VIDEO: Ethan Hsiao's TEDxMeritAcademy Talk

In August, Merit Academy hosted TEDxMeritAcademy at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz.

Ethan Hsiao was a featured speaker, and his TEDx Talk is embedded below.

“Demystifying Nanotech”
Despite the highly difficult, “for-geniuses-only” stigma of nanotechnology, the truth is that everyone can understand nanotech and expand its reaches through their own contributions. Ethan discusses finding a new, unprecedented crystal structure while analyzing the ratios of the amount of chemicals (precursor molar ratios) in the chemical reaction that results in the product MoS2 , a 2D material. These results could have implications on the industrial implementation of transistors and nano-LEDs, as well as lead to a better understanding of how MoS2 synthesis works.

About Ethan Hsaio: A high school senior, Ethan is passionate about nanoscience and materials science and by the interdisciplinary component that they encompass. He researched the synthesis of a 2D material that had a variety of applications in nanotech. Ethan hopes to give a glimpse of what makes nanotech exciting.


The "Period" Emoji

There’s finally a “period” emoji.  Not to be confused with a punctuation mark – it’s the taboo topic about menstruation. Across all civilizations and even up to today, the monthly menstrual cycle continues to be a hush-hush subject.  Periods have been referred to as “Aunt Flo” and other euphemisms.  Some societies still banish women to huts outside villages while they are on their periods – don’t get me started... But the Unicode Consortium just announced that they have approved the period emoji, which is a drop of blood. 

It’s about time! When emojis are essential in adding emotions and a little depth to quick text messages, having the period emoji can instantly give color (no pun intended) to the situation. Just as a raised eyebrow emoji makes one wonder what’s going on, the period emoji may explain why we might forgo strenuous exercise. Glad to see a little progress being made here with the important and vital part that menstruation plays in the survival of civilization.


VIDEO: Eshika Nellore's TEDxMeritAcademy Talk

In August, Merit Academy hosted TEDxMeritAcademy at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz.

Eshika Nellore was a featured speaker, and her TEDx Talk is embedded below.

“Get Your Shots!”
Worried that plagues and diseases will cause hundreds of thousands of people to die, Eshika will present a refreshing solution to stop the spread of these illnesses. She brings to light, logical explanations behind shots and how they help protect the body from these epidemics. Come see how she implements music, art and reasoning in her talk!

About Eshika Nellore : Eshika is a high school senior who is interested in studying medicine and public health. She founded Get Your Shots!, wrote a song and created a whiteboard video to prevent the return of eradicated diseases because there is a rise of people who are not getting immunized. As a volunteer in the Philippines, Eshika saw firsthand the recurrence of many diseases due to lack of vaccinations. While there, she educated indigenous people (Aeta communities) about a eating a high protein diet and washing your hands after using the restroom or before eating. In high school, Eshika was a speech and debate captain for expository speech and assisted a cardiologist. She is also a singer who has been vocally trained in musical theatre and opera for five years and has received awards in singing competitions.


UC Finally Relaxing Their Strict UG A-G Requirements!

Did you know that the University of California (UC) system has had some of the most strict (and ridiculous) requirements for eligibility? These requirements don’t require more difficult courses but particular science and math courses that have forced students to retake courses before applying to UCs.

Students have to take 2 years (3 years recommended) of college-prep lab sciences including or integrating 2 of these 3 subjects: biology, chemistry, or physics.  Starting in 2019-2020, students can take the following courses that will satisfy Area D in the A-G requirements:

  1. 1 year of approved interdisciplinary or earth and space sciences meets one-year lab requirement (1st and 2nd year lab science)
  2. Computer Science, Engineering, and Applied Science courses can be used as ADDITIONAL lab sciences (3rd year and beyond, but not 1st or 2nd year lab science)
  3. Online science lab sciences will be allowed (labs must be supervised by teacher and give students hands-on learning opportunities)

For Math (Area C), the following middle school math courses will satisfy Area C in the A-G requirements:

  1. 7th or 8th grade Algebra and Geometry courses will satisfy Area C requirements for Algebra and Geometry at the high school level.

Glad to see that UCs have relaxed their strict A-G requirements so students can take the classes they’re interested in at a time that benefits them.


Parent Loan Debt Has Tripled Over The Past 25 Years

With the high cost of a bachelor’s degree, many parents are taking out loans that they can’t afford to repay.  They can actually be delinquent on other loans and still qualify for the Parent PLUS loans. Hmm.  Why would lenders do that? In 1990, parents borrowed about $5200 annually; in 2014, they borrowed $16,000. Even worse, parents who really need financial aid often rely on the Parent PLUS loans after they’ve reached their limits with subsidized (government pays the interest while student is in college) and unsubsidized (interest payments start immediately) Stafford loans. These loans don’t have income-based repayment plans or loan forgiveness that they might have with federal undergraduate debt.

Underrepresented minority students are hit the hardest. When colleges don’t offer enough scholarship money and they reach their borrowing limits on government loans, parents are pressured to fill the gap between affordable loans and the total cost of the bachelor’s degree with Parent PLUS loans that they may never be able to repay. In 2011, the Obama administration tightened eligibility standards on the Parent PLUS loans to ensure that families could repay their loans.

Unfortunately, this creates an unfair advantage for students whose parents can simply write those tuition checks. Lower income families with students who have average grades and SAT/ACT scores often shy away from elite and private colleges because they know they can’t afford the costs and won’t qualify for merit-based grants. Many of these parents who are desperate to give their children a college degree often give up their retirement and any chance of establishing financial security for themselves. What’s really devastating is that many students never complete their degrees or they get degrees in careers that don’t provide a good return on investment (ROI). The ridiculous cost of a college degree needs to change to reflect what parents and students can afford. 


VIDEO: Aryan Dawra's TEDxMeritAcademy Talk

In August, Merit Academy hosted TEDxMeritAcademy at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz.

Aryan Dawra was a featured speaker, and his TEDx Talk is embedded below.

Cleaning up the Atmosphere One Car at a Time
The Particulate Emissions Tailpipe (PET) is a device that can be attached to the end of your car’s tailpipe and captures the toxic particulate matter that is emitted from the engine. Aryan experimented and found that by creating an electric field within this device, it acts like a filter. PET is designed to be built using household and easily accessible items. Check out the PET Tailpipe Youtube Channel so you can build your own PET yourself and reduce the toxic particulates that spews from your car’s tailpipe.
About Aryan Dawra: Aryan Dawra is a rising senior who enjoys taking on big challenges like global warming. He designed and engineered the Particulate Emissions Tailpipe, also known as the PET Tailpipe. PET is a device that captures the particulate matter that comes out of your car’s tailpipe.


Brick and Mortar Colleges Offering Online Courses From Other Institutions

When online courses were first offered, there was much speculation about the quality of learning that might take place in such courses.  The biggest concerns centered around student interaction with students, as well as professors.  Today, smaller colleges and universities are working with online colleges to help students take classes when there are scheduling conflicts, replace bad grades, and graduate on time. 

Normally, students are responsible for finding online courses that their colleges will allow and handling registration, fees, and transcripts. But today, the College Consortium provides an online course-sharing consortium with over 650 colleges.  The best part, they handle registration, fees, and transcripts so the student’s home college will seamlessly accept and include these online courses from various other colleges right on the student’s transcript. 

The student’s home college pays for the registration and tuition for the online college course using the student’s regular tuition paid for that term. The home college benefits because they don’t need to offer obscure courses with low enrollment and the student graduates and moves on in a timely fashion.  The online college benefits because it increases its enrollment, and the College Consortium gets its fees from the home college for handling all of the moving pieces in this very complex program. Everybody wins!

It’s exciting to see creative solutions that help students improve their GPAs and graduate sooner.  Graduating just one semester sooner can save them up to $25,000!  I’m watching to see if there is a change in the quality of the student’s learning and education when students take online courses at different institutions all while receiving their diplomas from their home college.


Cloning Humans?

Money corrupts even the most ethical people.  We see this happening every day.  So why then, did universities around the world believe that they could research gene editing technology using CRISPR with an ethical code to not experiment with human cloning? CRISPR (or this technology) was first developed in 1987, and was hoped to revolutionize everything from medicine to agriculture. In 2017, I was appalled to find CRISPR used in virtually every university in American and around the world.  Hmm. What could go wrong?

In China, the first twin girls with altered DNA were born in November 2018.  At the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, He Jiankui used CRISPR to change their DNA to make them immune to HIV infection.  This type of gene editing is banned in the US because these DNA changes (good or bad) can be passed along to future generations.  Just last week, the Chinese university fired the professor for “seriously violating” government regulations.

Then, we find that an American professor at Rice University, Michael Deem, was involved in this research. ARGH! According to Kiran Masunuru, a University of Pennsylvania gene-editing expert and editor of a genetics journal called this “unconscionable” and that experimenting on humans is “not ethically defensible.”

How are we going to prevent people from using this gene-editing technology to produce bionic people or to create a super race or gender? When asked if the genie was really out of the bottle, George Church, a Harvard Medical School genetics professor, responded, “Yes.”

[Source 1]

[Source 2]

Online Colleges in Coworking Spaces?

The future of earning college degrees may resemble coworking spaces where students take online classes and meet up with fellow students and employees at tech firms.  This offers students the flexibility to listen to lectures and engage with fellow students in a social atmosphere.  They can also meet future employers by mingling with company reps in these open-space rooms.

Colleges are looking at new ways to offer 4-year degrees to larger numbers of students that is more in line with students’ lifestyles.  Today, students want to pick and choose what they study, when they’ll do their work, and with whom they’ll socialize.  By designing college courses to give the specific skill sets that students – and employers – seek, colleges will be able to enroll more students in what is becoming a competitive market.

These coworking spaces will become available across the country as well as on or near the brick and mortar campuses.  Georgia Tech and Northeastern are creating these programs now. Georgia Tech is calling these coworking spaces “Atriums,” and they’re expected to pop up in offices, retails spaces, and possibly shopping malls.

It’s exciting to see how higher education is evolving to align with what students want and what they can afford. 

The Most Corrupt President

Collage adapted from works by Flickr user DonkeyHotey and Damian GadalThis is a guest post by Laina Farhat-Holzman. Laina is a historian, lecturer, and author of God's Law or Man's Law.  You may contact her at or  This article first appeared in The Pajaronian on Jan 11, 2019.

Our founding fathers were trying to create a new sort of government, and they were very aware of how corruption corrodes a society. Far from being naïve about a brave new world, they created a government with checks and balances against abuse of power. Our system is not designed to be efficient; rather it is designed to protect us from our worse instincts.
As long as the American government was in the hands of the original founders, their code as gentlemen (keen sense of honor and responsibility) prevailed. However, with the election of Andrew Jackson, a populist, the country entered into four decades of abuse of power. Elections were fueled by clandestine payoffs and alcohol, presidents were weak, negligent, or in someone’s pay, and the country suffered. Lincoln broke this pattern, but his assassination ushered in heavily corrupt governments until President Teddy Roosevelt cleaned house.
Over time, most presidential behavior was largely governed by norms, practices honored as important traditions. These norms arose as needed: Presidents revealing personal wealth and disposing of it while in office; annual medical examinations (after the secrecy of FDR’s health); gentlemanly language and courtesy; efforts to appoint the best managers of government agencies and departments available; presidential advisors the best and most respected that they could find. By 2008, these norms were practiced.
The above list has been violated in every instance by President Donald J. Trump. He has never released a tax return; never put his businesses into blind trusts; has never released an honest health report; never sought the best men and women to appoint to run government departments; never took advice and never observed courteous speech. The consequence of this behavior has resulted in rampant corruption: he, his family, and most of his appointees have made money out of their positions, or have attempted to destroy the very agencies over which they preside.
So far, in just two years in office, a flood of officials, including relatively good ones, have been driven from office, to be replaced by Trump toadies. In his inner circle, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, Michael Cohn, George Papadopoulos, have all pleaded guilty and will face prison. Almost everybody around Trump lies, just as he does (compulsively); even Chief of Staff John Kelly, who lied despite knowing better, about a Black congresswoman. Rob Porter could not get security clearance because he was a wife beater, yet he handled classified documents. 
Almost every department head selected by Trump has had to leave because of blatant corruption, not to mention abuse of power, attempting to scuttle the very agencies they run. The list includes Ben Carson, Urban Development and Carl Icahn, senior advisor on regulatory issues, using the job to further his own financial interests.

Secretary of Health and Human Services resigned over spending more than $1 million on private and military jets. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was a lavish traveler. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt used money for luxury transport, in addition to rolling back every safeguard to clean air and water. These are just a sample. The list is depressingly long.

Then there is the issue of personally benefitting financially from his position as President. His Trump hotels have raked in huge profits, money from Russians, Saudis, and others seeking something for their largesse. Money laundering will undoubtedly be another crime attached to this president. His children have used their positions to seek profits in China, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Trump’s son-in-law may well be the next to go to prison. He sought money from the Saudis to bail out his family’s failing business.
For corruption, we must look at Quid Pro Quo, getting something for one’s money. What did Donald Trump give in response to the Russians loaning him money when American banks refused him? How much of our Democracy has been given away?
Congress and the Mueller Report will uncover the Quid Pro Quo.