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Neuron News from DPR has highlighted some interesting activity from DARPA in the past (read more) with its involvement in neurological research and technology developments. With the “Grand Challenge” introduced in April 2013 by the Obama administration called the BRAIN Initiative (“Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies”), we clearly noticed that half of the dedicated $100 million in funds were to be delegated to future work out of DARPA. Now, months later, the military research branch has finally released two open calls for grant applications to spread around some of these monies to more organizations.
The first program call is for a project called SUBNETS (“Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies”), which is searching for new technologies that will allow near real-time quantitative measurements of brain activity to then control implanted neural stimulation devices. Out of context, this might sound like an attempt at developing controllable cyborgs, but the focus of this specific proposal is to create a health care advancement that will support the recovery and repair of U.S. service members who have experienced neurological injuries and neuropsychological illness from war-time activities. According to the proposal, ten percent of veterans today are receiving mental health care or substance abuse counseling from the VA. With implantable devices controlled by real-time recording and analysis as proposed by SUBNETS, neuropsychiatry will take a major leap beyond lying on the couch and talking it out with a trained professional with a notepad.
The second call from DARPA is called RAM (“Restoring Active Memory”) and continues in the vein of supporting veterans with brain injuries. Here, the goal is to develop innovative neurotechnologies that utilize an understanding of the neural encoding of memories — something that is not yet even remotely understood — to recover memory after brain injury. The anticipation is to have an implantable device that clicks on to recover the lost memories.
RAM seems to carry a rather far-reaching goal that could only be successful with a complete understanding of the structural and functional neural correlations of a human being’s memory. The added difficulty is that if it is assumed that memories are directly encoded in the specific architecture of neuron connections and the resulting functional relationships, then a traumatic brain injury could be defined as an event that directly destroys these connections. So to recover lost memories, one might expect that a digital “brain dump” would be necessary to be stored (securely in the cloud?) before a soldier heads off to battle.
With both the SUBNETS and RAM programs, exciting new technologies and advancements might be possible. However, in the descriptions above there are a plethora of ethical, security, and privacy issues left unmentioned only for the reader to speculate upon. To address these sorts of issues that always exist on the leading edge of technological developments, DARPA has also established an Ethical, Legal and Social Implications Panel composed of academics, medical ethicists, clinicians, and researchers to advise and guide the new programs as well as provide some form of independent oversight during their progress.
One of the primary efforts at Dynamic Patterns Research is bringing to our readers interesting information and articles related to citizen science and amateur research through our DPR Journal as well as the latest in neurotechnology with Neuron News. These journals are considered to be news and original commentary logs, but are largely based on the curation of content from other sources.
Direct attribution is always provided in articles published by DPR either via direct linking to an article or by other descriptive hyperlink reference to an individual, organization, or program. Formal attribution systems for literary and scientific works in publications already exist, but there has been no clear, universal method to recognize and reference source materials of published articles (either professional or amateur) that are based on “discovery through the web.”
One of today’s top web curators, Maria Popova of Brain Pickings, recently helped to develop a new system to make attribution consistent and codified, while respecting those who expand upon others’ creative and intellectual work. This simple “Curator’s Code” system features two Unicode symbols to represent the class of attribution used by authors. The sideways ‘s’ symbol, ᔥ, or “via” corresponds to a direct re-posting or reference to content discovered through another source and shared with an audience with minimal modification or amplification. The second symbol, a curving arrow, ↬, or “hat tip” represents an indirect discovery from another source of an idea, but with significant elaboration when shared with an audience.
Dynamic Patterns Research will begin implementing this new system for curation attribution in future published articles as we strongly believe clear reference to the creative and intellectual efforts of others must be obvious in our published writings. However, the additional commentary, information, and original content provided by DPR should also be separated in a similarly clear and obvious way, and the Curator’s Code system simultaneously offers these needs in a straightforward way.
Learn more about the Curator’s Code and let us know what you think about the new system in the comments below.
Comet ISON joins us this year from the Oort-cloud and is barreling toward the Sun for the very first time. The formal designation of the comet is C/2012 S1 representing a non-periodic (“C”) object discovered in “2012” in the second-half of September (“S”) and was the first comet discovered during that half-month (“1”). To help the name roll off the tongue a bit more smoothly, ISON represents where the discovery is officially attributed at the Russia-based International Scientific Optical Network.
Discovered last year during a series of observations between December 28, 2011 and into 2012 until its official announcement on September 24, 2012, Comet ISON has been watched closely since first being spotted between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. NASA’s many tools on active duty have had their go at Comet ISON including Deep Impact, Swift, Hubble, Spitzer, the Mars team, STEREO, Juno, MESSENGER, SOHO, as well as many ground-based observatories and amateur astronomers.
What will be ISON’s Fate?
Earlier in the year, Comet ISON was anticipated to be the comet of the century, but as it approaches closer to the Sun’s radiation, its fate is up for grabs. While many of us in the United States are filling our bellies with a bounty of goodness, November 28, 2013 will be the day that decides Comet ISON’s future. It might dwindle away to oblivion under the Sun’s forces — as is just now being reported at Spaceweather.com that astronomers in Spain are observing a change in the composition of the comet nucleus, possibly indicating that it is already breaking apart (read more). It might also break up into bits of comet as its nucleus becomes increasingly unstable, or — and what so many are hoping for — it will survive the fly by of the Sun and will emerge so bright that it will be observable on Earth during the daytime.
If Comet ISON does survive, then the month of December will offer many opportunities before dawn to make your own observations in the Northern Hemisphere looking toward the East. The animated infographic below provides a visual daily map to help you point your binoculars in the right direction and witness a comet making its first pass through our solar system.
For more information, videos, and images check out NASA’s Comet ISON Watch
UPDATE: November 28, 2013 @ 11:58 pm CST
During many Thanksgiving Feasts today, and some of the ensuing surges of shopping around the country, Comet ISON completed its spin around the Sun. The initial reports and visuals appeared to suggest that the nucleus broke up and the out-gassing tail fizzed away. The following SOHO time-lapse image shows an incredible pass of Comet ISON and a definite reduction in the intensity of the tail:
However, the fate of Comet ISON might not be settled just yet. Scientists are frantically reviewing data to determine what is going on — apparently with the media breathing down their necks! — because there is a hint of a re-ignition for Comet ISON or some other celestial surprise that will certainly offer new insight and data into the amazing functioning of our Universe. New science is happening right now, sloshing through leftover turkey and microwaved mashed potatoes and gravy.
Dynamic Patterns Research admittedly is not much of a follower of the art forms of hip-hop and rap, so we cannot express any expertise in the artists who work in this genre and their songwriting. However, one of the early hip-hop stars, GZA, or “The Genius,” a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan is currently marketing his latest album Dark Matter being released in early 2014… this album is apparently inspired by science as it makes an exploration of the cosmos through rap.
Now, our efforts here through Dynamic Patterns Research focus primarily on reaching out to a broad public to bring a greater appreciation for our Universe, and we have already experimented with merging physics and live theatrical entertainment through our first “Science at the Theatre” series production from Dynamic Patterns Theatre of QED: A Play, which had successful showings in Springfield, Jacksonville, and Decatur, Illinois.
But here, at a national level, GZA boldly brings physics appreciation to the genre of hip-hop, which we are extremely excited to see as an unexpected approach. Although hip-hop is out of our skill set, it provides a wonderful example of how mixing informal science education (no matter how informal it might be) with popular cultural artistic forms is an exciting and effective method to increase understanding and appreciation of science to our citizens.
“A Rapper Finds His Muse in the Stars” :: Wall Street Journal Online :: May 30, 2012 [ READ ]
On November 15, 2013, GZA visited a lecture hall at the University of Toronto to provide a sneak peek of his new album. It is a rather unique marketing technique for a hip-hop artist, but one that is entirely appropriate for his latest work of art. Watch this amazing clip … and be inspired:
This just might be an album that Dynamic Patterns Research will have to invest in not only for our archives… but for our own inspiration. It is so refreshing to see informal physics appreciation spread further into the arts. This will help excite more people into considering a little more about how our world works, which will only result in better decision makers, smarter consumers, and more knowledgeable voters.
We attended the Third Annual “Science of a Cocktail Party” supporting the Illinois Science Council in Chicago, Illinois on November 9, 2013, and had a great time spending an evening in the city sipping cocktails, performing scientific experiments and supporting the ISC’s efforts for science outreach.
Having started in 2006 by Monica Metzler, the Illinois Science Council (ISC) is a young non-profit organization that is filling a unique niche in our culture that is vital to the growth and success of our society: science education and outreach to the adult public. This mission was designed from the realizations that the kids seem to receive lots of science education and entertainment opportunities and the kids and adults alike have access to so many wonderful programs for the arts, like through the Illinois Arts Council (of course, we do agree that there needs to be more!). But, for busy adults, keeping tabs on the latest developments in science and technology and enriching oneself with new scientific appreciations is something entirely left to the individual.
With this goal mind, the ISC is similarly focused to the long-term efforts of Dynamic Patterns Research of bringing a greater appreciation to science to a broader public, which is why we were so pleased to have the opportunity to participate and support this particular fundraising event. Both ISC and DPR strongly believe that with an increased appreciation of science and technology, we will have a culture of better decision makers, smarter consumers, more knowledgeable voters, and more well-informed citizens who have an enhanced appreciation of ourselves and our Universe. (Read more about the complete mission of ISC.)
We started off the evening watching the creation of a fascinating cocktail — carefully measured in a beaker, of course — that featured shots delivered via syringe and a beaker lined with pop rocks. It was finished off with a the crack of a glow stick that certainly enhanced the taste and effect (psychologically speaking) of this “totally scientific” and tasty mixed drink.
The event was hosted at the incredibly inspiring showcase office center for the engineering company DIRTT (“Doing It Right This Time”), an international company that provides custom prefabricated interiors. Their engineering philosophy focuses on a 21st Century approach that moves beyond conventional construction to use computing power to go from design, to real-time 3D, to specifications, to the production floor. Environmental sustainability is tied to their bottom line. The aesthetics of this showcase space was outstanding and it was a perfect atmosphere to get excited about science.
Throughout the office space, interactive experiments were setup hosted by volunteer graduate students from Northwestern University. We first hooked our biceps up to custom designed electrodes connected to a cute robot rover, and with each flex of a muscle could control the right or left-handed acceleration of the car. The stronger the contraction the faster it moved. Maneuvering around obstacles meant carefully controlling the timing and strength of each muscle contraction. This seemingly simple electric device showed the power that is already being developed for providing extended limb control to amputees.
Next up was a demonstration of an updated version of the Sesame Street classic “which of these two aren’t like the other” where two seemingly identical images projected on big screens were flashed back-and-forth and you had to visually identify what subtle element was different between each image. This was an interesting test of “spacial blindness” where our brains like to average visual information across our field of view, which can make it challenging to identify little changes that might be obviously sitting right in front of our eyes.
Our neurological faculties were continued to be tested as we sat down to train — within only a few seconds — a specialized infrared sensor with computer software (think Kinect) to track our subtle eye movements with great precision. Using this “wireless control” system, we opened up the favorite game app Fruit Ninja and sliced away at various flying fruit by moving the cursor / machete with only our wiggling gaze.
Our two kids are pretty good at this slicing and dicing game using their fingers on a touch screen, and would certainly have been excited and jealous to see their parents concur the game with only their eyes. Needless to say, Michelle beat out Matthew’s score by a few points to rein champion in this fun visual remote control game.
Equilibrium and balance are essential feelings that we certainly take for granted. So, to better appreciate how our inner ear keeps us on our toes, we allowed Northwestern graduate students to connect two electrodes behind our ears (waivers had to be signed with both our printed name and our signature, so we knew it was serious) that were connected to a little black box with a switch. Electrical signals were passed through on one side or the other — a little tickle could be felt — and with eyes closed the body soon started falling without any awareness from the brain until a saving hand was felt on the shoulder to stop the tumble before it was too late.
We next tested our visual system’s interpretation of color as we crowded into a small closet — one which DIRRT likely did not design with the original intent for use by multiple bodies — that was illuminated by only a single wavelength of light somewhere in the green-yellow spectrum. We each inspected a handful of jellybeans only to realize that their individual colors were indiscernible as only a limited number of wavelengths were reflected (or re-radiated) from their surface atoms since they were only being excited by a single incident wavelength.
Our skin tones also made it look like the zombie apocalypse was going to originate from this very closet as a grayish matrix pattern appeared making us look rather un-dead.
The final technical demonstration we enjoyed was the MakerBot 3D printing system, which was creating before our very eyes a detailed three-dimensional model of a mansion with spires, windows, and brick walls. The detail and resolution being swiftly layered on the platform was quite exciting and the efficiency of creating an effective “solid” structure by forming a honeycomb pattern on the inside of the building was ingenious. Since Matthew performs 3D model printing routinely in his professional career of fine jewelry design and manufacturing, which requires much higher resolution than displayed by this MakerBot, it was also interesting to see that the printed material would cool and solidify fast enough to essentially be printed in “mid-air” allowing for overhanging structures to be printed without a supporting material.
A great deal of kudos must be showered down upon Monica Metzler and the ISC organization for not only hosting a wonderfully geeky, interesting, and fun evening in Chicago, but for the great mission and efforts that they have taken on to support science outreach to a broader adult population. Along with the many sponsors of the evening, including American Science & Surplus and the Hogan Marren, Ltd. law firm in Chicago, Dynamic Patterns Research is proud to be an attending supporter of the event, and we do anticipate continued support and interaction with the organization moving forward.
It is groups like the ISC that should become prevalent in every state to help launch new initiatives in science appreciation that will drive — with its effective grass-roots approach — more of our citizens into a higher-level understanding of how our Universe works, with advantages that will trickle down into our every days lives of choices and behaviors.
And what better way to complete the evening filled with science, friends, and fun … and complimentary wine from Terlato Wines International and wonderfully tasty beer from Metropolitan Brewing of Chicago … but to pick up a chisel and hammer and break off our own chunks of fine chocolate courtesy of the Blommer Chocolate Company.
If you are interested in learning more about the Illinois Science Council and how you can participate and support their efforts, please consider getting involved with the ISC. If you would like to connect more with Dynamic Patterns Research and find out what sort of goals and activities we are working on in Central Illinois, please contact us today with your interests and ideas, and socially connect with us on Facebook.
Dynamic Patterns Theatre recently launched their first production in the new Science at the Theatre Series, QED: A Play. This funny, touching, and educational show featuring a day in the of life Nobel Laureate Prof. Richard Feynman is written by Peter Parnell and stars central Illinois actor Al Scheider.
With their combined background of art, literature, and physics, Matthew and Michelle Dearing have wanted to develop a unique and interesting theatrical experience that merges quality live entertainment with an element of informal education that is primed for a broad public audience. Interestingly, there is a significant library of great theatre that revolves around scientific themes and ideas, and dynamic patterns theatre explores this genre in its new “Science at the Theatre” Series.
“I believe it is critical for a broader public in our culture to have an increased general appreciation for science. By using creative venues for informal education opportunities, which is currently a major goal of the National Science Foundation, we can reach out to audiences searching for quality and memorable theatrical entertainment, while exposing them to inspiring and exciting ideas from science,” said Matthew T. Dearing, co-producer of dynamic patterns theatre and director of QED: A Play.
In the show QED, which stands for quantum electrodynamics, the physics model that describes how light and matter interact for which Feynman was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1965, the script weaves Feynman’s professional biography, including the Manhattan Project and the Challenger inquiry, and provides a window into many of his personal emotions and challenges. All the while, the story integrates several great discussions of physics ideas presented for a general audience.
Through a collaboration with local physicists and teachers from regional academic institutions, dynamic patterns theatre developed a new educational and entertainment outreach program. Patrons experienced an informal forum highlighting aspects of Feynman’s life, career and featured science topics discussed during the play. The forum was directed toward a general audience and the panel facilitated informal science interactions with the goal of increasing patrons’ appreciation for science and how the Universe works, if only just a bit.
The panelists included Dr. John Martin, Associate Professor of Astronomy and Physics at the University of Illinois – Springfield, Dr. Brian Carrigan, Assistant Professor of Natural Sciences at Benedictine University, Dr. Joanne Budzien, Assistant Professor of Physics and MacMurray College, Dr. Jeff Chamberlain, Associate Professor and Chair of Physics at Illinois College, and Laurie O’Brien, physics teacher at Glenwood High School.
“My academic background is in physics, so I am personally excited to merge my theatre and science interests into a new cultural event that has not been attempted before in Central Illinois”, said Mr. Dearing.
During the opening weekend of the show at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield, Illinois, the live panel of regional physicists responded to outstanding questions posed by patrons. With two full-houses in attendance, inquiries from the infinitely large to the infinitesimally small were interactively discussed, and geared toward an informal and non-technical audience.
Over twenty-six questions in all were sorted through on the spot and selected to feature during each performance. From “how many galaxies are in the known universe?” to “why does warm air rise?” and “how is Voyager 1 able to communicate from outside the solar system?”, the panel was energized and tackled each question with their combined years of experience studying the field. Several questions even tested the limits of our current understanding in physics, such as “why is there more matter than anti-matter?” with the only response being: “if you could answer that one, then you’d have the Nobel Prize!” We aptly completed the discussion on Saturday night with an extended explanation on the many options to “how does the Universe end?”
Mr. Dearing said, “This experiment in merging informal science education with live theatrical entertainment has been so interesting to develop, and the lively interactions between the patrons and the panel was exciting to witness. People were truly inspired to dive right in and ask about our universe and wonder about it what it can reveal.”
Additional questions provided by the audiences during the opening weekend are listed below, and we invite you to respond by commenting after this article as to what you think about this experience as an informal educational opportunity.
“Why does the tail of a comet not end? How does it stay ‘alive'”?
“What is the physical difference between a living creature and the same creature when it is dead?”
“Is there any dark matter in the solar system? If not, then how likely is it that there is a huge quantity in the galaxy?”
“How is God in the ‘god’ particle?”
“Can you explain the new age theory that everything comes from nothing as made famous by Dr. Lawrence Krauss?”
“What is the ‘friendliest’ sub-atomic particle?”
“How many fundamental forces are there at last count?”
“Do atoms that are part of a living organism behave differently than those that are part of, say, a rock or a pool of liquid steel?”
“Please discuss the concept of a continually expanding infinite universe. How can something infinity small (the universe at the moment of creation) be uniform in extent? What does it mean to expand infinitely?”
“Did Feynman write a popular text book?”
“What are some of the great discoveries by physicists?”
“Politics and ‘public policy’ aside, what is the reality of global warming: is it real? If so, is modern man to blame?”
“Have there been any major errors discovered in Feynman’s work?”
“Space and time may not be fundamental… comments?”
“Is it true that slide rules are coming back?”
“If all living individuals are a pile of atoms, then how do we define life from non-living things?”
These are some rather impressive questions, and dynamic patterns theatre is honored to have been the first to bring such an IN-TER-ES-TING and unique experience to a general audience in Central Illinois.
In QED: A Play from dynamic patterns theatre, Richard Feynman was portrayed by Al Scheider, a long-time regional actor from Decatur who has performed in over sixty community theatre productions in thirty-seven years, and has directed theater for twelve years. The supporting role of Miriam Field, a young Caltech student, is played by Lynexia Dawn Chigges, who is a LPN with Memorial Physician Services, and has performed on stages from San Diego to Springfield, Illinois. The show was directed by Matthew T. Dearing.
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