Do Actions Speak Louder Than Words? - Scientists & Engineers on Sofas (and other furnishings)

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Why do we gesture? What role do simple hand movements play in some of the most fundamental aspects of language? Susan Goldin-Meadow has dedicated her career to asking, and answering, those big questions. Her eponymous lab at the University of Chicago studies gesture’s role in cognition, development and the acquisition of verbal language. Goldin-Meadow visited the National Science Foundation to discuss some of her most exciting work – examining how gesture can change the way we think....

Computational biology of cancer

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Endometrial cancer affects 48,000 women per year in the United States. For patients with tumors greater than two centimeters in diameter, the effected organ(s) and lymph nodes may be surgically removed. Yet post-surgery analysis shows that only 22 percent of patients had metastasis, meaning 78 percent of these surgeries may have been unnecessary. How can doctors predict which patients need surgery? Mathukumalli Vidyasagar discusses how new computational algorithms from National Science...

Robotic hand with a delicate grip – Empire robotics at CES 2015

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In industry, fragile or difficult-to-grip items require a delicate touch. That’s why Empire Robotics, funded by the NSF Small Business Innovation Research program, is bringing the VERSABALL to the marketplace. The VERSABALL is a spherical robotic hand filled with granular material that conforms to and grips objects.   At the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, Empire Robotics displayed their innovative soft gripper technology by outcompeting human challengers with precision ping pong...

Snowflakes photographed by new high-speed camera

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In the late 1800's, Wilson Bentley and Gustav Hellmann began photographing snowflakes. Their photos would go on to spark the public's fascination with snowflakes. Today University of Utah engineer Cale Fallgatter and atmospheric scientist Tim Garrett are using a new camera system that photographs free-falling snowflakes. The technology behind the camera that revealed the intricate, imperfect beauty of snowflakes can now expose their potential danger. About three years ago, a new...

Ultrafast lasers and Archimedes - Scientists & Engineers on Sofas (and other furnishings)

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When it comes to ultrafast lasers, Margaret Murnane’s name is one of the best known for her work in this field of science. Since 1999, she has been a professor at the University of Colorado’s NSF-funded JILA Physics Frontier Center, where she and her husband Henry Kapteyn pioneer research in ultrafast x-ray science. Additionally, the two also own a small laser company. Margaret is credited with building one of the fastest lasers ever, operating in matters of merely femtoseconds. After a...

Smart vents to save energy – CES 2015

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NSF-funded small business Keen Home has developed a smart vent that opens and closes to reduce uncomfortable hot and cold spots, save energy in unused rooms, and tailor a home’s heating and cooling to fit specific lifestyles. The new wireless system will respond automatically based on users’ habits and presence. Keen Home co-founder Nayeem Hussain explains how the smart vents integrate into daily life. Keen Home is funded through NSF’s Small Business Innovation Research program....

NSF and Popular Science announce 2015 Vizzies winners

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The Vizzies celebrates the use of visual media to clearly and accessibly communicate scientific data and research. It recognizes the finest illustrations, photographs, videos, graphics and apps, whether produced by academic researchers, artists or hobbyists.

Autonomous robot does laundry

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People typically consider doing the laundry to be a boring chore. But laundry is far from boring for artificial intelligence (AI) researchers like Siddharth Srivastava, a scientist at the United Technologies Research Center, Berkeley. To AI experts, programming a robot to do the laundry represents a challenging planning problem because current sensing and manipulation technology is not good enough to identify precisely the number of clothing pieces that are in a pile and the number that...

Engineering the spark that starts wildfires

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Hot metal fragments can be created from power lines, overheated brakes, railway tracks, or any other manner of metal-on-metal action in our industrialized society. The particles can reach more than 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, around the boiling point of most metals. Although these bits cool as they fall to the ground, they can ignite a flame that quickly spreads if they land on a prime fuel source like pine needles or dry grass. At least 28,000 fires occur each year in the U.S. due to...

Shoe-based tech helps amputees get extra mileage out of physical therapy - CES 2015

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It looks like Fitbit for feet, but it’s actually Google for gait, according to Stacy Bamberg, CEO and founder of Veristride. Veristride, a small business funded by NSF’s SBIR/STTR program, is developing tools to help amputees rehab faster with gait analytics. Wearable insoles pair with walking data analytics to provide people with information about how they walk to improve their performance. At the 2015 International CES, Bamberg explained how the tech may help people track their...