Nanotech NYC and the Nanotech Alliance sits down with students, faculty and researchers from across the city to give those interested a glimpse into the local nanotechnology scene. Today we sit down with Kendra Krueger, Science Education Coordinator at the Advanced Science Research Center at the Graduate Center of CUNY.
Tell us a little bit about where you are from.
I grew up in New York’s lower East Side raised by two artists parents. The neighborhood was in the midst of a big transition from being mostly abandoned squats to flourishing with community gardens and cooperatively owned housing and community organizations, just before it became more popularized during the next wave of gentrification. I also went to New York’s LaGuardia High School where I studied Theater. At the same time, I started an after-school research program at The Museum of Natural History where I worked with grad students from Columbia quantifying masses of supermassive black holes.
Where did you complete your undergraduate degree? Did you always want to become a scientist?
I studied electrical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The school is in upstate New York, in Troy, just outside of Albany. I loved It there. It was a pretty traditional engineering school and I was a mediocre student coming from an arts background, but I had an amazing group of friends who were all kinds of alternative indie kids. I also started playing a lot of ultimate frisbee, which became a big part of my life, which was new for me, always being more of a dancer rather than an athlete. School was always a challenge for me, but my friends and my general curiosity about nature and physics and mathematics always pulled me through. As a kid, I was always curious about the world and trying to build things.
After completing your undergraduate degree, you moved to Colorado. Tell us a bit about that experience.
I actually moved to Colorado after working in New Mexico at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. That was one of the best experiences of my life. Not only did I fall in love with the southwest but working at the observatory I got a lot of great experience working with the technicians on site. Given my new love of the southwest, I decided to do grad school at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I had become fascinated with semiconductor physics after taking a microelectronics class, so I decided to study nanostructures and devices.
You've worked at Colorado Nanofabrication Lab as an Ethics Research Intern. Could you tell us about this experience, how did you learn about it and what did you enjoy about it?
I had been working in the nanofab for about a year as a grad student but was unsatisfied with the research I was doing. I was asking a lot of philosophical questions about the motivation and end goal of the work we were doing and was curious about how the technology we were developing was helping us grow as individuals. I was talking to a number of PI's about research projects and one mentioned that the NSF had funding for a research project in the ethics of technology. It was really the perfect opportunity for me to explore some of these questions further. Most of the content that had been previously developed focused on scientific fraud and safety concerns. I wanted to take the conversation to a more philosophical level. I wanted to know how scientists perceived their role in society and how much responsibility they took for the technology and knowledge that they developed. I held discussion groups and posed open-ended philosophical questions and collected a lot of survey data. The results suggested that most scientists at the time using the lab did not believe their work would have a deep impact on society and that they didn't have a particular social responsibility to be aware of social issues. I also got feedback from fellow students that the work I was doing ,and more ethics education in general, would hinder the progress of science and was a waste of time.
It was still a great experience for me, however, because it solidified my interest in this work and introduced me to a whole field of study known as Science, Technology and Society.
After completing your MS In Electrical Engineering at the University of Colorado you joined PIXELTEQ. What was your role there and how was your experience?
I came on first as the Lead Photolithography Engineer and eventually was promoted to Photolithography Project and Lab Manager. It was a great experience for me to grow my technical and leadership skills. In academia, I was always made to feel inadequate. However, once given a decent level of respect and authority, it turned out I was actually really good at process development and lab management! It was a good opportunity for me to grow my self-esteem as an engineer and as a team leader.
You founded for 4LoveandScience. Can you tell us about it? What was your inspiration to develop the platform and how did you come up with It?
Even while working at Pixelteq I had these existential questions about technology, personal development and social transformation. I knew it was all related, but I just didn't know how to find a career that connected all those things together. Eventually, I started getting into theater and dance again. A friend recruited me to be part of her MFA thesis performance and the process was like an awakening or coming home. I knew after that I had to figure out a way to bring scientific and artistic processes together.
Since then, 4LoveandScience has grown to be a platform for using science as a transformative tool to explore our internal and external worlds simultaneously. This has looked like talks, workshops and community-based research projects in schools and universities around the country.
In partnership with Nanotech NYC your team and you recently conducted a workshop titled ‘MindfulTech: How to find fulfillment and build tech for a better world’. Can you tell our readers what mindful tech is?
Mindful tech means cultivating a deeper sense of awareness of ourselves and our community in the process of building and developing technology. Science and doesn't exist in a vacuum. There is a lot happening in the world that is troubling both in our personal lives and on a larger global scale. These problems aren't going to solve themselves. More likely that they will get worse if we don't all take some responsibility to shift the destructive patterns, we all participate in. The first step is mindfulness and awareness to start to create a better world.
How did you figure out you wanted to specialize in this area?
I have always wanted to learn how to be a better person and a better steward for the earth and my community. This really is just a way of sharing my own personal experiments and curiosities of how to do this.
What are you currently up to?
Currently, at the ASRC I work as the Science Education Coordinator running Youth and Community engagement programming. After the Pandemic hit, we had to move all our programming online yet we're excited to be rolling out some fun and creative virtual programming for the upcoming semester. In addition, we are in the second year of our Community Sensor Lab where we are building DIY sensors with high school and community college students which can be used for environmental advocacy in local communities. (Watch Kendra discuss the Community Sensor Lab here).
Which scientific problems fascinate you the most?
I'm still fascinated with science and the patterns of the universe. My hobby is studying entropy, information theory and complex numbers. I'm really curious about the philosophical analogs of these concepts.
Where do you hope to take your career in the next 5 or 10 years?
I hope to continue to increase my joy, fortitude and curiosity and help others to do so too. Hopefully, it will happen naturally like with entropy. It seems kind of nonsensical to have more concrete 'career' goals at this point in time.
What do you do for fun outside of your job?
I play music, sing in a gospel choir, run, hike and camp.
Can you get a piece of advice to all the scientists out here?
Take time to breathe, find joy and follow your curiosity.
If you could give your past self advice, what would It be?
Life will continue to get more complex so try to just have as much fun as possible and continue to love big.