Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy

Posted on December 22, 2007  Comments (1)

The Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy is designed to use robotics to excite children about science and technology and to help create a more technologically literate society. This seems like quite a nice idea to me.

When students design and build robots they study math, science, engineering, and physics. Robotics Education is the “Premier Integrator” in education today. Students are immersed in geometry, trigonometry, electronics, programming, computer control and mechanics while using industry standard software and hardware. They learn to compromise when working in teams. They learn the importance of time management and resource allocation. They are introduced to the concept of systems and systems analysis.

Currently there are over 80 companies in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region that design, sell, or service robots. Carnegie Mellon University, the governing body of the NREC, has a world-renowned reputation for robotics. NASA, one of the funders of the consortium, has an unparalleled commitment to education. Pittsburgh and The National Robotics Engineering Consortium have all the components necessary to become the world leader in Robotics Education.

Why is it important? Most of the technologies that we depend on daily were developed in the last ten years. The only constant is change, and change is exponential in the digitally driven world in which we find ourselves. If you believe as we do that it is the scientists and technologists that will have the greatest impact on the quality of your life in the future, then you will find the following statistics alarming.

Related: Tour the Carnegie Mellon Robotics LabLearning with Robotic LegosRobots Wrestling, Students LearningCMU Professor Gives His Last Lesson on LifeBuilding minds by building robotsFun Primary Science and Engineering Learning

Great Physics Webcast Lectures

Posted on December 20, 2007  Comments (0)

One great example of MIT’s Open Course Ware initiative is Physics I: Classical Mechanics. This course features lecture notes, problem sets with solutions, exams with solutions, links to related resources, and a complete set of videotaped lectures. The 35 video lectures by Professor Lewin, were recorded on the MIT campus during the Fall of 1999. These are some great lectures by a entertainer and educator. Some lecture topics: Newton’s Laws, Momentum – Conservation of Momentum – Center of Mass, Doppler Effect – Binary Stars – Neutron Stars and Black Holes, The Wonderful Quantum World – Breakdown of Classical Mechanics. What a wonderful web it is.

Related: MIT for FreeBerkeley and MIT courses onlineScience and Engineering Webcast LibrariesInner Life of a Cell: Full VersionNon-Newtonian Fluid DemoWebcasts by Physics Nobel LaureatesGoogle Tech Webcasts #3

Giant Rats

Posted on December 19, 2007  Comments (1)

Giant rat found in ‘lost world

The trip was the second time that CI had visited the Foja Mountains, part of the Mamberamo Basin, the largest pristine tropical forest in the Asia Pacific region. In 2005, the area was dubbed a “lost world” after scientists discovered dozens of new plants and animals in the dense jungle.

the most surprising finds of the trip were the two new species of mammal – the Cercarteus pygmy possum and Mallomys giant rat. “The giant rat is about five times the size of a typical city rat,” said Kristofer Helgen, a scientist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. “With no fear of humans, it apparently came into the camp several times during the trip.”

Related: Cats Control Rats … With ParasitesOpossum Genome Shows ‘Junk’ DNA is Not Junk

Expensive Ink

Posted on December 18, 2007  Comments (4)

$8,000-per-gallon printer ink leads to antitrust lawsuit

For most printer companies, ink is the bread and butter of their business. The price of ink for HP ink-jet printers can be as much as $8,000 per gallon, a figure that makes gas-pump price gouging look tame. HP is currently the dominant company in the printing market, and a considerable portion of the company’s profits come from ink.

The printer makers have been waging an all-out war against third-party vendors that sell replacement cartridges at a fraction of the price. The tactics employed by the printer makers to maintain monopoly control over ink distribution for their printing products have become increasingly aggressive. In the past, we have seen HP, Epson, Lenovo and other companies attempt to use patents and even the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in their efforts to crush third-party ink distributors.

The companies have also turned to using the ink equivalent of DRM, the use of microchips embedded in ink cartridges that work with a corresponding technical mechanism in the printer that blocks the use of unauthorized third-party ink.

Tip – by a printer from a company that doesn’t rip you off as much for ink: The Kodak 5300 All-in-One Printer, which uses ultra low-priced ink to help you save up to 50 percent. Kodak has made the strategic decision to compete with the entrenched printing companies by not ripping off customers as much. Ok I am not really sure how this really fits one this blog but I want to put it here so I will 🙂

Related: Kodak Debuts Printers With Inexpensive CartridgesPrice Discrimination in the Internet AgeZero Ink PrintingOpen Source 3-D Printing

Handcrafted Chromosomes

Posted on December 18, 2007  Comments (0)

Synthetic DNA on the Brink of Yielding New Life Forms

Scientists in Maryland have already built the world’s first entirely handcrafted chromosome — a large looping strand of DNA made from scratch in a laboratory, containing all the instructions a microbe needs to live and reproduce.

In the coming year, they hope to transplant it into a cell, where it is expected to “boot itself up,” like software downloaded from the Internet, and cajole the waiting cell to do its bidding. And while the first synthetic chromosome is a plagiarized version of a natural one, others that code for life forms that have never existed before are already under construction.

LS9 Inc., a company in San Carlos, Calif., is already using E. coli bacteria that have been reprogrammed with synthetic DNA to produce a fuel alternative from a diet of corn syrup and sugar cane. So efficient are the bugs’ synthetic metabolisms that LS9 predicts it will be able to sell the fuel for just $1.25 a gallon.

At a DuPont plant in Tennessee, other semi-synthetic bacteria are living on cornstarch and making the chemical 1,3 propanediol, or PDO. Millions of pounds of the stuff are being spun and woven into high-tech fabrics (DuPont’s chief executive wears a pinstripe suit made of it), putting the bug-begotten chemical on track to become the first $1 billion biotech product that is not a pharmaceutical.

Engineers at DuPont studied blueprints of E. coli’s metabolism and used synthetic DNA to help the bacteria make PDO far more efficiently than could have been done with ordinary genetic engineering.

Related: Life-patentsOpen-Source Biotech

The State of Physics

Posted on December 17, 2007  Comments (0)

The Problem with Physics by Peter Woit

Physics has become obsessed with strings, branes and multiple dimensions, yet the big questions remain fundamentally unanswered. Has the time come to admit these wild conjectures have failed, and move on?

Fundamental physics now finds itself in a historically unprecedented situation. The multi-decade dominance of string theory, along with its extremely speculative research into the implications of exotic scenarios far removed from any hope of testability, has changed the subject in dramatic and fundamental ways.

What used to be considered part of the dubious fringes of science has now become institutionalised within the mainstream. In physicist Lee Smolin’s recent book, The Trouble With Physics, he characterises the current sociology of the field as dominated by ‘groupthink’, with too few physicists willing to admit how far off the tracks things have gone. The nearly infinite complexity of string theory, M-theory, branes, higher dimensions and the multiverse has led to a vast number of possible challenging calculations for people to do to keep themselves busy, all embedded in a mathematical structure far too poorly understood to ever lead to definitive, falsifiable predictions.

The problems of the Standard Model that faced my colleague and I a quarter of a century ago continue to inspire new generations of young theorists to devote their lives to work that might some day lead to real progress. But these problems remain extremely difficult ones, and we have little in the way of promising ideas, with far too much effort going into the evasion of difficulties and the pursuit of the chimera of unification through ever more complex higher dimensional constructions inspired by string theory.

Related: String Theory in TroubleString Theory is Not DeadNeutrino Detector Searching for String Theory Evidence

Superfluid Helium

Posted on December 16, 2007  Comments (0)

image of superfluid helium scaling walls

Once helium is cooled to within 2 degrees above absolute zero helium becomes a superfluid. At that point is has zero viscosity and can do things like rise out of a container – scaling the walls. Graphic from Wikipedia on Superfluid:

Helium II will “creep” along surfaces in order to find its own level – after a short while, the levels in the two containers will equalize. The Rollin film also covers the interior of the larger container; if it were not sealed, the helium II would creep out and escape.

Related: Non-Newtonian Fluid WebcastSuperconductivity and SuperfluidityInner Life of a Cell (full version)Helium-3 Fusion Reactor

More interesting superfluid traits:

The superfluid component has zero viscosity, zero entropy, and infinite thermal conductivity. (It is thus impossible to set up a temperature gradient in a superfluid, much as it is impossible to set up a voltage difference in a superconductor.) One of the most spectacular results of these properties is known as the thermomechanical or “fountain effect”. If a capillary tube is placed into a bath of superfluid helium and then heated, even by shining a light on it, the superfluid helium will flow up through the tube and out the top as a result of the Clausius-Clapeyron relation. A second unusual effect is that superfluid helium can form a layer, a single atom thick, up the sides of any container in which it is placed.

Strategic Research Plan for Nanotechnology

Posted on December 16, 2007  Comments (0)

Productive Nanosystems report for the United States Department of Energy:

This Roadmap is a call to action that provides a vision for atomically precise manufacturing technologies and productive nanosystems. The United States nanotechnology advancement goal should be to lead the world towards the development of these revolutionary technologies in order to improve the human condition by addressing grand challenges in energy, health care, and other fields. The United States can accomplish this goal through accelerated global collaborations focused on two strategies that will offer ongoing and increasing benefits as the
technology base advances:

1. Develop atomically precise technologies that provide clean energy supplies and a cost-effective energy infrastructure.
2. Develop atomically precise technologies that produce new nanomedicines and multifunctional in vivo and in vitro therapeutic and diagnostic devices to improve human health.

Close cooperation among scientific and engineering disciplines will be necessary because of the nature of the engineering problems involved. This cross-disciplinary collaboration will bring broad benefits through the cross-fertilization of ideas, instruments, and techniques that will result from developing the required technology base.

With international cooperation, the benefits of productive nanosystems will be delivered to the world faster. Coordinating a full international
effort is extremely desirable in order to minimize duplication of effort in smaller national programs conducted independently.

Related: Nanotechnology OverviewNanotechnology Investment as Strategic National Economic Policy (Singapore)Nanotechnology ResearchNanocars

Another Bacteria DNA Trick

Posted on December 15, 2007  Comments (2)

A DNA shift never before seen in nature

For several decades, researchers have known that it is possible to modify synthetic oligonucleotides (short strands of DNA) by adding sulfur to the sugar-phosphate DNA backbone as a phosphorothioate. Researchers often use such modifications in the laboratory to make DNA resistant to nucleases (enzymes that snip DNA in certain locations) as a step toward gene and antisense therapies of human diseases.

Dedon said he and his co-workers were surprised to discover that a group of bacterial genes, known as the dnd gene cluster, gives bacteria the ability to employ the same modification on their own. “It turns out that nature has been using phosphorothioate modifications of DNA all along, and we just didn’t know about it,” he said.

He theorizes that the modification system might serve as either protection against foreign (unmodified) DNA, or as a “bookmark” to assist with transcription or replication of DNA.

Bacteria really are amazing. I am starting to read more about bacteria and virus so maybe I will post more on these topics over the next few months.

Related: Where Bacteria Get Their GenesBacteria parasite DNA found within DNA of hostFighting Bacteria by Blocking DNA Replication

Orcas Create Wave to Push Seal Off Ice

Posted on December 15, 2007  Comments (4)

Pretty amazing footage. From Nature News, Unique orca hunting technique documented:

Ingrid Visser of the Orca Research Trust in New Zealand and her colleagues report on six further observations of the animals using group hunting behaviour to divide ice floes, push them into open water, and create waves to wash animals off them into their waiting jaws.

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Engineering for a Changing World

Posted on December 13, 2007  Comments (1)

This interesting and long report (I have not finished reading it yet – 120 pages) has been completed by the President Emeritus of at The University of Michigan (and current University Professor of Science and Engineering): Engineering for a Changing World by James J. Duderstadt.

The fundamental knowledge undergirding engineering practice increasingly requires research at the extremes, from the microscopic level of nanotechnology to the mega level of global systems such as civil infrastructure, energy, and climate change as well as the mastery of new tools such as cyberinfrastructure and quantum engineering. It also requires far greater attention by government and industry to the support of the long-term basic engineering research necessary to build the knowledge base key to addressing society’s needs.

It is similarly essential to elevate the status of the engineering profession, providing it with the prestige and influence to play the role it must in an increasingly technology-driven world while creating sufficiently flexible and satisfying career paths to attract a diverse population of outstanding students. Of particular importance is greatly enhancing the role of engineers both in influencing policy and popular perceptions and as participants in leadership roles in government and business.

The inability of engineering to attract the best and brightest, as it does in most other nations, is due in part to the way engineering is perceived by prospective students, teachers, parents, and society more broadly (NSB, 2007). Society at large simply does not have an accurate perception of the nature of engineering. While the public associates engineers with economic growth and national defense, they fail to recognize the role of engineering in improving health, the quality of life, and the environment. They are relegated to the role of technicians rather than given the respect of other learned professions such as medicine and law. In sharp contrast to most other nations, one rarely finds engineers in leadership roles in business or government and hence they have relatively inadequate impact on the key strategic issues facing our nation and world.

Related: Science, Engineering and the Future of the American EconomyEngineering the Future EconomyChina’s Economic Science ExperimentEconomic Strength Through Technology LeadershipEducating the Engineer of 2020: NAE ReportThe Future is EngineeringMIT Engineering Education ChangesBest Research University Rankings (2007)Global Technology Leadership