Tracking the Ecosystem Within Us

Posted on June 25, 2007  Comments (6)

Gut Check: Tracking the Ecosystem Within Us

For more than 100 years, scientists have known that humans carry a rich ecosystem within their intestines. An astonishing number and variety of microbes, including as many as 400 species of bacteria, help humans digest food, mitigate disease, regulate fat storage, and even promote the formation of blood vessels. By applying sophisticated genetic analysis to samples of a year’s worth baby poop, Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers have now developed a detailed picture of how these bacteria come and go in the intestinal tract during a child’s first year of life.

Before birth, the human intestinal tract is sterile, but babies immediately begin to acquire the microbial denizens of the gut from their environment — the birth canal, mothers’ breast, and even the touch of a sibling or parent. Within days, a thriving microbial community is established and by adulthood, the human body typically has as many as ten times more microbial cells than human cells.

The results, said Palmer, were striking: the group found that the intestinal microbial communities varied widely from baby to baby – both in terms of which microbes were present and in how that composition changed over time. That finding, she said, is important because it helps broaden the definition of healthy microbial colonization in a baby.

Another intriguing observation, Palmer noted, was a tendency for sudden shifts in the composition of the infants’ intestinal microbial communities over time as different species of bacteria ebbed and flowed.

I find this area and this study fascinating. I’m not exactly sure why this study and the incredibly significant positive bacteria for human life news doesn’t get more notice. Oh well I guess there are not cool pictures of robots or scary stories of potential threats to those reading which makes the news less interesting to some. Still I find this stuff amazing: Energy Efficiency of DigestionBeneficial BacteriaSkin BacteriaHacking Your Body’s Bacteria for Better HealthWhere Bacteria Get Their Genes

Backyard Wildlife: Fox

Posted on June 24, 2007  Comments (10)

Fox in Virginia

This photo shows a fox in my backyard from a few months ago. It liked to rest on that tree stump for a couple days – I have not seen it since. Other wildlife spotted include: possum, raccoon, rabbits, turtle, many birds including hawks and/or falcons, robins, starlings, doves, butterflies, bats, lightning bugs, all sorts of bees, ants, praying mantis, and many more birds. And I see several cats prowl the yard frequently. Maybe I can view CatCam photos of the cats prowls 🙂 I added a Cat category to the blog today: showing all the cat related posts.

Another Humanoid Robot

Posted on June 22, 2007  Comments (2)

promet3 - Humanoid Robot

Kawada Industries press release on HRP-3 Promet Mk-II (link to Google translation from Japanese to English). The robot is waterproof and does not need the power backpack most other humanoid robots require. It can work in real environments (small spaces, uneven flooring…) – see links for videos and more photos.

They refer to the pose to the left as the work pose. So I guess the device in its hand is a power tool not an advanced laser weapon – though it does resemble such a weapon when I look (maybe that shows my bias).

robot Watch story (link to the Google translation of Japanese to English) – many photos and links to more info.

Related: Toyota partner robotsWakamaru RobotTour the Carnegie Mellon Robotics LabRobo-Salamander

Kawada Industries HRP-2″Promet”,G on the previous version (with several videos):

The total robotic system was designed and integrated by Kawada Industries, Inc. together with Humanoid Research Group of National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). Yasukawa Electric Corporation provided the initial concept design for the arms and AIST 3D Vision Research Group and Shimizu Corporation provided the vision system.

HRP-2’s height is 154 cm and mass is 58 kg including batteries. It has 30 degrees of freedom (DOF) including two DOF for its hip. The cantilevered crotch joint allows for walking in a confined area. Its highly compact electrical system packaging allows it to forgo the commonly used “backpack” used on other humanoid robots.

Training Grants a Boon to Research and Scientists

Posted on June 22, 2007  Comments (0)

Training grants a boon to research, scientists:

According to Petra Schroeder, assistant dean of the Graduate School, there are approximately 30 training grants available at UW–Madison. Most are funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and they direct about $17 million each year toward the training of future researchers.

Each training program has its own specific mission, but most foster interdisciplinary research, providing students with valuable experience in a setting likely to mirror their first job environment. Those involved in the Biotechnology Training Program (BTP) are taught to do research at the juncture of the biological and physical sciences.

LiGreci is interested in bioremediation, putting microbes to use in cleaning up toxic waste. BTP thrust her into a soil science laboratory on campus. Though LiGreci considers herself primarily a microbiologist, her research lies far outside the comfort zone of most of her peers, involving soil science, chemistry and geology.

According to LiGreci, the exposure she gets to novel lab techniques is eye opening. She learned new modes of culturing bacteria and other lab skills unique to microbiology, expanding her toolkit as a bench scientist. This summer, she will branch out further into the realms of genomics and the intersection between computing and biology when she joins the Joint Genome Institute at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as an intern. There, she will work on projects to assemble genomes of soil bacteria.

Two Top Google Engineers Move to Benchmark Capital

Posted on June 21, 2007  Comments (0)

Here is an example of what I mentioned the other day (in Engineers: Future Prospects): Two top Google engineers leave — to Benchmark Capital:

two of the masterminds behind Google Maps and several other Google products, have joined the firm as “Entrepreneurs in Residence.” This gives them paid positions to hang out at Benchmark’s offices on Silicon Valley’s Sand Hill Road and think through starting a business. They have a specific idea in mind, but are secretive about it, telling VentureBeat only that it’s a “consumer Internet” company.

There were six Google employees responsible for creating Google Maps. Taylor was the overall project leader, while Norris was responsible for the Web server side of the product.

Related: Google’s Ten Golden RulesGoogle management postsengineering career posts

Using Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into Cells

Posted on June 20, 2007  Comments (7)

bacteria nanopartical ferry

Bacteria ferry nanoparticles into cells for early diagnosis, treatment

Researchers at Purdue University have shown that common bacteria can deliver a valuable cargo of “smart nanoparticles” into a cell to precisely position sensors, drugs or DNA for the early diagnosis and treatment of various diseases. The approach represents a potential way to overcome hurdles in delivering cargo to the interiors of cells, where they could be used as an alterative technology for gene therapy, said Rashid Bashir, a researcher at Purdue’s Birck Nanotechnology Center.

The researchers attached nanoparticles to the outside of bacteria and linked DNA to the nanoparticles. Then the nanoparticle-laden bacteria transported the DNA to the nuclei of cells, causing the cells to produce a fluorescent protein that glowed green. The same method could be used to deliver drugs, genes or other cargo into cells.

“The released cargo is designed to be transported to different locations in the cells to carry out disease detection and treatment simultaneously,” said Bashir, a professor in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Because the bacteria and nanoparticle material can be selected from many choices, this is a delivery system that can be tailored to the characteristics of the receiving cells. It can deliver diagnostic or therapeutic cargo effectively for a wide range of needs.”

Harmless strains of bacteria could be used as vehicles, harnessing bacteria’s natural ability to penetrate cells and their nuclei, Bashir said. “For gene therapy, a big obstacle has been finding ways to transport the therapeutic DNA molecule through the nuclear membrane and into the nucleus,” he said. “Only when it is in the nucleus can the DNA produce proteins that perform specific functions and correct genetic disease conditions.”
Read more

Robot Navigation Using Prediction

Posted on June 20, 2007  Comments (4)

Guessing robots predict their environments, navigate better (they broke the link so I removed it. what phb removes news release web pages. They really need to find some students that actually know what the internet is and replace whoever they have running their site now.)

Engineers at Purdue University are developing robots able to make “educated guesses” about what lies ahead as they traverse unfamiliar surroundings, reducing the amount of time it takes to successfully navigate those environments. The method works by using a new software algorithm that enables a robot to create partial maps as it travels through an environment for the first time. The robot refers to this partial map to predict what lies ahead.

Future research will extend the concept to four robots working as a team, operating with ant-like efficiency to explore an unknown environment by sharing the mapped information through a wireless network. The researchers also will work toward creating an “object-based prediction” that recognizes elements such as doors and chairs, as well as increasing the robots’ energy efficiency.

Related: Robots Sharing TalentsNSF Robotics ReportMini Helicopter Masters Insect Navigation TrickKayak RobotsA Robot to Clean Your Room

Building an Electricity Producing Wind Turbine

Posted on June 20, 2007  Comments (5)

How I home-built an electricity producing Wind turbine:

Several years ago I bought some remote property in Arizona. I am an astronomer and wanted a place to practice my hobby far away from the sky-wrecking light pollution found near cities of any real size. I found a great piece of property. The problem is, it’s so remote that there is no electric service available.

Whether you build your own, or buy one, you will need some sort of controller for your wind turbine. The general principal behind the controller is that it monitors the voltage of the battery(s) in your system and either sends power from the turbine into the batteries to recharge them, or dumps the power from the turbine into a secondary load if the batteries are fully charged (to prevent over-charging and destroying the batteries). The schematic and write-up on the above web page does a good job of explaining it.

My ultimate goal is to have enough power from wind and solar sources to power a small cabin and observatory on my remote property that will only be occupied occasionally and won’t have much need for electricity. If you need a bigger system, then you need someone with experience with bigger systems to help you out.

Very interesting home engineering project. Related: Awesome CatCamEngineering at HomeThe sub-$1,000 UAV Project

Re-engineering Engineering Education

Posted on June 19, 2007  Comments (0)

Re-engineering the engineer, Business 2.0’s take on the Olin education experiment:

You don’t have to spend much time at Olin to sense that something important has changed. Instead of the difficult, and often boring, math and physics classes of the old weed-’em-out-early engineering schools, you find courses like Engineering 2250: User Oriented Collaborative Design. In a typical session, you might encounter kids dressed in pajamas, sweats, shorts, and sandals and an atmosphere that feels more like an art studio than a classroom. On one spring day, a couple of couches and armchairs occupied the center of the room, and a student sat cross-legged atop a table, philosophizing about the lives and demands of makeup artists. Students in UOCD don’t build actual products, touch any technology, or even work a single math problem.

“It doesn’t look like engineering,” admits Benjamin Linder, the assistant professor who helped create the class. Olin’s curriculum is centered on courses like UOCD and Design Nature — the class that produced those climbing critters. Miller, 57, a thin, bald, engaging administrator who is prone to analogies, likens the traditional curriculum to a music school where students learn history and theory but never touch their instruments. Olin, by contrast, introduces project-based courses to its students early and often.

Olin also insists that students spend more than a quarter of their time studying business and entrepreneurship, humanities, and social sciences. “Olin really bends over backward to get the students to recognize the interactions between these disciplines,” says Constance Bowe, who studied the college as a researcher at Harvard Medical International. To help instill the entrepreneurial spirit, the college created the Olin Foundry, in which the school houses and partially funds as many as a dozen student startups.

Students also experience the business world firsthand through Olin’s senior consulting program for engineering. This year 12 corporations — including Boeing, Boston Scientific, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM — paid Olin a combined $700,000 to have groups of five seniors serve as consultants for a full academic year on some of the companies’ pressing technological and engineering problems. “By the time they’re seniors, they’re nearly operating at a professional level,” says David Barrett, the Olin associate professor who heads the program. “It gives them authenticity they wouldn’t get in a classroom.”

Great stuff. Related: Innovative Science and Engineering Higher EducationA New Engineering EducationEngineering and EntrepreneurismWhat do Engineers Need To Know?

Engineers: Future Prospects

Posted on June 19, 2007  Comments (5)

In the The Future is Engineering I discussed some of the benefits of engineering education. And previous posts shows that S&P 500 CEOs are more likely to be engineering graduates than any other discipline. The future of engineering looks at what is in store for students of engineering today:

I doubt many of the incoming freshmen at Lehigh who are about to enter the College of Engineering have any clue what they are getting themselves into. I suspect they will end up very pleased with their choice… especially when they realize large numbers of engineering graduates before them did not take jobs as engineers but instead were hired as consultants – as a result many graduates are paid much higher salaries than they would have dreamt of as freshmen.

But are they waging a rearguard battle, will the US become a services-land where most of the real engineering is outsourced to countries that value science more, and where the so-called engineers are number-crunching problem-solvers who stare at computers all day long? Or will the pendulum swing back in the engineers’ favor after a Sputnik-like incident that will bring engineering back into the list of national priorities?

It is very important to remember that the benefits of studying engineering cannot be measured solely by looking at engineers in the workplace – many go into different job title and are promoted into management… and as stated above CEOs. The second point will be an important determinant of the economic strength of the USA as I have addressed many times I think it is important the USA maintain science and engineering expertise. The multiple benefits of having research centers here, manufacturing engineering expertise… is huge. See: Read more

Mistakes in Experimental Design and Interpretation

Posted on June 19, 2007  Comments (5)

Mistakes in Experimental Design and Interpretation:

Humans are very good at detecting patterns, but rather poor at detecting randomness. We expect random incidents of cancer to be spread homogeneously, when in fact true randomness results in random clusters, not homogeneity. It is a mistake for an experiment to consider a pool of 47,000 possibilities, and then only report on the 7 cases that seem interesting.

A proper experiment states its hypothesis before gathering evidence and then puts the hypothesis to the test. Remember when you did your seventh grade science fair experiment: you made up a hypothesis first (“Hamsters will get fatter from eating Lucky Charms than Wheaties”) and then did the experiment to confirm or refute the hypothesis. You can’t just make up a hypothesis after the fact to fit the data.

This is an excellent article discussing very common errors in how people use data. We have tendencies that lead us to draw faulty conclusions from data. Given that it is important to understand what common mistakes are made to help us counter the natural tendencies.

Related: Seeing Patterns Where None ExistsIllusions, Optical and OtherUnderstanding DataDangers of Forgetting the Proxy Nature of DataHow to Deal with False Research Findingsdescriptive “theory” and normative theory