Skip Navigation

Duke Research - September 2010

James Wei

September 28, 2010

Our Newest Student-Blogger

Warm greetings to the faithful Duke research blog readers out there! My name is Jimmy Wei, and I am honored to call myself the latest addition to the blogging team!

I just entered Duke as a freshman this year intent on majoring in economics with a possible double major in statistics. Currently, the plan is to apply to law school after undergrad, but at this point nothing is certain.

In my free time, I enjoy playing piano. About half a year ago I began an effort to learn how to improvise. Now, I am able to sit down and just play whatever it is I feel like playing, which I must say is one of the most useful abilities I’ve ever learned. Not only can I sit down and relax during stressful times, but I’ve also found that going into random common rooms and playing piano is a good way to meet new people!

Another little hobby of mine is filmmaking. I shot my first video in the end of sophomore year in high school for a calculus project. Since then, I’ve shot numerous short films for school projects, church events, and simply for pleasure. My favorite video was one made over the summer of 2009 about a Nerf gun war titled Against All Odds. With luck, I will be participating in Froshlife this year, hopefully directing Jarvis dorm’s entry!

I also love playing ping pong and basketball. This year I hope to refine my abilities in both.

I am looking forward to writing and contributing to this blog this year. It is my sincere wish that I will be able to help develop an extensive cult following for this blog. But if that doesn’t work out, I’m sure we’ll all have a great year nonetheless.

Posted by jcw46. 0 comments

Tags: business/economics

Ira Flatow

September 21, 2010

Another Culture Developing in the Lab

Scientists, start your iPhones or Flip Cams, or whatever media device you’ve got.

Ira Flatow, the host of NPR’s Science Friday, has tasked you with becoming the next Neil deGrasse Tyson or Carl Sagan.

Flatow, who spoke as part of the University’s first Science Education Showcase on Sept. 20, showed the audience through statistics that "the public loves science.” He said that even though traditional media  and the entertainment industry lack  interest in the subject , making it a “challenge to bring science to the public,” researchers, journalists and teachers now have the tools to reach the world’s curious minds. It’s as easy as using your smartphone, he said.

With these basic tools, such as cameras on cell phones and institutional programs like Duke on Demand, scientists and science communicators can create and share their own content as well as their knowledge and passion for science.

Scientists need to be able to communicate and defend their research, not only to the general public, but also to representatives of Congress and funding agencies who may not have a science background, he said.

Flatow encouraged both students and faculty to “spend hours in front of a TV camera explaining what you do, and explain it like you were talking to your mother.” And when you’re finished, he’d love you to submit your videos to his Science Friday website, he added.

Posted by ay37. 0 comments

Tags: lecture, science communication & education

Brownian Motion cartoon

September 20, 2010

Science Education on the Drawing Board

Post by Ashley Yeager, Duke science writer

Trees don't have to understand how sap rises, but biology students do.

After teaching his students about a tree's internal plumbing a few years ago, biology professor Fred Nijhout asked his Bio 117 students to draw their understanding of these scientific concepts as part of Picturing to Learn, or PtL, a program to research how drawing and visualization can affect science education.

PtL’s mastermind, science photographer and MIT researcher Felice Frankel, created the project after years working with researchers who used drawings to explain to her the phenomena they wanted her to visually capture with her camera.

“As they drew the image to teach me about the science, the process itself seemed to clarify in the mind of the researchers,” she explained during the Visualization Friday Forum on Sept. 17. With this realization, Frankel approached a team of educators and cognitive scientists with the idea of using this in the classroom. All agreed this would be an innovative approach for teaching and learning, and, in turn, the National Science Foundation awarded Frankel and her collaborators a $500,000 grant to test the idea.

Now, four years and 4,000 drawings later, Frankel and her colleagues have evidence to show that “most students get the ideas wrong or partly wrong,” she saiid.

The images were judged based on a rubric that determined whether key points of each concept were accurate or inaccurate in or omitted from the drawing. Frankel cited the 110 depictions of Brownian motion, or particle movement associated with fluid temperature, as an example.

Of the 110, 104 were inaccurate or incomplete, and “these were students from schools like MIT, Harvard and Duke,” Frankel noted.

More surprising were professors’ reactions. “Faculty actually began changing the way they were teaching because they could see that they weren’t communicating,” she said. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the drawings have also become more accurate over the years, as well.

As a result, the PtL researchers are scanning, cataloging and creating an interactive database of images where teachers and professors can go to see the illustrations, filter them by misconception and determine what concepts students, on average, are completely misinterpreting as they learn science. Based on the results, Frankel hopes the PtL database becomes a “self-evaluating teaching tool for educators to keep improving the way they present scientific concepts in their classrooms.” She also plans to publish her findings in a “more academic sense” soon.

Posted by ay37. 0 comments


September 17, 2010

Envisioning the Invisible

Abhijit Mahato was a loved and respected Duke engineering graduate student who became the victim of a random and senseless murder in January 2008. His friends and colleagues wanted some good to come out of his tragedy, and this week it has.

The winners of the first-ever Mahato Memorial scientific visualization contest were announced with a reception and gallery show and a keynote address by sci-viz guru and goddess Felice Frankel of Harvard and MIT. She urged scientists to tell their stories better with pictures. She also put in a plug for students to consider a career helping scientists visualize their data.

Tod Laursen, the former chair of Mechanical Engineering and Mahatho's advisor, also checked in by video conference from Abu Dhabi, where he is now president of Khalifa University.

Conference organizers hope this becomes an annual event.

Here's a slideshow of the winners, but for the full show, please go here.

Posted by klb25. 0 comments


silica nanoparticles

September 9, 2010

Nanoscale is More Than Meets the Eye

Post by student-blogger Vansh Muttreja:

Although there are vast numbers of nanoparticles around us, it has taken a long time for the ‘nano’ revolution to come to light, Virginia Tech geoscientist Michael F.Hochella Jr., said in a Sept. 9 lecture sponsored by the Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT)

Hochella, the Distinguished Professor at the Department of Geosciences at Virginia Tech, said scientists were able to study tiny atoms and molecules of the order of 10^-8 m in 1914, but it was only around 1980 that the study of nanoparticles was actually made possible.

The major reason for this was because the behavior of nanoparticles is extremely strange as compared to other atoms and molecules. “It was possible to use diffraction and spectroscopy to understand the characteristics of small atoms, but nanoparticles cannot be crystallized and change behavior significantly as you move from the core to the rim,” he said.

Moreover, to deal with particles of this small size, the periodic table had to be modified to include the dimension of size and shape.

It took years to develop several different approaches and extremely powerful electron microscopes that made it possible study the fundamental characteristics and applications of nanoparticles.

There are nanoparticles in abundant quantities that can be utilized for practical applications. “Every day the Mississippi River dumps about 40 million tones of nanoparticles in the Gulf of Mexico,” Hochella said.

As rapid advancements are being made in the field of nanotechnology, it is essential to evaluate the human and the ecological impact of these particles. This has lead to the evolution of nanotoxicology, which aims to understand the adverse effects of nanostructures through the knowledge of the mechanisms and biokinetics of nanomaterials.

Hochella stresses the importance of this field in lieu of the enormous negative impact that materials such as asbestos have had on human health.

It is imperative, he said, to measure and understand the origins of nanoparticles, the geographic distribution, relevant nanochemistry, and the overall influence within the complex physical and chemical framework of Earth systems.

For more information on CEINT- Center for Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology, click here.

Posted by vm19. 0 comments

Tags: environment/sustainability, lecture, nanotechnology

Amy Caron

September 3, 2010

A Mind-Expanding Experience

How's this for mind-expanding? Duke's neuroscience community is hosting an artist-in-residence this term.

Amy Caron from Salt Lake City will be here from Oct. 7 through Nov. 3, offering eight public performances of her installation "Waves of Mu," which explores brain anatomy and the somewhat controversial notion of "mirror neurons." She'll also be guest-lecturing around campus in both arts and sciences.

Caron's installation also will be augmented by some local talent: Duke music grad student Paul Leary  is composing an original score, and psychology and neuroscience grad student David Paulsen is creating some visual art to add to the two-room installation.

In the first room, an audience of fifty people explores an art installation representing a vividly colored model of the brain, complete with velvet floor coverings, chandeliers, paintings, photography and sculpture. In the second room, they find Caron, in the role of an eccentric scientist, interacting with them and challenging their thoughts, presumably triggering some of their “mirror neurons.”

Sounds kinda fun, doesn't it?

"Waves of Mu" will be in the Schiciano Auditorium and The Studio in the Fitzpatrick CIEMAS building. It's free, but you'll need a ticket to be one of the lucky 50 people who can participate in an audience. Ticket Info - Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.


Posted by klb25. 6 comments

Tags: behavior/psychology, neuroscience, science communication & education, Visualization


Keep me posted on research news. Learn more >>


All fields required