a prank call.


Dean Kamen

“I don’t work on a project unless I believe that it will dramatically improve life for a bunch of people.”

Watch his life story


Dean Kamen, one of the most creative tinkerers of our time, came up with his first invention when he was just a five-year-old boy. It was a device that helped him to make his bed every morning. There was no looking back since then, and by the time he was in high school, he was making money from his inventions built from the basement of his house. Once he graduated from high school, he was making more money as an inventor than his parents made in a year.

He dropped out of polytechnic to form his first company, AutoSyringe, where he sold his medical invention, a drug infusion pump. Kamen clinched a deal and became a multimillionaire when he eventually sold AutoSyringe. This revenue helped him to form DEKA Research and Development and later his non-profit organization, FIRST (meant to expose high schools to the marvels of science and technology). FIRST holds an annual robotic competition for 400,000 high schoolchildren.

Kamen’s story projects how innovative ideas can turn into reality if you focus and put all your efforts into them. After over 40 years of inventing, he has over 440 patents to his name and saved thousands of lives through his innovations. However, he is best known for his invention, Segway, a two-wheeled, self-balancing scooter and iBot, a stair-climbing wheelchair.

Today Kamen might be a hero and a celebrity since he unveiled Segway, but this inventor’s passion for science has fostered the need to ignite that spark in young people. This 66-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down as he considers his work to be his life.

“You know, it’s only work if you’d rather be doing something else”


Bill Gates

“Whether it’s Google or Apple or free software, we’ve got some fantastic competitors and it keeps us on our toes.”

Watch his life story

Bill Gates is known not only for founding Microsoft but also for his philanthropic work. Billed as one of the richest men in the world, Gates built the world’s largest software business along with his partner Paul Allen just through his technological genius and a dynamic business strategy. After he stepped down from Microsoft, he has been involved full time on charitable work at his foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Gates was an avid reader since he was a child. In fact, he read so much so that his parents forbade him to get his books to the dinner table. He did well in his school, but he got bored with things very easily and would withdraw into his shell. He excelled in math and science, but also did very well in English and drama. While at school, when he was introduced to the computer, he got hooked to it and spent most of his free time working on the terminal. The school administrators were aware of his programming skills and asked him to write the school’s computer program to schedule students in classes.

At 17, Gates along with his partner, Paul Allen, came up with Traf-O-Data that made traffic counters based on the Intel 8008. When he finally graduated from school, his scores were 1590 out of 1600 at the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT). He enrolled at Harvard University, but spent most of his time in the computer lab than in his class. Within two years he dropped out to pursue his company, Microsoft, along with his partner Allen. At 23, he was heading the company.

In the late 70s and early 80s Microsoft signed a deal with IBM to create an operating system. Though Microsoft did not have an operating system when the contract was finalized, they purchased the full rights for QDOS from Seattle Computer Products (SCP) and got it licensed. QDOS was similar to the operating system CP/M. Later, Microsoft developed the entire operating system for IBM PC after it acquired from SCP. Since then there was no looking back for Microsoft.


Jeff Bezos

“Amazon.com strives to be the e-commerce destination where consumers can find and discover anything they want to buy online.”

Watch his life story


Jeff Bezos, best known as the founder, chairman and CEO of Amazon, showed interest in how things work at a very young age. He turned his parents’ garage into his lab and tinkered and fiddled with electrical devices in the house. As a teen he developed an interest for computers. In fact, during his high school days, Bezos started his first business, the Dream Institute, which was an educational summer camp for fourth to sixth graders.

Bezos followed his love for computers and pursued the subject at Princeton University from where he got his degree in computer science and electrical engineering. Post-graduation, he worked at several firms on Wall Street and was promoted as the senior vice-president (VP) at the investment firm, D.E.Shaw, thus getting the title of the youngest VP.

Four years later in 1994, Bezos quit D.E.Shaw to start Amazon, where he initially sold books online. He started the company out of a garage and for every sale Amazon made, a bell would go off indicating the increase in business.

Bezos is a serial innovator, as he changed the face of e-commerce with Amazon. With his creativity he was also able to change the outlook of Washington Post (WP), which he bought for $250 million in 2013. In less than three years, he had managed to increase the readership of WP and make its content more suitable for the digital world. He has also founded the Amazon Studios. Today after 23 years, Amazon is one of the greatest success stories. And Bezos is now worth $100 billion, securing the title of the world’s richest man, beating Bill Gates.


Elon Musk

“My biggest mistake is probably weighing too much on someone’s talent and not someone’s personality. I think it matters whether someone has a good heart.”

Watch his life story


Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and Neuralink among others, is transforming transportation not only on earth but also in space. He was in the news lately as he has plans to launch Tesla Roadster to Mars on Falcon Heavy rocket.

This inventor, engineer, investor and business magnate was an avid reader and tinkerer since he was a child. Musk’s keen interest in computers made him self-teach computer programming and eventually develop a BASIC-based video game, called Blaster. He even managed to sell it to a magazine for $500, all at the age of 12. Musk enrolled for his Ph.D in energy physics at Stanford but dropped out after two days to launch Zip2 Corporation along with his brother. When his first company was acquired by Compaq, he received $22 million for his 7 percent share.

He founded his second company, X-Com, which later went on to become PayPal. PayPal was acquired by e-bay and Musk received $165 million from the sale. Musk soon came up with his third company, SpaceX, where he wanted to build spacecraft for commercial space travel. SpaceX was soon recognized and it got its contract from NASA to handle cargo transport for the International Space Station.

His other venture, Tesla Motors, dedicated exclusively in producing affordable, mass-market electric cars, was soon successful in unveiling a sports car that could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds while travelling 250 miles. Musk has also visualized and proposed a high-speed transportation system, hyperloop. He also founded The Boring Company in 2016.


Mark Zuckerberg

“Helping a billion people connect is amazing, humbling and by far the thing I am most proud of in my life.”

Watch his life story


Mark Zuckerberg, the man and face behind Facebook, developed an interest in computers from a very young age. His interest propelled his parents to hire a private tutor, who would drop by his house once a week. His tutor later told reporters that it was difficult to stay ahead of the prodigy.

At 12, Zukerberg developed a messaging program, Zucknet, using Atari BASIC. It came in handy for his dentist father, who used it in his dental office to inform him of new patients without the receptionist yelling across the room. The entire family used Zucknet to communicate inside the house. He also created computer games with his friends just for fun.

Zuckerberg, who also excelled in fencing and headed the school team in the sport, was always fascinated by computers and he was always seen working on new programs. While in high school he developed an early version of Pandora, the music software. Companies like AOL and Microsoft showed interest in hiring Zuckerberg and buying the software, but he declined the offers.

While he was at Harvard, he built a program, CourseMatch that helped his fellow students choose their classes based on the course selection of other users. As he earned the reputation of the go-to software developer on the campus, twin brothers Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss along with fellow student Divya Narendra approached him to build a social networking site. Thus, Facebook was born out of the dorm room and the rest they say is history.


I want to walk on Mars because it’s my dream, but even more so, because going to Mars represents the dreams of my generation and our future.”

— Astronaut Abby


This Women’s History Month at Mand Labs we focus our attention on the incredible “Little Women” who are following their passion with grit and determination. In this blog series throughout March, we bring you stories of a few dynamic young women who are paving the way for our generation to soar right through the glass ceiling.

Abigail Harrison, popularly known as Astronaut Abby, has set her sight on not just being a NASA astronaut but on being the first astronaut to set foot on Mars. She started being vocal about her larger than life dream when she was only 13 years. She’s come a long way since then and today is a social-media influencer with over one million followers and fans to support her dreams and mission.

Abigail, who studied astrobiology and Russian at Wellesley College, graduated in 2019. Founder of The Mars Generation, 501c3 non-profit, when she was only 18 years in 2015, Abigail is also a big time advocate of STEM and Space Exploration. Through her outreach program she focuses on educating people around the world about the importance of science literacy and how space exploration is crucial to the future of mankind.

Astronaut Abby spoke to Urmila Marak, Head of Communications at Mand Labs, about her non-profit, The Mars Generation and what keeps her ticking. Excerpts.


1. You are just 21 and you have achieved so much at such a young age. What inspires you towards your dream of becoming the first astronaut to land on Mars?

I have wanted to be an astronaut for as long as I can remember- some of my first memories are of staring at the night sky and dreaming of going to space. Over the years this passion for space exploration has only grown stronger.

In addition, I’ve been inspired to continue reaching for this dream by all of the incredible people who I’ve met in the space and STEM industries. I want to walk on Mars because it’s my dream, but even more so, because going to Mars represents the dreams of my generation and our future.



2. Please tell us about your Mars Generation initiative.

The Mars Generation is a 501c3 non-profit which I founded when I was 18 in 2015. We focus on educating the public about the importance of science literacy, increasing interest in space exploration, and inspiring/supporting the next generation to pursue careers in space and STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts, and math). The idea is that if we want younger generations to accomplish great things we need to be inspiring and supporting students today.

The Mars Generation provides educational programs and materials for students of all ages and all around the world through our Student Space Ambassador and Future of Space outreach programs. We also curate an annual awards list (24 under 24) of young people who are changing the world through their passion for STEAM and education.

In combination with my own channels (as Astronaut Abby) The Mars Generation has over 1 million followers on social channels, where we produce and share space and STEAM-based content. Finally, The Mars Generation provides fully paid (including transportation!) scholarships for students living in poverty to go to space camp in Huntsville, Alabama.


3. How do you think as an influencer in your space you can motivate more girls in STEM

I think it’s absolutely essential that we do not underestimate the importance of representation. Role models are incredibly important, especially on a subconscious level. Girls need to be able to picture themselves excelling in STEM careers, and for that to be possible, they need to see women and girls who are already doing so. The most impactful way (both in reaching the largest number of young women and in making STEM ‘cool’ or engaging) is through pop culture and social media.

As an influencer I can utilize my channels and communities (1 million followers across social media) to be a role model, to engage more girls in STEM, and to encourage people to be more open to girls/women in traditionally male dominated fields. Additionally, being an influencer allows me to support STEM education and advocacy financially- I donate 100% of the proceeds from paid influencer work that I do (speaking/appearing at events/conferences, brand work, appearing in commercials, etc.) directly to The Mars Generation.



4. As a young girl pursuing a career in STEM, what major challenges do you face?

One of the greatest challenges I have faced as a woman pursuing a career in STEM is self doubt. Women and girls face an inordinate level of something known as ‘imposter syndrome’. Imposter syndrome is basically a nagging feeling that your achievements aren’t legitimate or deserved based on your skill and effort.

I have found that many women with equal or greater qualifications to men question their ability to succeed, especially in traditionally male dominated fields, such as STEM. I am no different. Despite having great self confidence, I definitely still sometimes struggle with believing in my abilities. Rather than trying to change this piece of myself I try to look at it as a positive quality that has the potential to be negative, if not kept in check. A little bit of self doubt isn’t a bad thing as it allows me to be introspective.

When I start to feel self doubt I use it as an opportunity to reflect on my actions, to ask myself questions such as; ‘have I given this task my all? What are my accomplishments? What defines success, to me?’ Asking these questions helps me to stay on track and stay motivated. However, self doubt can quickly become a slippery slope.

To avoid this, I try to stay vocal about my dream, so that people around me can remind me to believe in myself. I greatly appreciate my community- family members, friends, teachers, and all of my followers on social media- for being a part of my journey.


5. Who are your role models and why?

Role models are incredibly important to achieving big dreams and even more so for women. I was fortunate to have multiple people step in over the past 10 years to help guide my journey towards becoming an astronaut

Notably, my 5th grade science teacher who assured that I didn’t lose an interest in STEM fields throughout middle school, Astronaut Wendy Lawrence whose belief and encouragement has helped me never give up, and my research advisor Dr. Andrew Schuerger who has helped guide me as I take the big leap from Undergrad to Grad school.

Despite each playing a unique role in my life, one thing which each of these people (and other mentors I have had) have in common is that they have believed strongly in me and my ability to succeed in STEM. Of course concrete help, such as career guidance, is important.

However, when entering fields (such as STEM) which women and girls have been dissuaded from for decades, I think it’s equally important for women to have guidance as it is to have someone who believes that they can accomplish their dreams. Knowing that someone who has already accomplished a career in STEM believes in you can be an incredible help.



6. Why do you think it is important to introduce STEM education to children at an early age?

Kids are born as explorers. They have this natural sense of curiosity and wonder. Introducing them to engaging and exciting STEM education early on allows us to help them retain this curiosity and funnel it into their future education and careers. We need to make sure we teach kids how important having a strong base in STEM fields is (regardless of their future career path) and how much fun it can be to use STEM to explore.


7. What advice would you love to give your peers and other young girls who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

Be loud and be proud about your dreams! The first step in making a goal come true is believing in yourself- no one else can do that for you. The next step is talking about your dreams and goals and plans. Once you start being vocal about what it is you plan to do in the future other people can step in and help you. But others will not know to help you if they don’t know what you are planning to do.

One of the biggest problems we have with recruiting young women and minorities into STEM fields is that they often don’t feel supported and they often feel actively unwelcome in STEM fields/careers. By being loud and proud of your goals and dreams you can build a community of people around you who will support you during times when reaching those dreams may feel like a struggle.


8. How do you like to relax when you are not working?

My favorite way to relax is through dance! I am passionate about dance and am fortunate to have gotten to learn a handful of different styles over the last couple years. Currently, I do Ballet, Lindy Hop, West Coast Swing, Blues, Salsa, Bachata, Fusion, Contra, and Waltz. I have also always loved to relax through sports. Currently, I play Rugby, but in the past I have trained for marathons, been a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) collegiate diver, and a ton of other activities.

We wish her the very best in her future endeavors! Follow Astronaut Abby on Twitter  @AstronautAbby 


“It’s never too late to get started on your dream, and never too early!

— Makiah Eustice


This Women’s History Month at Mand Labs we focus our attention on the incredible “Little Women” who are following their passion with grit and determination.  In this blog series throughout March, we bring you stories of a few dynamic young women who are paving the way for our generation to soar right through the glass ceiling.

Makiah Eustice is a true example of how it is never too late to dream big and get started. This commissioned US Air Force officer and an aspiring astronaut, has in her own words, “grown from a space enthusiast to an aspiring aerospace industry leader.”

Makiah, who graduated from the Space Studies Program at the International Space University in 2019, also received her B.S in Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University. She is also the president of Texas A&M SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space) chapter and founder of the Aggie Astronaut Corps program.

The rising star in defense, aviation and space, also has two space analog missions, Mars Desert Research Crew 200 and the Mars Academy USA mission, to her credit.

Makiah spoke to Urmila Marak about her love for aerospace and why it is important to introduce STEM education to children at an early age. Excerpts.


1. When did you discover your love for aerospace? What has been the most defining moment in your life so far?

I don’t remember the exact moment, but it was junior year of high school when I first heard about Space X and Virgin Galactic. ‘We are going back to space’ was the message. ‘We are going to Mars’! That sounded absolutely crazy, but it gave me such a yearning to be a part of something big, something humanity shifting. I decided to try what I thought was the hardest, most important job for getting to space, engineering!

During my freshman year at Texas A&M, I had several life changing experiences back to back. I had the chance to ride in a T-38 Talon (what they train Air Force pilots and astronauts in) and attend Space Camp USA. I knew then that I wanted to become an Air Force officer and an astronaut. Soon after, I was accepted into Aerospace Engineering. It was like my purpose in life suddenly became clear!



2. How do you intend to take your aerospace career ahead as the commissioned US Air Force Officer?

I’m so excited to finally serve and work as an engineer! I hope to eventually become a flight test engineer. For that I will need to do additional education, so I need to get a Master’s degree through the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) and be selected for the Test Pilot School. At the same time, I’ll be balancing my other pursuits, like spaceflight-related research and training.

My career is unpredictable at this point. I might find a new interest that leads me to another field that I pursue in the private sector. Either way, I want to go to be an astronaut someday! Between the civilian and commercial opportunities in the future, I believe starting my path in the military will help bring my dream closer to reality.


3. How do you think as an influencer in your space you can motivate more girls in STEM?

I believe being my authentic self, whether on or off duty, can help girls see themselves in STEM. I’m a black women, space advocate, analog astronaut, engineer, and future Air Force officer. I can be good at what I do without fitting into any mold.

Secondly, I can show how collaboration and community are so important for STEM. We solve problems together. We depend on each other. We lift each other up. Having a community of supportive women in my field through the Brooke Owens Fellowship has made me better prepared for STEM. I hope girls never think they have to go through their field with a competitive, cutthroat mindset. STEM is fun, and so are the people!


4. As a young girl pursuing a career in STEM, what major challenges do you face?

I didn’t realize how my environment shaped my perception of STEM fields. My interest in physics in high school actually made me scared; I thought it would be too hard to become a scientist, doctor, or engineer. Even when I joined the robotics team, I was very intimidated by students who already had building and coding skills. Instead of encouraging me out of my comfort zone, the coach just did not expect much from me.

The biggest challenge was developing my own courage when I had almost no mentors or proponents to lift me up. It was my own courageous choice to pursue engineering over videography. It is still sometimes a challenge to believe in myself.



5. Who are your role models and why?

I have so many! But I want to especially highlight some of my black role models.My parents, who have a strong relationship, have taught me how to have perseverance and selflessness through struggle. We weren’t well off, but we still brought in two brothers who didn’t have family stability. I really appreciate the value of family because of them.

My cousin, a Columbia University graduate, introduced me to the collegiate world and encouraged me to aim higher than a local college. She is one of the few people in my family with a graduate degree.

Col. Ken Allison, (Ret.) worked in space operations in the Air Force and the private sector. He now supports cadet professional development and has been my mentor since I first visited Texas A&M. I want to model his energy and resilience in the Air force and beyond.

Dr. Sian Proctor, a NASA astronaut finalist and analog astronaut veteran. She helped me prepare for my first Mars analog mission! She is always trying new things and promoting STEM and space. She inspires me to enjoy the journey and don’t stress about the destination.

Naia Butler-Craig is a senior at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. She has presented at multiple conferences, published papers, worked at NASA, started her own company, and got into Georgia Tech for her PhD! She is persistent, confident, and positive. Her achievements inspire me to reach for greatness every day.


6. Why do you think it is important to introduce STEM education to children at an early age?

From my perspective, I grew up with more of an artistic background from my parents. I loved to dance, sing, and collect rocks to make sculptures! Even though I was good at math and science, I couldn’t see any reason I’d want to work in that field (until high school).

No one taught me the connection of music to sound waves, or rocks to the sediments of Mars. STEM is so important, but for young kids, it’s important to bring it to the world they are already curious about. The perception is that STEM is about being good at calculations or having a lot of knowledge, when it is really another tool to strengthen our passion in any domain!



7. What would you like to tell your peers and other young girls who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

It is never too late to start. Whether you decided to become an astronaut at 5, 18, or 40, age or experience doesn’t control your path. Your dedication does.

It’s also never too early. Be proud of your dream, be curious, and don’t listen to others who think small. If your plan changes, it is because you took the chance to decide yourself, not because others turned you away.


8. How do you like to relax when you are not working?

I play this instrument called the Mountain Dulcimer (also called Appalachian dulcimer). My dad is a rock-start at it, so I decided to pick up this four-stringed beauty. I love learning to play my favorite classic folk and rock songs. I’m even starting to write a bit.

We are proud of her achievements and wish her the very best in her future endeavors! Follow Makiah Eustice on Twitter @Astro_Eustice 


Mand Labs celebrates the intellectual power, strength and success of women who have dared to dream and achieve. We asked some of these women in STEM over email to share their words of wisdom this UN International Day of Women and Girl in Science.


February 11 marks the  UN International Day of Women and Girl in Science . The purpose of this day according to the UN General Assembly, is to “achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls…”

Given that February 11 is now a movement recognizing the role of women and girls in science for sustainable development and economic growth, according to the UNESCO’s Groundbreaking report, the fact remains that female STEM students in higher education across the globe account for only 35 percent and women researchers account for only 28 percent.

UNESCO figures of 2014-2016 also reveal that only around 30 percent of girl students select STEM-related subjects. Globally, the enrolment of girl students in information and communication technology is as dismal as 3 percent. The enrolment for manufacturing and construction is 8 percent and enrolment for statistics, math, engineering and natural science is as low as 5 percent.

Seemingly, the number of women in science and engineering is going up, but men continue to outnumber. Based on a research conducted by the US Chamber Foundation, the number of women graduates in the US accounted for only 6 percent compared to the 20 percent of the male graduates in core STEM.

Several studies point this dismal number to the fact that the gender gap begins as early as grade school.

Professor Yamuna Krishnan at the department of chemistry, University of Chicago, points out:

“Rooting out unconscious bias is essential to bridge the gender parity.”


The challenge lies in society where girls are not encouraged to pursue science and math by parents, family, teachers and friends. This influence play a pertinent role in shaping beliefs and choices, not to mention the impact it has on their identity and behavior. Most of the girls grow up believing that they are not cut out for science subjects, thus opting for humanities and arts.

Chantelle Bell, co-founder, Syrona Women & 2018 Forbes Top 50 women in Tech, says:

“The most important factor required to bridge the gender gap would be to have more inspirational women at the forefront and connect women with children at a younger age.”


But the big question is how do we do that? Research shows that we can start at the very core by getting well trained women teachers. It is a given that experienced and well trained teachers can make life-altering impact on students. Female teachers in turn should get professional development opportunities to catalyze their passion and talent for teaching STEM.

Similarly,  we need to include more girls and women in the STEM workforce as it is essential to build a stronger global economy with much wider perspectives and an environment that encourages acceptability and access.

Getting STEM-qualified women into top companies and attracting more women at the science, math and engineering faculty of colleges and universities by introducing effective work-life policies and implementing mentoring programs are some ways to close the gender gap.

Women might be getting more educated than ever before, however, only 25 percent represent the community in STEM fields. So, to bridge this gap and take a step forward towards the UN goal “for achieving sustainable development and fulfilling the promise of the 2030 agenda to “leave no one behind”, we at Mand Labs believe that it is not just one day we should focus on working towards empowering women and girls, but it should be a concerted effort everyday.

This UN International Day of Women and Girl in Science, some women STEM leaders, who have broken the glass ceiling and have made a mark for themselves, share inspiring messages for young girls who want to foray into the world of STEM.


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