The Future of Scholarly Publication

Posted on May 31, 2005  Comments (0)

Scholarly journals’ premier status diluted by Web by Bernard Wysocki Jr., The Wall Street Journal:

In the U.S. a powerful open-access advocate has been Harold Varmus, a Nobel laureate, former UC scholar and former NIH director. He’s now head of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He co-founded Public Library of Science with Berkeley’s Dr. Eisen, backed by a $9 million grant from a private foundation. Charging authors a fee of $1,500, the group launched its first peer-reviewed journal, PLoS Biology, in 2003, and also distributes its contents free on the Internet.

I have nothing against Journals trying to stay in business. I do however, think the internet has created a better method of distributing information than existed previously. And, given the current state of the internet, I do object to scientific knowledge being kept out of the scientific and public community. The ability to use the internet to more effectively communicate new knowledge should not be sacrificed to protect the old model journals had for sustaining themselves. They should find a way to fund themselves and make their material availalbe for free on the internet (I think some delay for free public access would be fine – the shorter the delay the better). Or they should be replaced by others that do so.

Luckily sites like the Public Library of Science (freely accessible online scholarly publications) are offering such an alternative.

Six-legged Intestinal Robot

Posted on May 31, 2005  Comments (0)

Robot combined with swallowable camera could give docs a better look inside the small intestine by Byron Spice, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Metin Sitti, director of the NanoRobotics Lab, is developing a set of legs that could be incorporated into the swallowable camera-in-a-pill that has become available in the past four years for diagnosing gastrointestinal disorders in the small intestine.

The work is supported by the Intelligent Microsystems Center in Seoul, Korea, and sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy.

Another CMU roboticist, Cameron Riviere, is developing his own robotic inchworm that would use suction pads to adhere to the exterior of a beating heart. The two-footed device, called HeartLander, might be used to inject cells or drugs, implant electrodes or perform coronary artery bypass procedures.

Metin Sitti is an engineer with Carnegie Mellon University.

Nano Printing

Posted on May 23, 2005  Comments (0)

New technique may speed DNA analysis:

In the new printing method, called Supramolecular Nano-Stamping (SuNS), single strands of DNA essentially self-assemble upon a surface to duplicate a nano-scale pattern made of their complementary DNA strands. The duplicates are identical to the master and can thus be used as masters themselves. This increases print output exponentially while enabling the reproduction of very complex nano-scale patterns.

Even Tech Execs Can’t Get Kids to Be Engineers

Posted on May 19, 2005  Comments (0)

Even Tech Execs Can’t Get Kids to Be Engineers by Ann Grimes:

Silicon Valley is doing a lot of hand-wringing these days about a coming engineer shortage. Tech leaders such as Cisco Systems Inc.’s John Chambers and Stanford University President John Hennessey warn that the U.S. will lose its edge without homegrown talent. The U.S. now ranks 17th world-wide in the number of undergraduate engineers and natural scientists it produces, they point out; that’s down from 1975, when the U.S. was No. 3 (after Japan and Finland).

But some of the nation’s tech elite — including many immigrants who benefited greatly from engineering careers — are finding even their own children shun engineering. One oft-cited reason: concern that dad and his contemporaries will ship such jobs overseas.

Appropriate Technology

Posted on May 17, 2005  Comments (0)

Technology is not only about new breakthroughs. In some cases the technology used is nothing special, the impact is made in applying the technology well. Many opportunities exist for breakthroughs using technology that has been around for a long time.

I was reminded of my father‘s work by the article: From Stanford Engineering to Social Innovation (broken link):

In 1991, Martin Fisher and Nick Moon founded ApproTEC, a non-profit organization that develops technologies for alleviating poverty. More than 36,000 farmers in Kenya have now used their low-cost water pumps to create their own small businesses. They hope to take 400,000 people out of poverty in the next few years.

From the ApproTEC web site (broken link – it sure gets annoying how many people fail to follow basic web usability guidelines such as keeping links alive – organization now called KickStart):

ApproTEC’s Impacts To Date

  • 35,000 new businesses started * 800 new businesses per month
  • $35 million a year in new profits and wages generated by the new businesses
  • New incomes account for over 0.5% of Kenya’s GDP and 0.2% of Tanzania’s GDP

On a related note, TrickleUp is my favorite charity. Their mission: to help the lowest income people worldwide take the first steps up out of poverty, by providing conditional seed capital, business training and relevant support services essential to the launch or expansion of a microenterprise.

John Hunter

Nanoscience’s Master Mechanic

Posted on May 16, 2005  Comments (0)

Nanoscience’s Master Mechanic by David Pescovitz (from the University of California – Berkeley’s excellent Science Matters Newsletter):

The Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems (COINS) aims to develop a storehouse of mechanical components hundreds of times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

“Right now, we make most nanodevices one at a time, sometimes as laboriously as atom by atom,” Zettl says. “That approach can prove a concept, but if you can’t scale up then it becomes a curiosity instead of a viable technology. We need automated assembly at the nanoscale.”

Science Funding Dips In U.S. While Soaring In China

Posted on May 16, 2005  Comments (0)

Science Funding Dips In U.S. While Soaring In China by Cynthia Tucker, Editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Writing this month in The Wall Street Journal, Norman Augustine, a former CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., and Burton Richter, a Nobel laureate in physics, said:

“As a percentage of GDP, federal investment in physical science research is half of what it was in 1970. (By contrast), in China, R&D expenditures rose 350 percent between 1991 and 2001, and the number of science and engineering Ph.D.s soared 535 percent.”

Update: link broken so removed the link to the original article.

La Vida Robot

Posted on May 9, 2005  Comments (0)

La Vida Robot – Wired article on the Carl Hayden High School (from Phoenix) that competed with the top college teams in an engineering competition. Great Stuff.

Tom Swean was the gruff 58-year-old head of the Navy’s Ocean Engineering and Marine Systems program. He developed million-dollar autonomous underwater robots for the SEALs at the Office of Naval Research. He was not used to dealing with Mexican-American teenagers sporting gold chains, fake diamond rings, and patchy, adolescent mustaches.

The Carl Hayden team stood nervously in front of him. He stared sullenly at them. This was the engineering review – professionals in underwater engineering evaluated all the ROVs, scored each team’s technical documentation, and grilled students about their designs. The results counted for more than half of the total possible points in the contest.

“How’d you make the laser range finder work?” Swean growled. MIT had admitted earlier that a laser would have been the most accurate way to measure distance underwater, but they’d concluded that it would have been difficult to implement.

“We used a helium neon laser, captured its phase shift with a photo sensor, and manually corrected by 30 percent to account for the index of refraction,” Cristian answered rapidly, keyed up on adrenaline. Cameron had peppered them with questions on the drive to Santa Barbara, and Cristian was ready.

Swean raised a bushy, graying eyebrow. He asked about motor speed, and Lorenzo sketched out their combination of controllers and spike relays. Oscar answered the question about signal interference in the tether by describing how they’d experimented with a 15-meter cable before jumping up to one that was 33 meters.

“You’re very comfortable with the metric system,” Swean observed.

“I grew up in Mexico, sir,” Oscar said.

Swean nodded. He eyed their rudimentary flip chart.

“Why don’t you have a PowerPoint display?” he asked.

“PowerPoint is a distraction,” Cristian replied. “People use it when they don’t know what to say.”

“And you know what to say?”

“Yes, sir.”

See La Vida Robot scholarship fund – to benefit the four team members.

Curious Cat Carl Hayden High School Alumni Page.

Intel International Science and Engineering Fair

Posted on May 9, 2005  Comments (0)

Intel International Science and Engineering Fair – the annual event is taking place in Phoenix, Arizona now (through May 14th).

Held annually in May, the Intel ISEF brings together over 1,300 students from approximately 40 nations to compete for scholarships, tuition grants, internships, scientific field trips and the grand prize: a $50,000 college scholarship.

Next year the fair will be held in Indianapolis, Indiana from May 7th through May 13th.

Intel Education Resources include the: Intel Science Talent Search

In 1998, Intel Corporation assumed sponsorship of the program previously sponsored by the Westinghouse Foundation as a way to recognize and reward excellence in science and to encourage more young people to explore science and technology.

Since assuming the sponsorship, Intel has increased awards and scholarships from $207,000 to $1,250,000 a year”

High School Engineering Education

Posted on May 9, 2005  Comments (0)

Web site devoted to a comprehensive engineering program at my former high school: Madison West High School (see Curious Cat Madison West High School Alumni page).

These courses are organized around a set of concepts, skills and attitudes necessary for an engineering career. Unfortunately, students in many other schools can still graduate having had no practical contact with engineering concepts or case studies. A major problem of secondary education is that schools teach science, technology, and mathematics only in the context of the specific disciplines. These courses solve that problem. It shows students the important engineering concepts and has them work on real-world case studies resembling the problems they will be solving in an engineering career.

Another high school engineering related effort is the Statistical Design of Experiments Program at the Macomb Intermediate School District (it also has a Madison connection. From the history on their web site: “In 1984, Kathy and Bob Peterson participated in a special Woodrow Wilson Foundation summer institute on Quantitative Literacy in Princeton, NJ. A principal organizer and speaker at that conference was the late William Hunter, a professor of statistics at the University of Wisconsin.”

Scientists Make Bacteria Behave Like Computers

Posted on May 8, 2005  Comments (0)

Full Scientists Make Bacteria Behave Like Computers article, from LiveScience.

Bacteria have been programmed to behave like computers, assembling themselves into complex shapes based on instructions stuffed into their genes.

The research could lead to smart biological devices that could detect hazardous substances or bioterrorism chemicals, scientists say. Eventually, the process might be used to direct the construction of useful devices or the growth of new tissue, perhaps restoring function to a severed spinal cord.