Messenger Spacecraft Reveals New Facts About Mercury.

The New York Times (6/17, A23, Chang, Subscription Publication) reports new results from the Messenger spacecraft orbiting around Mercury “is painting a more vibrant picture of the solar system’s innermost planet.” Scientists, reporting the finds at a NASA news conference, explained how the planet has unique features in the solar system “and its mineralogy is vastly different from the Moon’s.” Scientists have also discovered Mercury’s magnetic field is different in the northern and southern hemisphere. These findings “could reveal how Mercury formed and changed over the 4.5-billion-year history of the solar system, which in turn could help astronomers understand the panoply of Earth-size planets around other stars and the possibility of conditions friendly for life on them.” Scientists have already been able to eliminate one of three current theories explaining how Mercury formed.


National Academy of Engineering’s second Frontiers of Engineering Education symposium

From December 13 through December 16, 53 early-career engineering educators will convene in Irvine, California for the second Frontiers of Engineering Education (FOEE) symposium. The selected educators, from academe, government labs, and industry, had to be nominated by either a senior engineer or a dean. A complete list of attendees, as well as their affiliate institutions, is available for perusal.

The topics for this years symposia will focus on engineering education and developing new ways to better captivate students while also ensuring that they come away understanding the fundamentals of engineering. It is hoped that the discussions at the symposium will enable engineering educators to prepare their students for becoming productive and skilled engineers.

Thanks to the many sponsors for the symposium, those selected to attend will not have to pay registration fees and there is a also travel stipend available.


USA Science & Engineering Festival: October 10-October 24, 2010

Photo courtesy of the USA Science and Engineering Festival

The Inaugural USA Science and Engineering Festival will be kicking off the start of two week’s worth of events, exhibits, contests and more on October 10. The festival, held in Washington DC on and around the National Mall, is completely free to all who wish to attend.  According to the festival’s official website, their mission is to, “re-invigorate the interest of our nation’s youth in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by producing and presenting the most compelling, exciting, educational and entertaining science gatherings in the United States.”

The highlight of the festival will be the expo taking place on October 23 and October 24. During the expo, there will be over 1500 interactive science activities, more than 75 stage shows and performances, and a number of talks and performances hosted by the many exhibitors.

Even though the festival hasn’t begun yet, there are many ways to already get involved! There are a number of contests to enter, including a Rubik’s cube tournament. You can also choose to purchase a t-shirt, sign up as a volunteer, or find out more from the performance schedule.  Be sure to stay up to date by following the blog and signing up for the newsletter.

Will you be there when science takes over the nation’s capital?


Turning Proteins Into Glass

photo of David Needham and Deborah Rickard

Dr. David Needham and graduate student Deborah Rickard

Duke University researchers developed a glassification technique that could bring about protein-based drugs that are cheaper to make and easier to deliver than current techniques which render proteins into freeze dried powders to preserve them.

Duke engineer and chemist David Needham describes this glassification process as “molecular water surgery” because it removes virtually all the water from around a dissolved protein by almost magically pulling the water into a second solvent.

“It’s like a sponge sucking water off a counter,” said Needham, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, who has formed a company called Biogyali (“gyali” means glass in Greek) to develop the innovation. That firm has also applied to patent the idea of turning proteins into tiny glass beads at room temperature for drug delivery systems.

Preliminary evaluations by his senior scientist David Gaul and a team of undergraduate students showed that four test proteins undergoing such procedures retained all or most of their original activity when water was restored. His group has received about $1 million from the National Institutes of Health grants for the research.

Having devised a way to turn proteins into glassy microbeads measuring only about 26 millionths of a meter in diameter, Needham hopes those can be directly injected into the body for use as “biologic” drugs. These microbeads might also be packaged for slow time-release by surrounding them with a polymer that would biodegrade over time, though how to do that has not been resolved yet, he added.

Their discovery of protein glassification grew out of a basic exploration of a general question: What can dissolve in what? Needham’s research group found, for example, that air and the organic liquid chloroform will both dissolve in water at about the same rate. It also found that water will dissolve in decanol, a substance it cannot even mix with in large quantities.

Proteins are currently dried into clumpy, irregular powders by several industrial processes — usually freeze-drying — to protect them from such microbe damage. Drying also avoids the chemical breakdowns that can also occur when proteins are kept in solution. “But in the freeze-drying process itself, some very sensitive biologic drugs can also get damaged,” Needham said.

Freeze-drying proteins into solids is also slower and more expensive than glassifying them, he added. And the resulting “flaky” powder is harder to handle than glassified beads. Glassification “is a fast process,” said Gaul, a senior research scientist in Needham’s lab. Unlike freeze-drying, “we can dry particles within minutes, if not seconds, and don’t need any specialized equipment.”

Full press release

Related: Engineering students compete to build a robo-mowerSurface Antennas Conform to Any ShapeEngineer Tried to Save His Sister and Invented a Breakthrough Medical Device


Water for People

Getting clean water is a huge issue for billions of people each day. This is a well known issue that engineers and others have attempted to address. While much has been done, much is left to be done. Such a large and critical issue requires many people to help implement and maintain solutions.

Related: Water, sanitation and hygiene links to healthThe PlayPump SystemHigh School Inventor Teams @ MITEngineering a Better World – Water and Electricity for All


National Lab Day

National Lab Day Promotional Video

Today, scientists, engineers, technologists, and mathematicians from across the country will team up with K–12 schools for project-based learning experiences for National Lab Day. National Lab Day is a long-term program/collaboration between STEM professionals and K–12 classroom teachers.

A coalition of educators, science and engineering associations, philanthropies and other organizations today announced the launch of National Lab Day, a new grassroots initiative designed to reinvigorate science and math education in the nation’s schools and after-school programs and lead to increased U.S. competitiveness.

President Obama applauded the education initiative and others in a speech at the White House. “Lifting American students from the middle to the top of the pack in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) achievement over the next decade will not be attained by government alone,” he said. “I applaud the substantial commitments made today by the leaders of companies, universities, foundations, non-profits and organizations representing millions of scientists, engineers and teachers from across the country.”

National Lab Day aims to inspire a wave of future innovators and foster U.S. competitiveness by improving the quality STEM education in America. A collaboration between government and more than 200 public and private-sector-organizations, National Lab Day will connect students in grades 6-12 to hands-on learning experiences and promote tinkering in laboratory settings.

National Lab Day will promote hands-on learning throughout the year and culminate each year with special events the first week of May. Volunteer science and technology professionals and educators will work together with students to improve America’s science labs and offer inquiry-based STEM experiences in classrooms, learning labs, and after-school programs.

“We wouldn’t
teach football from a textbook,” said John P. Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor. “It is even more important that America’s youth have the opportunity to learn math and science by doing. The President and I strongly support efforts to raise the level of project-based learning, to help cultivate the next generation of doers and makers.”

Jack D. Hidary, chairman of National Lab Day,
praised President Obama’s announcement. “Our children deserve a world class science and math education that includes exciting, hands-on lab experiences,” said Hidary. “Whether you are a Nobel-prize winning scientist, a Mythbusters fan, a tinkerer or a parent, you can help bring students the enjoyment of learning through real challenges.”

The National Lab Day website will automatically match volunteers to requests from educators to participate on the basis of geography and interests. The website also provides resources and ideas for hands-on learning experiments and invites the public to suggest new materials.
Read the rest of this entry »


USA Science and Engineering Festival

Photo courtesy of the USA Science and Engineering Festival

In October, Washington DC will be host to the USA Science and Engineering Festival, the country’s first national science festival. “The Festival promises to be the ultimate multi-cultural, multi-generational and multi-disciplinary celebration of science in the United States.” Two of the fifteen days of the Festival will be an Expo in which over 500 science and engineering organizations will come together to encourage and inspire future scientists and engineers.

With over 500 organizations participating, there will definitely be something for everyone! From building one’s own rocket to finding out if a dog can be smarter than a human, the festival seeks to accomplish it’s mission of re-igniting youths’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

There are many exciting ways to get involved with the festival before it begins. Contests to begin preparing for include a jingle contest, a Rubik’s Cube tournament, and a Kavli science video contest.

Stay up to date with the USA Science and Engineering Festival on their blog.

“Will you be there when science takes over the National Mall?”


“Rebuilding a Real Economy…” Forum Summary Published

“Americans feel prosperous based largely on the performance of three key economic indicators, said Ali Velshi, chief business correspondent for CNN. Are the values of their homes rising faster than inflation? Are their investments, whether for their children’s education or their own retirement, growing? And do their incomes equal or exceed increases in the cost of living?”

“Rebuilding a Real Economy: Unleashing Engineering Innovation: Summary of a Forum” has recently been published and is currently available online. This summary came from the 2009 Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Engineering, from a public forum with the same name, which highlights the main points brought about by seven leaders of the innovation system. These participants discussed why technological innovation is necessary for this nation to face the challenges of the 21st century.


Jeanine Plummer, Impacting Tomorrow’s Engineers

Photo courtesy of WPI’s Faculty Directory

“Jeanine Plummer has demonstrated a remarkable passion for teaching and mentoring students since she came to WPI {Worcester Polytechnic Institute}. It is particularly fitting that her remarkable efforts are in environmental engineering. She and her students are literally engineering a better future for the planet and its people, and her skill and leadership in working with students is outstanding…” said WPI’s senior vice president, John Orr.

Plummer became a faculty member of WPI in 1999, after having received a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Cornell University, and at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, a MS in Environmental Engineering and a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering. During her studies, she received many fellowships and awards, including a fellowship from the National Science Foundation and the United Technologies Outstanding Graduate Woman in Engineering Award. She was honored with WPI’s Board of Trustees’ Award for Academic Advising in 2005 and the Board of Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Teaching in 2006. In 2007, she became director of WPI’s environmental engineering undergraduate program. In 2008 she was named the Massachusetts Professor of the Year.

ASEE’s Prism magazine celebrates Plummer and the accomplishments she has made thus far in her career. It recognizes her dedication to her students, as shown by her advisory of numerous students. Read more about Plummer and the impact that she is having on our future’s engineers here.


Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

March 24th is celebrated as Ada Lovelace Day, a day dedicated to celebrate the achievements of women in science and technology. On this day, people across the world have pledged to blog about their favorite female scientist.

Agusta Ada King, or simply Ada Lovelace, is credited as writing the first computer program. Ada was born in 1815 and taught mathematics at an early age, helping her develop skills that would aid her later in life. In 1833, she met Charles Babbage, inventor of the Analytical Engine.

According to Wikipedia, “During a nine-month period in 1842-43, Lovelace translated Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea’s memoir on Babbage’s newest proposed machine, the Analytical Engine. With the article, she appended a set of notes. The notes are longer than the memoir itself and include in complete detail, a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers with the Engine, which would have run correctly had the Analytical Engine ever been built. Based on his work, Lovelace is now widely credited with being the first computer programmer and her method is recognized as the world’s first computer program…In 1953, over one hundred years after her death, Lovelace’s notes on Babbage’s Analytical Engine were republished. The engine has now been recognized as an early model for a computer and Lovelace’s notes as a description of a computer and software.”

Letters from Lovelace

Photo courtesy of www.cs.kuleuven.ac.be/…/pictures.html

Lovelace’s name is still highly well known. A U.S. Department of Defense computer language has been named after her, as well as another language named after her birth year, a sticker representing her image, and a medal in her name.

Image courtesy of findingada.com


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