Intel’s Turn For Science Fair Love

Last week I noted the Google Science Fair winners for this year, so it’s only fair to note this year’s Intel Science and Engineering Fair award winners.  I missed the announcement in May, but congratulations to Jack Andraka, first place winner and recipient of the Gordon E. Moore Award, as well as this year’s Young Scientist winners, Nicholas Schiefer and Ari Dyckovsky.

Andraka, of Crownsville, Maryland, developed a new means of detecting early stage pancreatic cancer.  His patent is pending.  Schiefer, of Pickering, Ontario, conducted research on microsearch – online searching of the smallest information bites.  Dyckovsky, of Leesburg, Virginia, did work on quantum teleportation.

But what really caught my eye about this year’s Intel Science and Engineering Fair was the art component.  Per NPR, several artists were enlisted to represent the projects of many science fair participants.  Think of it as a poster session for the general public.  Here’s a short video explaining the project:

There will be new works added every week through August.

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of July 30

The Olympics have effectively shut down three late night programs for the next fortnight, as they usually do.  No repeats, no new episodes.  As it is August, a couple of programs are on hiatus.  On tonight’s Dave repeat, his longtime animal expert companion, Jungle Jack Hanna, comes to visit.  Jimmy Kimmel Live will replay last week’s visit from Jessica Biel on Friday.  Biel stars in the new Total Recall film, out in early August, where memory is a major element of the plot.

The usual suspects come through this week.  Tuesday night on The Daily Show you can hear from Dambisa Moyo, who has a book about China and its demands for resources of all kinds, including critical elements.  The next evening Scientific American editor Fred Guterl stops by to talk about his book on extinction events.

Also on Wednesday, MythBuster Adam Savage will sit and chat with friend of the show Craig Ferguson.

A couple of side notes.  The Colbert Report has yet to announce its Wednesday guest.  Last week the program had an unannounced science guest – agricultural scientist Bruce Babcock – to talk drought.  That was on the July 24th program, still available online for a while (and perhaps repeated during the next hiatus.

Additionally, BBC America is hyping two science related specials for Saturday evening.  There will be a special on the science in Dr. Who, and a Nerdist episode on science.  From the previews, expect to see Neil de Grasse Tyson, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and math(s) author Danica McKellar.  No idea if either program will appear on other BBC networks, though Dr. Who is the lodestone of British science-fiction programming.

Science Music Corner, Accelerator Edition

Some history to relate on a Sunday evening:

Following on yesterday’s music post on the Higgs boson, it’s worth visiting the small history lesson over at Scientific American‘s website.  They recount the story of the Tevatron, a U.S. collider at Fermilab that was also looking for the Higgs.  (It was the underdog in the fight.)  It failed to make it to the finish line of the contest, running out of funding last fall.

As part of the film mentioned in the piece, you can find what could well be the first science rap of note.  If you can’t wait to hear a Fermilab rap (a tour of the facility), it’s on the YouTube.  Do remember the video is 20 years old, and comes from a science outfit, which can make it dated that much faster (roughly 1:45 in).

This does appear to displace what I understood to be the first science rap video that got any distribution – the LHC rap.

Finally, some music science rather than science music.  Reuters is reporting on a study from researchers in Spain analyzing the Million Song Dataset.  The dataset covers pop songs from 1955 to 2010.  According to the analysis, you’re not just getting old, music does sound more alike than it used to.  And it’s louder.  If we all just agree to stay off each other’s lawns, things should be okay.

Yes, You *Can* Hear the Music of the Higgs

While it seems unlikely that papers will soon come as .mp3 files with audio infographics, some are still working on hearing things we usually expect to see.

At least one physicist was converting Large Hadron Collider data into music before the existence of the Higgs boson was officially confirmed earlier this year.  Three scientists (one is also a composer) have converted Higgs boson data into music.  It apparently is Cuban, as the rhythm most closely resembles habanera.

The idea is to match energy levels found in the data with particular notes.  That way shifts in energy can be more immediately expressed as shifts in tone.  The Higgs boson peaks out of the background noise – noise that isn’t really noise from a musical perspective.

You can hear the Higgs as a solo piano piece, or a small chamber piece (with extra instruments).  Credit to the ATLAS lab at CERN (where the Large Hadron Collider is located) for continuing their science influenced musical work.

While some may be waiting for a Higgs bassoon piece, I’m interested in trying to use these techniques for educational purposes.  I know a challenge right now is in finding the dedicated processing time to convert this information into sound, but for those who have an easier time detecting patterns in audio rather than printed data, this could be a very productive development.  Researchers facing a sticking point could benefit by switching from one form of perception to another, and so could students trying to learn challenging material or establish good research practice.

Where To Find Some Olympics Science and Technology Content

While the science and technology behind individual sports gets covered in plenty of places (I do recommend Sports Science on ESPN in the U.S.), the Olympics coverage (at least in the U.S.) focuses way more on the athletes than on the science and technology that help them do what they do.

During the next two weeks, you might want to augment your Olympics exposure with the following.

While it’s already over, the Opening Ceremonies explicitly called out the science and technology in Great Britain’s history.  Take a gander at the following Tweet from @AdamRutherford (H/T @mereoec and @rizmc), as well as the linked photo.

Perhaps only Britain could plausibly reference the industrial revolution at an international event, but the mention of science and technology in a cultural ceremony is still different enough to merit some attention.  And the inclusion of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the greatest living British computer scientist and an inventor of the World Wide Web, really puts weight behind Berners-Lee’s words from the stage:

But on to what’s to come:

Continue reading

A European Perspective on Science Policy ‘Myths’

The European Science Foundation (ESF) and the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) recently issued a policy brief on innovation.  It’s effectively a conference report on an conference held in late February on “The Science of Innovation.”

Mindful of the parallel (if not comparable) Science of Science and Innovation Policy program at the U.S. National Science Foundation, I was intrigued.  The report goes into more detail on the following sub-topics:

1.Innovation policy: ‘uncommon sense’ needed – innovation is not always benign and its effects are not clean cut. It is important to understand how best to optimise, not maximise, innovation
2.The ‘science of innovation’ – diversification of innovation policy is vital. In particular a better understanding of innovation policy for the service sector is important, as this is the largest and fastest growing sector, making up more than two-thirds of European economies
3.Policy myths and rituals – there are many ‘myths’ in the world of innovation policy, such as the role of venture capitals, SMEs and the state. Innovation policy sometimes has a ritual dimension, in which policy-makers apply certain principles from elsewhere – often the US – because it seems like the thing to do, rather than because of clear evidence that it will work in their particular situation. Innovation policy has to be context-specific, and this is a big challenge for those who want to develop European-level innovation policy
4.Blind spots in innovation policy – knowledge transfer from other sectors than universities have been largely omitted in the discourse on innovation; the focus on tertiary education has for instance in some cases reduced the quality of the output of secondary education
5.Creative destruction, or destructive creation? – rather than ‘creative destruction’ we are increasingly seeing a process of ‘destructive creation’, in which new products and services diminish or destroy the usage value of existing ones, to the benefit of a few rather than many
6.Cognitive lock-in – the increased proximity between innovation policy and innovation research may have the effect of inhibiting the creation of new knowledge that could change policy directions
7.The ERA and academic disparities – the effect of European Research Area (ERA) policy may be uneven, as the opportunities it presents are unevenly distributed
8.Evidence-based innovation policy: limits and challenges – innovation policy is often not really evidence-based, or even based on distorted evidence. Available evidence from innovation research is fragmented, of variable quality, hard to interpret and often used inappropriately
9.Sharing risks and returns: toward a new model of knowledge governance – a new model of knowledge governance is considered, with innovative financial tools to give returns proportional to the very active high risk-taking role of state in investing in innovation
10.Innovation aimed at public value - stimulating the right type of innovation requires a clear idea of ‘public value’ and how to measure it

In general, the report strikes me as a more pragmatic, operational focus on science, technology and innovation than what I see being supported through the NSF program.  (Of course, YMMV.)

But the third point, on policy myths and rituals, really caught my eye.   Continue reading

Bioethics Commission Continues Exploration of Genetic Privacy

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues will hold its tenth meeting in Washington on August 1 and 2.  The agenda is available online, though it is a draft agenda.  I would expect the meeting to be webcast, or at least made available after the fact for viewing online.

This meeting will continue the commission’s work on two issues dealt with in the last meeting in May.  The first day will focus on genetic testing and privacy.  Presentation topics will include changing conceptions of genetic privacy and the influence of technology on the capacity and utility of genetic databases.

On Day Two the Commission will spend most of its time focused on issues related to research conducted on children.  A specific area of interest is in research on medical countermeasures (think epidemics, or chemical/biological attacks) involving kids.  Given the notable differences between the bodies of adults and children, simply assuming different doses based on size and weight is not wise; at least not without research suggesting that approach is sound.  That said, how can you effectively conduct research on minor children with compounds that can be marginally better than the nasty compounds they are designed to fight?

There is a great deal of time in this agenda for discussion of recommendations connected to genetic testing and privacy.  As the commission expected to be completed with their work in this area by mid-2012, they appear to be on schedule.  An official report may be ready before the end of summer.

Kudos to the 2012 Google Science Fair Winners

Earlier today, Google announced the winners of its second annual science fair.  It is open to 13-18 year-olds from around the world, and prize winners this year came from the United States, Spain and Swaziland.  You can see all the finalists online, and the top 15 were brought to Google headquarters for several activities, including a Gala.  There’s a decent chance this year’s winners could follow the same path of their predecessors to see the President.

The competition was held primarily online, with students (who can work in groups of up to 3 people) posting their work via Google.  The other science fair sponsors from last year (Scientific American, LEGO and National Geographic) have returned, and are joined this year by CERN.

This year’s award recipients:

  • 13-14 age category: Jonah Kohn (USA) created a device to help convert sound waves into tactile vibrations to help the hearing impaired.
  • 15-16 age category: Iván Hervías Rodríguez, Marcos Ochoa and Sergio Pascual (Spain) examined hidden microscopic life in fresh water.
  • 17-18 age category (Grand Prize Winner): Brittany Wenger (USA) created an application to use a cloud-based test database to assist doctors in their diagnoses of breast cancer.

Also new this year is the Science in Action Award from Scientific American.  This award is focused on environmental, health and social issues with a practical impact on a group or community.  This year’s winners are Sakhiwe Shongwe and Bonkhe Mahlalela of Swaziland (go ahead, look it up on a map, this post isn’t going anywhere), both 14.  Their work looked at ways of delivering affordable hydroponic capabilities to subsistence farmers.

Congratulations to all of the entrants, finalists and winners.  Those interested in participating in next year’s science fair should check with Google at the first of the year.  In the meantime, you can look at past winners to get a sense of what kind of presentation you’ll need to have ready to enter next year.  Good Luck!

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of July 23

The summer doldrums continue.

On Tuesday Eric McCormack, star of Perception, visits with Conan.  He portrays a neuroscientist on the program (airing on the TNT channel in the U.S.), though his character’s fluctuating mental state gets as much attention as his occupation.

In a rare instance where I willingly include a doctor, one of David Letterman’s Wednesday night guests is Dr. Leonard Girardi, a cardiac surgeon.  I am assuming that Letterman’s own heart history (a quintuple bypass in 2000) will factor into the appearance.

I should also note that the movie Total Recall will premiere in the United States the weekend of August 3rd.  Memory factors into the plot of the film, though I don’t expect the science will get any more attention than it did in the 1990 version with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  That said, stars Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale will make several late night visits this week.  Farrell and Biel will visit both Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel’s programs on consecutive nights (Tuesday and Wednesday on Leno, Wednesday and Thursday on Kimmel).  Beckinsale will visit with Conan on Wednesday.

More Weekend Updates: I-Corps Turns One, Europe Revises Clinical Trial Procedures

I-Corps, the National Science Foundation (NSF) program to help researchers get assistance for commercializing their research, recently turned one.  You can watch the webcast of the anniversary event.  According to the latest program solicitation, NSF is interested in growing regional nodes (new teaching sites for its commercialization curriculum) for a national network for research commercialization assistance.  They are looking to double the number of three-person research teams split between industry and universities.

Over on the other side of the Atlantic, the European Commission has issued draft revised legislation for its sponsored clinical trials.  The 2004 rules, which the proposed legislation would revise, were intended to harmonize practices across the European Union, but led to an overall decline in registered trials and an increase in costs.  There is an attempt with this proposed legislation to streamline the administrative requirements for the trials, with a particular focus on making it easier to register and administer trials taking place in more than one member state.  This is similar to a major thrust of the U.S. efforts to update its federal guidance for human subjects research.  (The next steps in that effort have yet to be made public.)