The Synapse Project

A project to increase scientific literacy for all.

Photo of Willie Chalmers III
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Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

I'm desperately into science and science. Although I love news of self-driving cars and new treatments for dieases, not many of my peers do. I am stepping up to make change because I understand how important STEM literacy is to the 21st century, and I can't stand idle while significant portions of my country don't know why hot air rises or how any part of the brain works. In an age where knowledge builds entire economies, we must be proactive in our attempt to provide our communities more knowledge The first step to getting people jobs is adequate training. While I can't get people directly employed now, I know I can spread knowledge using the skills I know. A synapse is a junction between two nerve cells. I want to create more junctions between the ideas of the past and those of the future.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Despite increased new investment in STEM education, many Americans don't have an adequate background in science. As global problems like climate change require increasingly domain-specific knowledge, we need to provide a better foundation to solve the problems of tomorrow. Synapse aims to aid retention of scientific knowledge within the general population. By ensuring a greater level of scientific literacy for everyone, we can embetter society.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

I've found that my peers are more interested in playing video games than the physics behind them. To address this, the Synapse project will build an app that lives on the phones of teenagers and adults. Teenagers would rather look at some memes on Instagram than learn about the world around them, so why not use the same technologies and platforms we already have? Using similar but more impartial personalization algorithms that drive social media today, we can increase engagement and learning by interesting more people in biology, chemistry, and physics. For children, we bring interactive simulations and kid-friendly videos explaining answers to all the questions they might have, establishing a foundation for scientific knowledge for all. For adults, we bring news articles directly related to the topics people care about along with greater emphasis on their significance on everyday life and suggestions on how to start a conversation using the information they've learned.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

The Synapse app is one of the cornerstones of the project. It aggregates sources from reputable news websites and scientific journals. One day, the user might receive a notification on his phone for an article regarding dangerous algae formation at a local pond and a supplemental article explaining its significance. A child might ask why trees hibernate during the winter, so the service presents interactive demonstrations showing cell cycles and a kid-friendly online resource explaining the related concepts in-depth. In addition to the service, the Synapse Project will also serve as a non-profit that will connect local schools and communities with scientific resources.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

It's one thing enough to provide a platform for information; it's another to actively surface topics relevant to the modern day. Educational content accessed through gatekeepers like Google is too large and unstructured to be of effective use for someone wanting to learn about the science of today. Providers like Khan Academy, while noble in their attempt to create a library of content, tend to be more aimed towards students and less about recent discoveries. Synapse aims to connect modern news about new discoveries to rigorous concepts found in biology, chemistry, and physics.

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

In small towns with limited access to scientific demonstrations or schools with adequate facilities to learn, Synapse will spur more local investment into the sciences and encourage communities to focus on teaching the scientific to younger kids outside school. Even in larger cities, there are still many people who do not know where to look for scientific knowledge. By using the internet, previously marginalized groups will have the opportunity to possibly escape a cycle of poverty by taking interest in a rapidly growing STEM field.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

In the upcoming weeks, the Synapse Project will encourage students to take up scientifically-oriented hobbies during the summer with a #100DaysOfExperiements campaign. The Synapse web app is planned to be released in beta by the end of summer 2018. The Synpase Project is planning to start a club dedicated to more open-ended experimentation in the fall of 2018 at Douglas High School in Box Elder, SD. Throughout the year, social media campaigns will explain the biology, chemistry, or physics behind current events in the news.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

Partnerships with schools and other providers of scientific content are necessary to ensure Synapse has enough high-quality content to share with its users. As for our team, the Synpase Project could use volunteers to embrace the goal of scientific literacy for all. Starting a club at a local school and getting teacher input as to what topics students tend to struggle with on exams would increase the effectiveness of the Synapse Project. Obtaining more physical presence with schools and local community centers would allow us to

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media


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