$60 Million in Grants for Universities

Posted on February 28, 2007  Comments (2)

HHMI Invites Colleges to Compete for Grants to Strengthen Undergraduate Research, Mentoring, Computational Skills:

Institutions are invited to compete based on their proven records in preparing undergraduates for graduate education in science and for careers in scientific research and medicine. In the past, the top 200 colleges were invited to apply. This year, to increase the pool of applicants, the Institute invited the 226 colleges with the highest percentage of graduates, including underrepresented minorities, who go on to graduate or medical school. For the first time, invited institutions include a Native American tribal college.

A panel of leading scientists and educators will review the applications and make recommendations to the HHMI undergraduate science education grants staff. Awards will be announced in May 2008.

Through its Undergraduate Science Education Program, HHMI has awarded $235.8 million in grants to 126 colleges throughout the United States and Puerto Rico since 1988, part of $693 million in grants for undergraduate science education that the Institute has awarded to institutions of higher education, including research and doctoral universities. HHMI is the largest private supporter of science education in the United States.

This is a huge amount of money that can do a great deal of good.

Editorial: Engineers of the Future

Posted on February 28, 2007  Comments (1)

Engineers of the future:

Technology education programs at all grade levels seek to afford students opportunities to tinker, to discover how things work, and to explore the designed world. At the elementary school level, students may learn about simple machines designed for specific tasks or about the basics of electricity by actually building simple circuits. In middle school, students may explore concepts in more detail, perhaps by designing and building a model of a bridge or a gliding aircraft. In high school, students may have opportunities to design an affordable home, take something apart to see how it works, or design and build a robot that would be used for a rescue mission or some other specific purpose. All of these experiences are related to the processes of engineering.

This is the type of learning that can enhance a future engineer’s experience, but also the type that cannot be included in the typical upper grade level math or science classroom for one main reason: math and science teachers generally do not have the time and may not have the interest or expertise needed for in-depth study of technology.

The editorial makes a good point. As import and primary science and math education are they are not enough. Effort to create an environment where students can experiment and use their hands and minds to solve problems is incredibly valuable. Teaching in this way is not as simple as it might seem, see example below for some ideas and resources that can help create these type of learning institutions.

Examples: Middle School Engineersk-12 Engineering EducationEngineering is ElementaryColorado Science Teacher of the YearBuilding minds by building robotsLeadership Initiatives for Teaching and TechnologyEngineering Education Program for k-12Project Lead The Wayk-12 science and engineering posts

Medical Study: Antioxidant Supplements Don’t Extend Life

Posted on February 27, 2007  Comments (2)

Antioxidant Supplements Don’t Extend Life Span, Study Finds

Representatives of the vitamin industry, as well as some other researchers, disputed the findings, criticizing the study for, among other things, including people who were already sick. People tend to take vitamins to stay healthy, they said.

“There’s a large body of data that shows that antioxidant supplementation is beneficial,” said Andrew Shao of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, an industry group. “The message to the average consumer is: Don’t pay attention to this. This doesn’t apply to you. You can go ahead and continue taking your antioxidant supplements in addition to the other things you do in your life to stay healthy.”

But Gluud and his colleagues defended the findings, saying that the study used careful methods developed by the internationally respected Cochrane Collaboration, an independent nonprofit effort to methodically assess medical claims. The analysis included many large studies involving healthy people, and the increased risk was clear after accounting for factors that could confuse the findings, Gluud said.

Tracking Changes in Individual Molecules

Posted on February 27, 2007  Comments (0)

Watching a Biological Jigsaw Puzzle Come Together

Scientists have recorded the action involved in assembling telomerase, an enzyme used by cells to protect their genes during the potentially dangerous process of DNA replication. Using a sophisticated technique for tracking structural changes in individual molecules in real time, they have revealed how three of the protein and RNA components of the enzyme come together, altering their shapes along the way to ensure that the next piece will fit.

In these more complicated systems, it’s much harder to guess what is going on in the assembly process. But by directly watching things as they happen, this sort of powerful approach will give a lot of new insights.

Very cool stuff. It just keeps coming doesn’t it?

Related: RNA interference webcastmessenger-RNA

Economic Gains from Science

Posted on February 27, 2007  Comments (0)

Gaze into future for state’s economy:

For policymakers, that means: Invest in the state’s educational system, especially the University of Wisconsin System, and use tax policy to encourage investors to supply the money to make business ideas grow.

TomoTherapy, 10 years old, already employs 500 people. Co-founded by two UW-Madison professors, it was financially backed by investment groups in Madison, Milwaukee and California. The next step may be to follow Madison-area high-tech businesses Third Wave and Sonic Foundry into the public stock market.

GenTel, employing 17, started at University Research Park, has moved to Fitchburg and plans to open an office in North Carolina. The company has found additional financing from investors, including groups in Madison and Appleton. Aruna sprouted from brainpower and research at the University of Georgia, but it licenses human em bryonic stem cell technology from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. Because UW-Madison is a hotbed of stem cell research, moving its jobs and income to Wisconsin would make sense.

Related: Engineering the Future EconomyReplicating Silicon ValleyEducational Institutions Economic ImpactScience and Engineering in Global Economics

Asimo Robot: Running and Climbing Stairs

Posted on February 27, 2007  Comments (3)

ASIMO Brings Engineering to Life at the Dream Factory:

The Dream Factory is an educational initiative organized by Honda of the UK Manufacturing Ltd (HUM) in association with The Science Museum to provide inspiration and a greater excitement about the subject of engineering. Aimed at Key Stage 3 students (ages 11-13 years), each workshop has been specifically designed to explain a basic engineering principle and show how this is then used in Honda’s leading edge technology. ASIMO joins Punk Science presenters from Discovery Channel’s Scientific Show and the HUM team to help inspire over 500 local school children.

Related: More on AsimoAsimo North America TourToyota Robots (and Dancing Asimos)

Saving Mankind

Posted on February 26, 2007  Comments (0)

Hollywood got it wrong, this is how you stop an apocalyptic asteroid:

Rather than Hollywood’s preferred option, engineers are trying to develop unmanned rockets that can land on space rocks and use the asteroids’ own material to propel them into a safer orbit.

“It is like throwing rocks out of a rowing boat on a lake. The rocks go in one direction and the boat is slowly pushed in the other under the laws of physics,” said John Olds, the chief executive of SpaceWorks, the firm behind the scheme. “Over several months we think we can make the difference between a hit and a miss.” Astronomers fear that a 400-yard wide asteroid will pass dangerously close to the Earth within 30 years. Typically, one the size of a football pitch strikes every 100 years or so, and it is also almost 100 years since the last major impact which caused an explosion equivalent to a 15 megaton nuclear bomb in Tunguska, Siberia on June 30, 1908.

Related: Ancient Crash, Epic WaveExtreme EngineeringMeteorite Lands in New Jersey Bathroom

Fighting Elephant Poaching With Science

Posted on February 26, 2007  Comments (2)

DNA Technology Leads Scientists to Locations of Elephant Poaching:

The illegal trade in elephant ivory continues unabated despite the fact that it was banned by international convention in 1989. In an effort to hunt down poachers who slaughter thousands of elephants a year for the animals’ tusks, scientists have turned to DNA technology to narrow the search.

But to pinpoint the precise origin of the tusks can tell authorities where elephants are being slaughtered and which routes are being used to transport the illegal tusks. Armed with this information, the enforcement authorities would find it easier to track down poachers.

Wasser led a group of researchers who performed a DNA analysis on 67 tusks confiscated in the 2002 Singapore seizure. The genetic material was compared to an existing database of elephant DNA. The researchers determined with near “100 percent accuracy” that the poached elephants came from the savanna within a narrow band of Southern Africa — possibly extending from Mozambique to Angola — with Zambia at its center.

Excellent use of science to gain knowledge which can help determine where best to put effort to counteract poaching.

Related: Wildlife Experts Fear for African ElephantsDNA Insight on Cat EvolutionWild Tiger Survival at Risk

Correlation is Not Causation

Posted on February 26, 2007  Comments (9)

Why so much medical research is rot:

People born under the astrological sign of Leo are 15% more likely to be admitted to hospital with gastric bleeding than those born under the other 11 signs. Sagittarians are 38% more likely than others to land up there because of a broken arm. Those are the conclusions that many medical researchers would be forced to make from a set of data presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science by Peter Austin of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto. At least, they would be forced to draw them if they applied the lax statistical methods of their own work to the records of hospital admissions in Ontario, Canada, used by Dr Austin.

Dr Austin, of course, does not draw those conclusions. His point was to shock medical researchers into using better statistics, because the ones they routinely employ today run the risk of identifying relationships when, in fact, there are none. He also wanted to explain why so many health claims that look important when they are first made are not substantiated in later studies.

As I said in, Seeing Patterns Where None Exists: “Page 8 of Statistics for Experimenters by George Box, William Hunter (my father) and Stu Hunter (no relation) shows a graph of the population (of people) versus the number of storks which shows a high correlation. “Although in this example few would be led to hypothesize that the increase in the number of storks caused the observed increase in population, investigators are sometimes guilty of this kind of mistake in other contexts.'”

Nanoparticles to Battle Cancer

Posted on February 25, 2007  Comments (0)

photo of Todd Harris, Sangeeta Bhatia and Geoffrey von Maltzahn

Team develops nanoparticles to battle cancer:

One solution already under way involves using nanoparticles for cancer imaging. By slipping through tiny gaps that exist in fast-growing tumor blood vessels and then sticking together, the particles create masses with enough of a magnetic signal to be detectable by a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. “This might allow for noninvasive imaging of fast-growing cancer ‘hot spots’ in tumors,” said Bhatia. The team will continue this research by testing the imaging capabilities in animal models.

Another solution, described in the Jan. 16 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a novel “homing” nanoparticle that mimics blood platelets. Platelets flow freely in the blood and act only when needed, by keying in on injured blood vessels and accumulating there to form clots. Similarly, these new nanoparticles key in on a unique feature of tumor blood vessels.

Ruoslahti had identified that the lining of tumor vessels contains a meshwork of clotted plasma proteins not found in other tissues. He also identified a peptide that binds to this meshwork. By attaching this peptide to nanoparticles, the team created a particle that targets tumors but not other tissues. When injected into the bloodstream of mice with tumors, the peptide sticks to the tumor’s clotted mesh.

Photo by Donna Coveney, from related press release: MIT nanoparticles may help detect, treat tumors

Related: Nanospheres Targeting CancerNanoparticles to Aid Brain ImagingCancer cell ‘executioner’ found

Micro RNA Editing

Posted on February 25, 2007  Comments (0)

What separates us from the worms by Tom Avril (bozos broke the link, poor usability, so I removed it):

RNA editing is thought to be just one way that humans get more out of their 30,000 genes than, say, a fruit fly does with 13,600 or a roundworm does with 19,100. Those creatures have more primitive editing machinery, said the paper’s senior author, Kazuko Nishikura of Philadelphia’s Wistar Institute.

And they have much less of what is sometimes misleadingly called “junk” DNA – a region of the genome that does not produce proteins but nevertheless appears to play a key role in the diversity of life. The new paper is one of numerous recent finds in the booming field of RNA research. In the early days of genetic study, RNA was seen basically as a messenger for its cousin, DNA, carrying instructions to direct the manufacture of proteins.

But other kinds of RNA have since been discovered, including some that regulate or turn off certain genes, playing a role in embryonic development and – when things go awry – in diseases such as cancer. Last year’s Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to scientists who pioneered a related field called RNA interference. And RNA is now thought to be even older than DNA, with some saying it served as the genetic blueprint for the earliest forms of life.

Related: New Understanding of Human DNARNA interference webcastOld Viruses Resurrected Through DNADNA Transcription WebcastScientists discover new class of RNAWhere Bacteria Get Their Genes