Ants on Stilts for Science

Posted on June 30, 2006  Comments (4)

Ant on stilts

When Ants Go Marching, They Count Their Steps by Bjorn Carey

One is that they do it like honeybees and remember visual cues, but experiments revealed ants can navigate in the dark and even blindfolded. Another disproved hypothesis was that because ants scurry at a steady pace, they could time how long it took them to get to and fro. Other studies have shown that once ants find a good source of food, they teach other ants how to find it.

The ant “pedometer” technique was first proposed in 1904, but it remained untested until now.

Scientists trained desert ants, Cataglyphis fortis, to walk along a straight path from their nest entrance to a feeder 30 feet away. If the nest or feeder was moved, the ants would break from their straight path after reaching the anticipated spot and search for their goal.

A simple example of the scientific process (another one posted yesterday about birds and global warming).
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Reforming Engineering Education by NAE

Posted on June 30, 2006  Comments (0)

Reforming Engineering Education – National Academy of Engineering (NAE). The Summer 2006 issue of the The Bridge includes the following articles:

  • The “Value-Added” Approach to Engineering Education: An Industry Perspective by Theodore C. Kennedy
  • When I hire someone today, I look for different skills than I did 10 years ago. Today, it is not unusual for good candidates to have global references and experience on projects and assignments around the world. I think we must prepare our graduates for that type of career, because they aren’t likely to spend their careers working in one company, or even in one country. And they must become advisors, consultants, managers, and conceptual planners much more quickly than they did a few years back.

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Birds Fly Early

Posted on June 29, 2006  Comments (4)

Spring Is Early, and So Are the Birds, NPR webcast

This is short real life example of the scientific method. Spring is coming earlier to Europe, thanks to global warming. Scientists figured migrating birds in southern Europe would be able to adjust to the change and leave early (because the early warming would also be obvious where they wintered). But the scientists expected that birds from Africa would not be able to tell that they should leave early.

However, they studied what actual took place and found that the migrating birds from Africa were actually arriving early while those in southern Europe were not. So now they are revising their theories and will do more study to try and determine what is happening and why (for example, how are the birds in Africa deciding to leave early?).

Tour the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Lab

Posted on June 29, 2006  Comments (2)

Robert Scoble videotaped his visit to the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Lab and posted the video to Microsoft’s channel 9 – which has quite a few interesting videos.

They have some of the coolest people I’ve ever met and the robotics might surprise you (two of the students were building soccer-playing robots on top of Segways, other students were building surgery tools, really great stuff).

More robotics webcasts from Channel 9.

Swimming Robot Aids Researchers

Posted on June 28, 2006  Comments (0)

Swimming Robot

Swimming Robot Tests Theories About Locomotion in Existing and Extinct Animals

An underwater robot is helping scientists understand why four-flippered animals such as penguins, sea turtles and seals use only two of their limbs for propulsion, whereas their long-extinct ancestors seemed to have used all four.

Don’t miss the video of the robot swimming and an informative interview with professor, John H. Long, Jr., Ph.D., who is researching with the robot.

More robot posts

Large-Scale, Cheap Solar Electricity

Posted on June 25, 2006  Comments (6)

Photo of solar sheet manufacturing

Large-Scale, Cheap Solar Electricity by Kevin Bullis

This week, Nanosolar, a startup in Palo Alto, CA, announced plans to build a production facility with the capacity to make enough solar cells annually to generate 430 megawatts. This output would represent a substantial portion of the worldwide production of solar energy.

According to Nanosolar’s CEO Martin Roscheisen, the company will be able to produce solar cells much less expensively than is done with existing photovoltaics because its new method allows for the mass-production of the devices. In fact, maintains Roscheisen, the company’s technology will eventually make solar power cost-competitive with electricity on the power grid.

Nanosolar also announced this week more than $100 million in funding from various sources, including venture firms and government grants. The company was founded in 2001 and first received seed money in 2003 from Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Information on the nanotechnology involved from the Nanosolar site.

Open-Source Biotech

Posted on June 25, 2006  Comments (1)

Open-Source Biotech:

Mr. Jefferson, the man credited with inventing one of the main tools used in plant genetic engineering, started his campaign in 1987 by doing what the big companies that dominate agricultural biotech rarely do: He shared his discovery of beta-glucuronidase gene (GUS), an indicator that tells where a gene is, how much it expresses, and when it acts.

GUS is widely credited for enabling many breakthroughs in plant biotech, including the development of one of Monsanto’s first and most profitable agricultural products, Roundup Ready soybeans. Mr. Jefferson first provided GUS and all the know-how to use it for free to hundreds of labs around the world.

When he secured his patents, he charged only what people could afford: Monsanto, he says, paid a substantial amount; academics and companies in the developing world, including those who wanted to use his work for commercial purposes, received it free of charge.

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Another Article on Engineering Shortage?

Posted on June 25, 2006  Comments (0)

Shortage or surplus?

And the number one topic on everybody’s mind was, ‘Where we are going to find the staff to do the work that we have to do?’ ” said Doyle. “There might be rumors that there’s not a shortage, but you’re going to have a hard time convincing the CEOs of all these firms that there’s not a shortage.”

Doyle attributed the shortage to a number of forces. An expanding economy has created more jobs, he said. “The demand is high. The need is greater.” Baby boomers are retiring. Fewer engineering graduates seem to be entering the work force, especially in the architecture and engineering industry. Foreign-born engineers educated in the U.S. are now likely to return home to countries such as India and China where economies are growing exponentially.
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Bacterial Evolution in Yogurt

Posted on June 24, 2006 Comments Off

Adapting to Life in Yogurt by Carl Zimmer:

The analysis, based on the microbe’s newly sequenced genome, suggests that the bacteria descend from microbes that originally fed on plants. Some of them fell accidentally into some herder’s milk, it seems, and happened to clot it and kept it from spoiling. Since then, people have been transferring yogurt to fresh milk time and again, and the effect has been like running a long-term experiment on the evolution of bacteria.

Carl Zimmer provide much more detail in this podcast: evolution of bacteria in yogurt. Read more

Science, Engineering and Technology Graduates Paid Well

Posted on June 23, 2006  Comments (2)

Forfás report says starting salaries for science engineering and technology graduates are amongst the highest of all Irish graduates.

Speaking at the awards ceremony Minister Martin said, “This report highlights the exciting careers and levels of opportunity open to graduates and students in the science, engineering and technology sector. These graduates and students are at the forefront of Ireland’s transition as a world leading knowledge economy, working at the cutting edge of innovation and research.

Across a range of qualifications from primary degree to PhD level the report shows that graduates in disciplines with a strong science and technology content tend to be better paid than graduates in other disciplines.

This is another example of countries targeting science and engineering education to improve future economic progress and the high pay of engineering graduates. Previous related posts:

Britain’s Royal Society Experiments with Open Access

Posted on June 23, 2006  Comments (4)

Good news, the Royal Society tries open access by Stephen Pincock:

Britain’s Royal Society dipped a cautious toe into the waters of open access publishing this week, allowing authors whose papers are accepted by any of its seven journals to pay a fee and have their work made freely available on the web.

It seems to me most grants for scientific research should require open publication. I can imagine exceptions, but it seems to me that the expectation should be for open publication, in this day and age, and only allow non-open publication with a good reason.

For public funded research this open access expectation seems obvious. For private foundations in most cases I would think open access publication makes sense also. What business model is used to allow open access is not important, in my opinion. The important factor is open access, how that is accomplished is something that can be experimented with.
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