Awarding the Changemakers
Over 20 years, hundreds of regional leaders in science and technology have been honored by Carnegie Science Center. Two of them consider the impact of that encouragement at an early age.
Zachary Hartle was 13 when he won a Carnegie Science Award for his “best of show” Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair project, What Bridge Supports the Most Weight? Today, the 30-year-old architect with the Pittsburghbased design and manufacturing company TAKTL remembers the award ceremony like it was yesterday.
He had just received his very first digital camera, which in 1999 included a memory card with very limited capacity. “It could hold about 12 photos, and I used up all 12 in the first two minutes,” says Hartle, but thankfully not before posing with the guest speaker, the first African-American astronaut to fly in space, Guion S. Bluford, Jr.
Hartle recounts how he was seated among some of the biggest science and technology stars in western Pennsylvania, including a fellow award winner making conversation about his career analyzing human tissue. “I heard the word tissue and I thought he was asking me for a tissue, like a Kleenex,” recalls Hartle, laughing. “I was so embarrassed.”
He was also inspired. For a young man who grew up drawing houses, building with Legos, and admiring the beauty and functionality of bridges, the star-studded recognition ceremony at Carnegie Music Hall helped cement his career path. “I’ve always had an interest in architecture and engineering,” Hartle says, noting that his mother’s backgroundin architectural engineering played a role. “Winning the science fair in many ways helped reaffirm the suspicion I always had that not only was architecture my interest, but it could potentially be something I was good at. The Carnegie Science Award solidified it.”
The Science Center began recognizing regional achievements in science and technology just two years earlier, in 1997,by presenting six awards. This year, at its 20th annual Carnegie Science Awards celebration in May, the Science Center, through the support of sponsors such as Eaton, will present 20 awards. This increase highlights not only the growing talent of the region, but the commitment of the Science Center to be a leader in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and career development in the region.
“It’s these kinds of awardees who are helping to build a future that promises to be healthier, smarter, and more prosperous for us all.”
- RUPPERT RUSSONIELLO, PRESIDENT OF EATON’S CIRCUIT PROTECTION DIVISION
Over the last two decades, the Science Center has recognized some 500 educators, students, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, innovators, technologists, and science communicators. This year, two new awards will honor excellence in the discovery and development of cleaner energy technologies in the region and leadership in educating students in technical and vocational subjects.
“Over 20 years, Carnegie Science Awards have spotlighted some of the most innovative minds of the day,” says Ron Baillie, The Henry Buhl, Jr., Co-Director of Carnegie Science Center. “Collectively, the list of winners and their accomplishments is truly impressive. These individuals are making a global impact starting with our own region. We know that they’re inspiring a new generation of leaders.”
Catherine Havasi, another 1999 student science fair winner, certainly fits this mold. “My science fair experiences were super important to me,” says Havasi. “It was a really great experience to meet a bunch of people who were really passionate about science in the same way I was. In some ways it made me go to MIT.”
The young computer programmer from Franklin Regional High School participated in three international science fairs, two as runner-up and one as the winner. It was her very first project that set her on the path to her wildly successful career in artificial intelligence. As a teenager interested in theater, Havasi wondered if she could use computers to control lighting for productions. So she picked up a book to learn about control systems. “The second half of the book was about artificial intelligence, and eventually I got bored and read the second half. It was either all uphill or downhill from there, depending on how you look at things,” says Havasi, laughing.
Last year, she was named one of Fast Company’s most creative people for her work as CEO and co-founder of Luminoso, a 5-year-old analytics company and MIT Media Lab spinoff that teaches computers how to mimic human reasoning. The company takes natural language processing and artificial intelligence and applies it to customer feedback analytics. Consumer electronic companies are some of Luminoso’s best customers. When something goes wrong with a customer’s mobile phone, for example, that customer can log on to the manufacturer’s website and tell them why they’re unhappy with the product, providing a lot of useful data that’s not necessarily easy to sift through manually.
“What our system does is Common Sense Reasoning—tries to understand people when they speak creatively,” explains Havasi. “As people, we use a lot of analogy and a lot of deductive reasoning to try and determine very quickly what someone means. And we’re really good at it. What we do at Luminoso is try and add that back into the computer. This allows companies to make better sense of their feedback and act quicker.”
Luminoso also works with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as it tries to predict where the flu is at any given time. The CDC receives a ton of “free text” feedback online. “We ask, well, what symptoms are these people having, can we tell from their tweets?” Havasi explains. “Who is actually sick, and who is just sick of Justin Bieber?”
At TAKTL, Hartle and team are using ultra high-performance concrete in wall assemblies to increase the performance and longevity of buildings, while also reducing resource consumption and energy usage. “The second most consumed substance in the world after water is concrete,” notes Hartle. “The third largest emitter of carbon is the production of cement. So if you can design a concrete that uses significantly less cement simply by using significantly less material—while also obtaining higher strength and greater performance— you can have a pretty big impact on the way people build buildings, and eventually on the carbon picture.”
Hartle and Havasi are the very reasons the Carnegie Science Awards matter, and why Eaton, a power management company, has stayed involved for more than a decade.
“It’s these kinds of awardees who are helping to build a future that promises to be healthier, smarter, and more prosperous for us all,” says Ruppert Russoniello, president of Eaton’s circuit protection division and Carnegie Science Awards event chair. “Eaton is proud to be a part of this vibrant community of science leaders and educators who continue to help position our region among the foremost technology and energy innovation centers in the world.”
Carnegie Science Awards are presented by Eaton. Chevron serves as the event’s prime sponsor. Award sponsors include Allegheny Health Network, Braskem, FedEx Ground, Kennametal Inc., NOVA Chemicals, Orionvega, Pittsburgh Business Times, and the Pittsburgh Technology Council.