New York Photographer Amanda Means gave a talk at the Harvard Museum of Natural History to kick off her exhibition “Looking at Leaves,” which will last through February 2009. Aware of the chemical reaction of photographic paper, she plays with light and pushes the limits of her enlarger to create her dramatic pictures.
Guess who’s coming to dinner? If you live in Boston Public Housing – Probably roaches. These creepy crawlers aren’t just ugly, they can worsen symptoms of allergies and asthma. The quick fix are pesticide sprays, but experts now know, this solution may be just as unhealthy. Nuño Domínguez, Jeff Meredith and Joseph Caputo of the Boston University Center for Science and Medical Journalism have the story:
What do plastic tubes, strings and tin cans have in common? According to Chris and Meredith Thompson, they can all be musical instruments! At the 2008 Cambridge Science Festival, the Thompson twins show an audience of kids how fun the science of sound can be. Eva Zadeh has the story:
Over 4.2 million YouTube visitors have heard the hum of BigDog. The “alpha male” of Boston Dynamic’s family of robots, touted by the Massachusetts-based engineering company as “the most advanced quadruped robot on Earth” is amazing and creeping out the nearly 7,700 people who have commented on the video (posted below).
Dynamic’s robot program is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and at least one viewer was impressed with their investment. nexusnew, a YouTuber from Poland writes “America’s Army RULEZ!!!!” Badgerius, an Australian, is a bit more cautious, “They are still grappling with the highly advanced engineering and robotics in order to make something like this. We all want robots slaves, but geez, show some patience…”
Many comments were made about BigDog’s appearance – a dark, headless half-insect, half-dog. The robot, 3 feet long, 2 feet wide and 165 lbs, was designed to be roughly the size of a large dog or small mule. According to Boston Dynamics, it can run 4 mph, climb slopes up to 35 degrees, walk across rubble, and carry a 340 lb load. While most viewers find BigDog spooky or something straight out of a video game, others like CassandraTroy are channeling their inner-engineer, “How come the front legs are on backwards? Does this really help with stability and are there any examples of this kind of body design in nature?”
People are also curious about the loud hum. Airtimia, also from Poland, writes, “I think that this sound is generated by some little power generator, because when the robot is in the hall and it has external power source the sound is gone.” While a video like this can show off the latest in technology, it also seems to inspire scientific thinking.
Some commentators are exploring the political and moral implications of BigDog. While not always informed, they seem to represent members of the population who fear that science isn’t always used for “good.” “You guys are crazy. WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! There will be no stopping the war machine if leaders no longer need to weigh their choices against the loss of human life. Jesus Christ, it’s awful! Science is out of control if all it cares about is obtaining military contracts,” writes GregStuartSmith, an American.
Noasking, a 17-year-old, is a bit more enlightened. He comments on the potential benefits BigDog could have. “Its to save extra soldiers from having to go out into the field and possibly sacrificing their lives,” he writes. “not only that, but if anything, this would be a supply and cargo robot.”
The BigDog video is now the top favorite of all time in You Tube’s Science and Technology category. Do people finding it interesting because it just looks cool? Or is it tapping into something bigger – an excitement and possible fear over what we can engineer and what’s to come.
"In general, undergraduate students experience lab as one more thing they have to do to get through a required science course. Students have called the experience a meaningless cookbook exercise that forced them to go through steps they didn't understand as a way to explain a theory they didn't care about. We decided to do something about this problem, and address student's concerns."
Undergraduate science lab components are getting an upgrade at Boston University’s College of General Studies. Two natural science professors are downloading an important new component, one sometimes left out of the traditional program – Fun!
Well, more than fun they hope. “My ultimate objective is that they are learning something,” says Professor Karina Baum, a molecular biologist, who along with her colleague Professor Samuel Hammer, teach hundreds of non-science majors per semester.
To make biology lab more relevant, Drs. Baum and Hammer are asking their students to communicate science in visual and interesting ways. Students break into groups and have the option to use hands-on microscopes, (“The ones you see in C.S.I.” says Dr. Baum), or attach their digital cameras microscopes and produce quality pictures and video. Instead of writing a traditional lab report, with an objective, hypothesis, results and conclusion, groups can choose to edit a video so that anyone can watch their work and understand what the lab was about. The finished products are uploaded onto YouTube, where they are viewed and commented on by classmates and professors.
“We as scientists, we see things. We see action and results. Instead of telling something, why don’t you record it,” says Dr. Baum, who describes herself as a visual learner. “We saw a little bit of growth? Show me how the thing grows. It’s more realistic.”
This way of teaching, dubbed VisionU (Visualizing Science in our Non-major Undergraduates) is an experiment of its own. When they received the 2006 Boston University Instructional Technology Grant to fund the project, Drs. Baum and Hammer conducted a pre-survey of what students were taking away from their classes. They haven’t done the post-survey yet, but judging from students’ reactions, they expect good results.
Dr. Baum predicts that this pro-tech approach to science and learning is the way things are moving. She does note, however, a division between professors at Boston University on the value of the Web. She sees it as having advantages and disadvantages, but the Internet is undoubtedly a technology that students are comfortable with. Out of the 100 groups she ask asked to upload videos, only one didn’t know how.
“This is something new. I still have a lot to learn, but it has been a positive experience,” says Dr. Baum. “It makes me see that the same set of data can be presented in so many different ways.”