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Radha Ramachandran is Planet Lab's Education Director.Physicist Radha Ramachandran has decided to trade in her lab coat and goggles for a different kind of laboratory: public school classrooms across the nation.

Like many STEM educators, Ramachandran was angry to learn that politicians were voting against new science standards. Over the last year alone, Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma legislators have rejected the standards, creating heated debates around the role of science in public education. Why? The new standards make sure that schools teach about climate change and evolution.

Ramachandran decided that every pupil should have free and open access to a cutting-edge STEM education—no matter what state they might live in. That’s why she decided to juggle finishing her dissertation and applying for post docs with a new goal–taking on the role of Planet Lab‘s education director.

Last summer, the Planet Lab team won the Chicago CleanWeb Challenge, an award from Chicago’s Mayor Emanuel, and recognition from ISTE’s PitchFest (Int. Society of Technology in Education). In the Fall, they started to sign on major institutions—from the National Institute of Health to the U.S. Forest Service—to share learning content in a networked way with youth and teachers.

Ramachandran discovered a passion for teaching as a physics graduate student at the University of Chicago. She started to visit classrooms on the South Side, trying out curriculum about data collection and material science research.

“I wanted to get teens analyzing data, but I realized many hadn’t grasped the basics of data collection yet. I was seeing gaps in math and data literacy, and I realized it started in elementary school.  Our team learned that teachers, especially elementary educators, need supportive connections with the scientific community. They needed clearer ways to get students excited about information at work in the world.”

“When we work on science education, we’re working on the future of people and the planet,” says Ramachandran. “Every new medicine, every advance in sustainable energy depends on this: how can train the next generation of innovators to tackle problems that matter? I know that we can do it better. That’s why we’re building Planet Lab.”

“With Planet Lab, kids don’t just learn science, they do science,” she says. Classrooms  sign on to research and innovation challenges–from mapping the range of bumblebee species to re-designing their school’s energy usage.  The team pairs challenges with math and literacy curriculum to enable more teacher to try out a hands-on approach to STEM.

“In the scientific community, there are a lot of people developing great learning projects and materials,” she explains. “But we can’t scale across schools. We don’t have the assets of the big textbook publishers.  Planet Lab brings this community together.  We want to give youth exposure to career pathways and to help schools work together to make a difference.

“When we work on science education, we’re working on the future of people and the planet,” says Ramachandran. “Every new medicine, every advance in sustainable energy depends on this: how can train the next generation of innovators to tackle problems that matter? I know that we can do it better. That’s why we’re building Planet Lab.”

Follow the team at @PlanetaryLab, and check-out their Kickstarter here.