Posts about Boston

Harvard Steps Up Defense Against Abusive Journal Publishers

For a decade journals have been trying to continue a business model that was defensible in a new world where it is not. They have becoming increasing abusive with even more outrageous fees than they were already charging. As I said years ago it has become obvious they are enemies of science and should be treated as such. The time to find mutual beneficial solution past years ago.

Harvard University says it can’t afford journal publishers’ prices

Exasperated by rising subscription costs charged by academic publishers, Harvard University has encouraged its faculty members to make their research freely available through open access journals and to resign from publications that keep articles behind paywalls.

A memo from Harvard Library to the university’s 2,100 teaching and research staff called for action after warning it could no longer afford the price hikes imposed by many large journal publishers, which bill the library around $3.5m a year.

he memo from Harvard’s faculty advisory council said major publishers had created an “untenable situation” at the university by making scholarly interaction “fiscally unsustainable” and “academically restrictive”, while drawing profits of 35% or more. Prices for online access to articles from two major publishers have increased 145% over the past six years, with some journals costing as much as $40,000, the memo said.

More than 10,000 academics have already joined a boycott of Elsevier, the huge Dutch publisher, in protest at its journal pricing and access policies. Many university libraries pay more than half of their journal budgets to the publishers Elsevier, Springer and Wiley.

Research Libraries UK negotiated new contracts with Elsevier and Wiley last year after the group threatened to cancel large subscriptions to the publishers. The new deal, organised on behalf of 30 member libraries, is expected to save UK institutions more than £20m.

These journals have continuously engaged in bad practices. Scientists should publish work in ways that enrich the scientific community not ways that starve the scientific commons and enrich a few publishers that are doing everything they can to hold back information sharing.

In 2008 Harvard’s liberal arts faculty voted to make their research open source.

Related: Fields Medalist Tim Gowers Takes Action To Stop Cooperating with Anti-Open Science CartelScience Commons: Making Scientific Research Re-usefulMIT Faculty Open Access to Their Scholarly ArticlesMerck and Elsevier Publish Phony Peer-Review JournalOpen Access Journal Wars

MIT Engineering Design Workshop for Boston High School Students

This summer, a few dozen Boston-area high school students chose to spend their mornings toiling away with a variety of materials to create working marvels of engineering in the Engineering Design Workshop, a month-long program that gives teenagers a hands-on experience with the joys and challenges of engineering.

None of the activities are prescribed; instead, students take part in brainstorming sessions on the first day, and things develop from there. Typically, the “counselors” — a mix of undergraduate and graduate students from MIT and other local universities — present a few ideas, and the high school students decide which projects they’d most like to work on. I really like the idea of involving the college students.

This year, the 22 students divided themselves into five projects: a modified Razor scooter, equipped with a motor and brakes; a sound system of giant tower speakers; remote-controlled “anything” (which ended up including cars, fish, birds and even a flying turtle); a mosaic tiger meticulously assembled from pieces of stained glass; and an electric cello.

Each student is allotted $100 to spend on materials for his or her group’s project; this way, projects that attract more students have a larger budget to work with. Counselors help them purchase supplies online and work with them on the construction from the ground up.

There are probably thousands of similar type activities throughout the year to help engage students in engineering. I think it is great, but we need to do more. We need to let young students know what they are missing. If people know the wonders of engineering and choose something else for their career path, that is fine. It is a shame when people don’t get to decide, because they never experience what engineering has to offer.

Read the full press release.

Related: Infinity Project: Engineering Education for Today’s ClassroomRutgers Initiative to Help Disadvantaged ChildrenInspirational EngineerWhat Kids can Learn on Their Own

How Cells Age

How Cells Age

A new study by Harvard Medical School researchers reveals that the biochemical mechanism that makes yeast grow old has a surprising parallel in mice, suggesting it may be a universal cause of aging in all organisms.

In young organisms, SIRT1 effectively doubles as a gene-expression regulator and a DNA repairer. But when DNA damage accumulates—as it does with age—SIRT1 becomes too busy fixing broken DNA to keep the expression of hundreds of genes in check. This process is so similar to what happens in aging yeast that its discoverers believe it may represent a universal mechanism of aging.

Harvard researchers gain new insight into aging

Aging may be a case of neglect — an absentee landlord at the cellular level that allows gene activity to go awry, according to a study published today.

Scientists have long known that aging causes gene expression to change, and DNA damage to accumulate. But now, research led by Harvard Medical School scientists explains the connection between the two processes in mammals.

The paper, published in the journal Cell, found that a multi-tasking protein called SIRT1 that normally acts as guardian of the genome gets dragged away to DNA fix-it jobs. When the protein abandons its normal post to work as a genetic handyman, order unravels elsewhere in the cell. Genes that are normally under its careful watch begin to flip on.

“What this paper actually implies is that aspects of aging may be reversible,” said David Sinclair, a Harvard Medical School biologist who led the research. “It sounds crazy, but in principle it should be possible to restore the youthful set of genes, the patterns that are on and off.”

The study is just the latest to draw yet more attention to sirtuins, proteins involved in the aging process

Aging is fascinating. By and large people just accept it. We see it happen to those all around us, without exception. But what causes biological aging? It is an interesting area of research.

Related: lobsters show no apparent signs of agingOur Genome Changes as We AgeMillennials in our Lifetime?Radical Life Extensionposts on cells

Silk E.coli Sensors

“Edible Optics” Could Make Food Safer

Scientists at Tufts University’s School of Engineering have demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to design such “living” optical elements that could enable an entirely new class of sensors. These sensors would combine sophisticated nanoscale optics with biological readout functions, be biocompatible and biodegradable, and be manufactured and stored at room temperatures without use of toxic chemicals. The Tufts team used fibers from silkworms to develop the platform devices.

The possibility of integrating optical readout and biological function in a single biocompatible device unconstrained by these limitations is tantalizing. Silk optics has captured the interest of the Defense Department, which has funded and been instrumental in enabling rapid progress on the topic. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Tufts a research contract in 2007 and is funding Tufts and others on groundbreaking projects that could someday result in biodegradable optical sensing communications technology.

To form the devices, Tufts scientists boiled cocoons of the Bombyx mori silkworm in a water solution and extracted the glue-like sericin proteins. The purified silk protein solution was ultimately poured onto negative molds of ruled and holographic diffraction gratings with spacing as fine as 3600 grooves/mm.

The Tufts team embedded three very different biological agents in the silk solution: a protein (hemoglobin), an enzyme (horseradish peroxidase) and an organic pH indicator (phenol red). In the hardened silk optical element, all three agents maintained their activity for long periods when simply stored on a shelf. “We have optical devices embedded with enzymes that are still active after almost a year of storage at room temperature.

Related: E. Coli IndividualityScience Fair Project on Bacterial Growth on Packaged SaladsProtecting the Food Supplyposts on food

Engineer Your Life

Engineer Your Life is an outreach initiative committed to sharing with college-bound young women the opportunities available to them in the world of engineering. Unfortunately they chose to use flash content and the website fails to follow simple usability guidelines (basic stuff like human readable urls, links that work without javascript…) but there is decent content. The use of flash and failing to pay attention to usability are highly correlated in my experience. The site profiles 12 engineers including Judy Lee:

Judy’s enthusiasm paid off. A few months later, the IKEA engineer asked her to design a children’s play mat. Judy was thrilled and soon found herself in IKEA headquarters in Sweden, where she worked with a team of engineers and product developers. It was at this moment that she realized her ideal job was one that truly offered a balance between creativity and problem solving.

Designing for IKEA
Judy began her new project by thinking about the way kids play. “I realized that kids today play indoors a lot. Maybe because the world seems a little more dangerous and parents are more protective. So I knew that this mat had to incorporate some kind of physical play element.” Rather than a static mat, Judy designed one resembling a giant lazy Susan that kids could spin around on. “Once I had the concept, the mechanical engineer in me took over. I needed something simple. Simplicity is awesome. My mat is basically two injection-molded pieces of plastic that spin on a set of interior wheels.”

Judy will never forget the experience of seeing her mat in an IKEA store. “It was incredible,” she recalls, “and it was such important validation for me that my ideas matter, they’re good, and they’re marketable.”

Dream Job at IDEO
Today, Judy has found her dream job in Palo Alto, California, at a company called IDEO, one of the country’s most innovative design firms. IDEO hires engineers, designers, psychologists, and businesspeople who work in teams to develop cutting-edge products (they created Apple Computer’s first mouse, for example). Judy designs children’s toys, pet products, and packaging for over-the-counter drugs and food. “I feel pretty lucky to have such a creative and interesting job. I’m surrounded by brilliant people. It doesn’t really seem like work. It’s just plain fun!”

Related: Beloit College: Girls and Women in ScienceWomen Choosing Other Fields Over Engineering and MathNASA You Have a ProblemGirls Sweep Top Honors at Siemens Competition in Math, Science and TechnologyWomen Working in Scienceother posts on poor usability

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